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HOWARD SPRINGS, NORTHERN TERRITORY, Australia — Beef production in Australia was almost brought to its knees in 2011 when the government banned all live-cattle shipping to Indonesia. The action was taken due to major concerns about the welfare and conditions the cattle were being slaughtered there.

Indonesia is a major market for Australian live beef cattle, taking in the best part of 700,000 cattle per year. The ban lasted only one month but it had a severe effect on shippers, holding centers and farmers who relied on shipping for their incomes.

Cattle welfare is a top priority for staff at Coomalie Holding Depot in Australia, about 90 kilometers south of Darwin. The holding center normally handles about 70,000 head of cattle per year, but already this year 75,000 cattle have been exported. Cattle are shipped live to both Indonesia and Vietnam. They come from all parts of western Australia. And the staff at Coomalie need to ensure the cattle have the best attention before their long journeys.

There has been a massive effort to improve standards since the 2011 ban. Jason Baker is the manager of the holding center. He said animal welfare has vastly improved on live shipping during the past few years.

“Following a public outcry into livestock shipping conditions going into the Indonesian market, there has been a huge improvement on animal welfare,” he said. “The Indonesian market takes cattle with a liveweight of 300 to 370 kilograms (661 to 816 pounds) which will go to fattening units there. The Vietnam market takes them finished at 460 kilograms liveweight (1,014 pounds).

“The exporter buys the cattle from the farmers, and owns them through handling and shipping until delivery to customer. We hold the cattle and feed them for three to seven days depending on where they are destined for. Bearing in mind some of these cattle could have been on the road for 24 hours travelling 2,000 kilometers to us (1,243 miles), we want them to be as stress-free as possible before being loaded onto the ships in Darwin.”

There are five staff working at Coomalie who are constantly monitoring cattle for signs of lameness or disease. Cattle are loaded for the ships at all times of the day and night. All need to pass regulations before they can travel.

“We check for ticks, lameness and sickness,” Baker said. “Cattle with horns over 12 centimeters long (about 4.75 inches) are given 30 percent extra space in the pens. But if the horns exceed 60 centimeters (about 24 inches) tip to tip they cannot travel.

“In our pens we feed the cattle top-quality hay and the best pelletized feed we can buy. They also receive fresh water by hand as we want to ensure all the drinkers are clean all the time.

“The cattle going to Vietnam have two tags, which can be read electronically, as traceability needs to be very transparent for that market.

“We charge AUD$40 per head per day (about USD$28) to hold and feed the cattle at Coomalie. The live shipping really is a lifeline to North Australia. Thanks to increased welfare practices on live shipping the mortality rate has dropped to around half a percent on the shipping journeys. It takes under 10 days to ship the cattle from the port to their final destination, with animal welfare a high priority all along the way.”

Visit www.facebook.com/coomalieholdingdepot for more information.

With 16 years experience behind him, award-winning agricultural journalist Chris McCullough is always on the hunt for his next story. He grew up on the family dairy farm in the heart of Northern Ireland and is based on the country’s east coast. He travels around the world to bring readers international news.

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