Stakeholders' assessment of welfare indicators for sheep and cattle exported by sea from Australia
An adaptive conjoint analysis was used to evaluate stakeholders' opinion of welfare indicators for ship-transported sheep and cattle, both onboard and in pre-export depots. In consultations with two nominees of each identified stakeholder group (government officials, animal welfare representatives, animal scientists, stockpersons, producers/pre-export depot operators, exporters/ship owners and veterinarians), 18 potential indicators were identified. Three levels were assigned to each using industry statistics and expert opinion, representing those observed on the best and worst 5% of voyages and an intermediate value. A computer-based questionnaire was completed by 135 stakeholders (48% of those invited). All indicators were ranked by respondents in the assigned order, except fodder intake, in which case providing the amount necessary to maintain bodyweight was rated better than over or underfeeding, and time in the pre-export assembly depot, in which case 5 days was rated better than 0 or 10 days. The respective Importance Values (a relative rating given by the respondent) for each indicator were, in order of declining importance: mortality (8.6%), clinical disease incidence (8.2%), respiration rate (6.8%), space allowance (6.2%), ammonia levels (6.1%), weight change (6.0%), wet bulb temperature (6.0%), time in assembly depot (5.4%), percentage of animals in hospital pen (5.4%), fodder intake (5.2%), stress-related metabolites (5.0%), percentage of feeding trough utilised (5.0%), injuries (4.8%), percentage of animals able to access food troughs at any one time (4.8%), percentage of animals lying down (4.7%), cortisol concentration (4.5%), noise (3.9%), and photoperiod (3.4%). The different stakeholder groups were relatively consistent in their ranking of the indicators, with all groups nominating the same top two and at least five of the top seven indicators. Some of the top indicators, in particular mortality, disease incidence and temperature, are already recorded in the Australian industry, but the study identified potential new welfare indicators for exported livestock, such as space allowance and ammonia concentration, which could be used to improve welfare standards if validated by scientific data. The top indicators would also be useful worldwide for countries engaging in long distance sea transport of livestock.
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