Wellard’s MV Ocean Drover shipment of sheep and cattle from Fremantle to Kuwait/UAE was completed before the start of an industry-led, three-month Middle Eastern Summer shipment moratorium.
In late May/early June, the MV Ocean Drover was chartered by Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading Company to transport 56,915 sheep and 135 cattle from Fremantle to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
There were just 1 steer and 62 sheep mortalities, equating to a voyage success rate of 99.9 per cent for sheep and 99.3 per cent for cattle.
No mortalities were attributed to heat stress by the Australian Government accredited on-board veterinarian, and respiratory rate and panting scores were largely recorded as being Level 1 (normal) apart from mild panting on one deck towards the end of the journey.
This excellent result was despite wet bulb temperatures (WBT – a measurement of heat and humidity combined) exceeding 28C from Day 8 of the 15-day voyage, with a maximum 34C WBT recorded.
“The success of this voyage with almost 57,000 sheep on board demonstrates that modern ships with good ventilation and reduced stocking densities can achieve excellent animal welfare performance, even when hot and/or humid conditions occur,” said Wellard Executive Chairman John Klepec.
“The voyage’s success also casts considerable doubt on whether the unconditional 28C WBT maximum proposed by the Heat Stress Risk Assessment Technical Review Panel, without any consideration of ventilation or temperature fluctuations, is the right figure or model.”
The Heat Stress Risk Assessment Technical Review Panel was tasked by the Federal Government to assess and improve the live export industry’s existing heat stress risk assessment.
According to its draft recommendations, if there was a 2% chance that a voyage would incur a WBT of 28C at any stage during the voyage, then the voyage should be prohibited.
The 28C WBT limit (for a 56kg adult Merino wether, condition score, winter acclimatised) proposed by the Technical Review Panel was largely derived from an experiment using eight sheep in a heat chamber at a WA University.
Under the Technical Review Panel’s draft regulation, the recent MV Ocean Drover shipment to Kuwait would have been prohibited from sailing.
“The results from the recent MV Ocean Drover voyage, with 57,000 sheep in a real life environment are more relevant for the assessment of heat stress and risk than the results from eight sheep in an artificial heat chamber,” Mr Klepec said.
“Our sample size is exponentially bigger and the conditions on-board are reflective of the real world. We support using science to implement improvements, but the science has to be robust.
“If the proposed regulations were adopted as recommended, it would have prevented a good voyage, prevented price competition for farmers’ surplus sheep and restricted farmers’ ability to free up pastures for pregnant ewes or ewes with newborn lambs.”
Mr Klepec said Wellard absolutely supported improvements to the live export industry’s Heat Stress Risk Assessment, but adopting an unconditional measure (28C WBT) without any reference to temperature fluctuations or ventilation performance was flawed.
“The live export industry’s heat stress risk assessment needs to be predictive, objective and scientifically robust, put simply we need to take a sophisticated approach not a sledgehammer to the industry,” he said.
“Ten years ago the industry would have thought recording just 60 mortalities on a voyage of almost 57,000 sheep was unachievable in the Middle Eastern winter, let alone the shoulder months to Middle Eastern summer.
“The industry has made massive advances and we need to assess the changes we have made and the progress we have achieved before imposing a system, based on less than robust science, that on some analyses would ban live sheep exports for up to 10-11 months of the year in most circumstances.”