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Transporting sheep to and from saleyards

Good preparation of sheep prior to their intended journey supports a successful outcome.

  • Supply chain relationships: Effective communication with all parties involved (producer, agent, transport operator and buyer) is critical when consigning animals through saleyards.imagesy5bi.png
  • Handle regularly and prepare sheep well: Livestock in Australia are managed in environments that vary from extensive rangelands to intensively managed systems. Livestock arriving at saleyards and depots will have varying degrees of handling on-farm prior to assembly and transport to a saleyard or depot. This may impact their physical and mental condition upon arrival and their associated response to handling in a saleyard or depot. If handling is routine prior to transport, they’ll generally be less stressed at their destination. Preparation prior to sending sheep to a saleyard is very important.
  • Communicate feed and water intake: At the start of the journey, the owner and/or agent should communicate to the driver accurate information on feed and water provision. The pre-transport phase has an important impact on the successful management of livestock during transport and at saleyards or depots.
  • If you are personally transporting your livestock to the saleyards or using an accredited transport operator, the preparation principles remain the same and the following should be considered:
    • trip duration and geography e.g. general road conditions, hilly or flat terrain
    • class, pregnancy status, wool length, size and strength
    • weather conditions at loading, during transit and at unloading, is it hot or cold and is there wet weather access for trucks?
  • Weather conditions should inform planning decisions around the best time to load, noting it will also need to compliment an appropriate arrival time to meet the saleyard curfew deadline.
  • Keep everything as normal as possible in the lead up to the trip – animals will then know what to expect.
  • Prepare and pen similar sheep classes and sizes together.
  • Ensure animals that are being prepared are fit to load. ‘If in doubt, leave it out’.
  • Talk with your transport operator to ensure the animals are prepared as well as possible, paperwork is complete and facilities are safe, operational and ready for when the truck arrives to load your consignment.
  • Ensure that accurate directions and contact numbers (agents included) have been provided.
  • Ensure there is ample truck access for the vehicle to manoeuvre to the yards and access the ramp.
  • A saleyard is not a facility to transact unfit animals. Alternate avenues need to be explored for unfit animals to give them enough time to recover until they are deemed fit for transport. Consult your local vet if you have concerns.

Transporting sheep out of saleyards

Managing animal welfare risk factors is a shared responsibility between all people involved, including producers, transport operators, saleyard personnel, livestock agents and stockpersons.

  • The provision of water, feed and rest at a saleyard must take into consideration the time off water and food during the initial transportation to the saleyard, and the likely duration of the second journey where livestock will again be deprived of food and water until receival at their final destination. Communication between the shared parties is critical and is often challenged by individuals only considering their own part of the larger livestock journey that the animals will undertake from farm to farm, feedlot, depot or abattoir. Providing appropriate access to feed and water in the context of the total journey is therefore essential to ensure welfare and fitness to travel is assured.

Responsibilities in the saleyards

From a livestock welfare perspective, the stages in the saleyard process and the responsibilities of relevant persons can be described clearly as follows, however lies with the saleyard manager:

  • Receival of livestock upon unloading (saleyard manager, livestock agents and stockpersons).
  • The care and management of livestock in the saleyards including the handling, drafting, including selection as ‘fit for sale’, appropriate treatment for weak, ill or injured animals, penning for sale, holding post-sale, provision of feed and water whilst holding at saleyard (receiver - saleyard manager, livestock agents and buyers).
  • Assembly and preparation of livestock for transport, including selection as ‘fit for the intended journey’ and ensure they are appropriately fed and watered (consignor – saleyard manager, livestock agents, buyers).
  • Sheep need to be fed if not dispatched within 24 hours of arrival at the saleyards.

Fit to load checklist

Before livestock are loaded, ensure you complete this checklist. Remember, it’s your responsibility to ensure animals are fit to load and fit for the intended journey ahead of loading.

The animal:

  • can walk on its own by bearing weight on all four legs
  • is free from visible signs of severe injury or distress or conditions likely to further compromise its welfare during transport
  • is strong enough to make the journey (i.e. not dehydrated or emaciated)
  • can see well enough to walk, load and travel without impairment or distress (e.g. it is not blind in both eyes)
  • is not in late pregnancy or too young to travel (refer to the Time off water and spelling periods table)
  • has had adequate access to water prior to loading to meet the maximum time off water standards.

Note: If the animal was grazed on lush green pasture, ensure it was removed from the paddock well in advance of loading and provided with access to adequate roughage (where possible). Make sure the animals are prepared in the best way possible, noting water curfew is very important when transporting goats. Ensure paperwork is completed and facilities are safe, operational and ready for when the truck arrives to load your consignment.

Transporting long distances

Considerations for journey plans in most parts of Australia are largely influenced by legal requirements around fatigue regulated heavy vehicles, location of spelling yards, breed type, class, age, frame and wool length.  Prior planning and good communication of the above factors are critical.

  • Animals may be loaded slightly lighter for transporting over longer distances.
  • It is ideal to have good quality dry hay and clean fresh water available when the animals are off-loaded at spelling yards and at their final destination.
  • Ensure they have plenty of space to lay down in the yards after unloading, as they will generally have a drink first, lay down then have a feed three to four hours later.
  • Appropriate spelling and journey plans should complement and support legal driving hours (14 hours). Consider truck configurations and set spelling points. For long journeys over 2,000km, a proven journey plan recommended by some commercial transport operators includes two spelling points. These are considerations for all involved when communicating and planning with your transport operator. Preparing livestock correctly is preferable over planning multiple spelling points.
  • Loading time for journeys of a longer distance is preferred to be as early in the day as possible, taking advantage of cooler morning temperatures.

Spelling during long distance transport

  • Rest stops and driver hours: These should ideally dovetail together, so both driver welfare and animal welfare are collectively prioritised.
  • Regular load checks: Drivers generally check the load 30 mins after departure and then every two hours thereafter.
  • The journey plan is usually ‘reverse engineered’ to prioritise and complement driver fatigue, legal driving limitations and appropriate rest stops for the sheep.
  • Case-by-case for classes: When communicating with your operator and preparing animals for their intended journey, it is typically a case-by-case approach for all classes of sheep. Transition stress is also a consideration in the journey plan.
  • An experienced transport operator will be able to provide professional guidance in relation to preparing your animals and will outline where animals will be unloaded and rested through the journey.
  • Consider the journey: Factors that should be considered include forecast weather conditions, locations to feed and rest animals, total duration of the journey and where they will be finally delivered – i.e. to an abattoir or farm.
  • Having discussed pre-departure considerations, preparations at the other end are also very important when planning the journey. Working together is very important. For example, consider:
    • production - what are their future performance requirements if entering a feedlot
    • product quality - meat quality and minimising loss of glycogen that may cause dark cutting and also minimising bruising during the journey
    • welfare and recovery - a key focus is good recovery upon arrival - an important factor rather than focusing solely on the cost of getting there.
  • Consider the other end of the journey and what you want the stock to achieve and deliver post-arrival. Pre-transport, journey and post-delivery considerations will influence good preparation for the intended journey and your desired outcome. Post-arrival objectives for extended journeys can be just as important in the planning process as the journey performance itself.
  • A saying amongst many long-haul transport operators is that if the driver is tired, the animals will also be tired and fatigued. Both driver and livestock welfare need to be prioritised and preserved.