Sheep Live Export

Page last updated: Monday, 31 August 2020 - 4:33pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

The live export trade of sheep from Western Australia is worth $136 million (2019). The industry is undergoing significant change and industry and government are working cooperatively to improve transport, handling and animal welfare outcomes. Information on the industry can be found here.

DPIRD information on the latest developments

The industry

In 2019 WA exported 1.0 million live sheep to nine countries, mostly in the Middle East, worth A$136 million. The three largest markets by volume were Kuwait (35%), Qatar (25%) and Jordan (19%).

Pie chart illustrating the top 5 live export destinations in 2018 and 2019
WA live sheep export markets in 2018 and 2019 by quantity (Based on ABS data, DPIRD analysis)

Nationally, 1.1 million sheep were exported live from Australia in 2019, valued at $143 million. This is a 43% decline when compared to 2017, which is largely due to the industry imposed pause during the Northern Hemisphere summers of 2018 and 2019. 

The majority of Australia's live export sheep come from WA, and the proportion of Australia’s live export sheep sourced from WA has increased over the last decade. In 2009 WA accounted for 72% of Australian live sheep exports, but this increased to 86% in 2017 as exports from other parts of Australia declined more rapidly than those from WA. In 2019 it increased to 97%.

Chart illustrating the number of live sheep exports from Australia and WA between 2009 and 2019
Australian and Western Australian live sheep exports by quantity (Based on ABS data, DPIRD analysis).

Frequently asked questions 

How many live sheep does Australia export?

In 2017, prior to the new restrictions imposed on the industry, 2.0 million sheep were exported live from Australia. The value of live sheep exports was A$249 million in 2017. Western Australia contributed 86% of live sheep exported from Australia. 

In 2019, 1.1 million sheep were exported from Australia.  The value of these exports was A$143 million, a reduction of 43% when compared to 2017 due to the restrictions imposed from mid 2018. Western Australia contributed 97% of the live sheep exported from Australia in 2019.

What countries does Australia export live sheep to?

Australia exported live sheep to 15 international markets in 2019, most of which were located in the Middle East. The largest markets by volume were Kuwait accounting for 34% of live sheep exports followed by Qatar (24%) and Jordan (18%).

How many sheep are exported per voyage?

The total number of head per journey depends on numerous factors such as the vessel used, whether or not cattle are also on board and the time of year. Each vessel has a different carrying capacity due to the size and lay out of the vessel but some vessels can carry up to 85 000 sheep.

Irrespective of the vessel used, the exporter must comply with the stocking densities specified in the Australian Standard for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) with tighter restrictions between April and November (inclusive) and as recomended in the McCarthy review from May to October (inclusive).

How long is the journey?

Depending on the destination, route taken and vessel, an average voyage to the Middle East departing from Fremantle takes from three to five weeks.

Do Middle East importing countries also take Australia’s boxed meat?

Yes. Sheep meat (lamb and mutton) is exported to the Middle East as both chilled and frozen product. It is exported either by sea or as air freight.

Lamb is generally a preferred product in chilled form and mutton is preferred as frozen product, which reflects its lower value.

Over the last decade there has been substantial growth in the export of Australian chilled lamb to the Middle East. In 2009 Australia exported 19.9 million kg (carcase equivalent quantity (ceq)) of chilled lamb to the Middle East increasing to 57.0 million kg (ceq) in 2019 - an increase of 187%.

Who is in charge of regulating the live export industry in Australia?

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) oversees and regulates the Australian live export industry but there are a range of regulatory responsibilities that are undertaken by other authorities including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD).

DAWE administers the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).

What role does the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development play?

Livestock sourced for export must also meet all requirements under relevant state and territory animal welfare legislation.  The Western Australian Government through DPIRD is responsible for administering the Animal Welfare Act 2002 in WA and ensuring regulations under this Act are met. This jurisdiction extends to 200 nautical miles offshore.

What role does the Australian Maritime Safety Authority play in live exports?

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is responsible for the inspection of selected foreign flag ships to monitor their compliance with safety and environmental protection standards, including safe carriage of livestock as cargo.

The obligations for loading and transporting livestock from Australia are set out in the Navigation Act 2012 and designated marine orders, in particular Marine Order 43 (Cargo and cargo handling - livestock) 2006. Marine Order 43 specifies the requirements for issue of an Australian certificate for the carriage of livestock (ACCL).

Marine Order 43 imparts a number of obligations on vessels carrying livestock that are required before, during and after a livestock voyage, including:

  • notifying AMSA in writing of the intention to load livestock;
  • making a written report to AMSA on completion of a livestock voyage, other than a short voyage which is less than 24 hours.
  • notifying AMSA expediently when the mortality level for a species of livestock carried is exceeded, or expected to be exceeded.

What are the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL)?

The ASEL represent the basic animal health and welfare requirements for the conduct of the livestock export industry, which the Australian Government requires the industry to meet.

What are the reportable sheep mortality limits under ASEL?

The ASEL defines the levels for reportable mortality by species on a voyage or air journey as the percentages listed below:

  • sheep: one per cent (implemented from the McCarthy review)
  • goats: two per cent
  • cattle and buffalo on a voyage < 10 days: 0.5%
  • cattle and buffalo on a voyage > 10 days: 1%
The Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment undertakes an investigation into livestock reportable mortality incidents to try to determine the cause of the mortalities and recommend future corrective action.

What is the difference between the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS)?

ASEL and ESCAS are both administered by Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. The ASEL represents the animal health and welfare standards for the livestock export industry. The ship-master reports compliance with these standards at the end of each voyage.

ESCAS is an assurance system for export supply chains and is concerned more with the destination after shipping. It is based on four principles:

  • Animal welfare: animal handling and slaughter in the importing country conforms to World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) animal welfare recommendations
  • Control through the supply chain: the exporter has control of all supply chain arrangements for livestock transport, management and slaughter. All livestock remain in the supply chain
  • Traceability through the supply chain: the exporter can trace all livestock through the supply chain
  • Independent audit: the supply chain in the importing country is independently audited.

Why was the McCarthy review commissioned and what are the key changes?

The McCarthy report was commissioned by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to assist in the development of a new regime for the operation of this trade during the northern hemisphere summer. Dr McCarthy recommended that the summer period under which regulatory changes needed to be made comprised May to October inclusive. The report contains 23 recommendations, some of which have been implemented immediately while others, such as those relating to modification of the heat stress risk assessment, are undergoing further research and consultation with industry and animal welfare experts.

One of the significant changes to the regulation of live sheep during the period May to October is the use of an allometric model to determine stocking density. An allometric model takes into account several factors, including size and shape of body, physiology and behaviour. Using this approach results in a decrease in the stocking density on board a vessel by 11 to 39%.

The full report and the DAWE’s response to the report is available online

What other reviews are relating to live export are in progress?

A range of live animal export reform initiatives are underway, all led by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. These initiatives are designed to increase transparency and provide assurances of the regulation of the live export trade.

The review of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) began in January 2018.  The review was undertaken by an independent Technical Advisory Committee. The ASEL standards ensure livestock are fit for export and help manage the risks to animal health and welfare during the voyage. The committee has finished its review and further information can be found here

A review of DAWE’s capability and culture in the regulation of live animal exports has been completed and the findings are available here.  The purpose of this review was to:          

  • assure government and the Australian public that exporters meet high animal welfare standards; and
  • identify regulatory and investigative improvements that can be made.

Certain recommendations made in the McCarthy report are subject to further research and consultation with industry and animal welfare experts.

One key recommendation relating to modifications to the current heat stress risk assessment is currently being reviewed. The department has established a technical reference panel to advise on the development of a welfare-based approach to heat stress risk assessment. Further information on the heat stress risk assessment can be found here.