Rationale for the research In the late 1980's and early 1990's death rates in goats exported live by sea were unacceptable. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) empirically identified a number of risk factors associated with high losses in shipments, and for welfare reasons applied critical controls on the export of goats which included:
Restricting consignments to approximately 1500 goats
Requiring that fer~1 goats undergo a 21 day domestication period prior to export; and
Banning the export of female goats without AQIS approval
The broad aim of this project was to identify causes of death, reduce the mortality and improve welfare and liveweight of goats exported live by sea. A series of secondary aims included identifying an appropriate diet for goats during shipping, determining a suitable pellet formulation, and establishing a suitable pre-shipping domestication period. Outcomes of the study By studying goats at the point of capture, before transport or feedlotting, it was established that feral animals are in good health, and adequate body condition. A low level of pathogenic organisms (Salmonella, coccidia) were detected in the feral population, but clinical disease was rare. During feedlotting before shipment, the main causes of death were salmonellosis (38%), inanition (30%), and coccidiosis (17%). Salmonellosis and coccidiosis amplified during the feedlot period, with contamination by these organisms becoming profound by the 14th day, and death rates increasing as the domestication period increased.
Treatments are available for these diseases, but are expensive, and difficult to administer effectively. Prevention is to be preferred. Inanition, the refusal to eat in the presence of adequate feed, is a domestication process concern. Goats need the opportunity to learn to eat pellets, and adequate time to become accustomed to them. Old goats (more than 6 adult incisors) either need to be excluded from export (the recommendation of this work), or treated separately to ensure that they are eating prior to export. Similarly, young goats tend to lose the greatest percentage of bodyweight during domestication, apparently due to dominance behaviour of older bucks which prevents access to feed. Drafting of bucks into size/age groups should be of benefit in this regard. Treatment of bucks to reduce dominance behaviour without reducing marketability (e.g. immunological castration) has some potential, but current methods require extended periods to become effective.
The study recommends that domestication feedlotting be restricted to a 7 to 10 day period, to minimize spread of pathogens, and give adequate time for adaptation to a pellet diet. During shipping, deaths from salmonellosis (manifested as enteric disease) (42%) continued to be the major cause, with respiratory diseases (26%) being second most frequent. Inanition appeared to be less of a concern (4%) during shipping, probably because the dominance hierarchy is disrupted by the regrouping of animals. The increase in respiratory diseases may be attributable to dust particles arising from pelleted feed, and the build up of waste gases, particularly ammonia, which irritate and damage the respiratory tract, thereby allowing the establishment of pathogens. In destination feedlots, major causes.oLdeath were: enteric disease, (31 %), respiratory disease, (24%), and inanition, (24%). While some causes for enteric disease could be found in the management practices of destination feedlots, particularly a sudden change in feed, the diseases identified were those carried over from pre-embarkation and shipping. Deaths or poor performance at destinations results in a poor reputation for Australian stock, and attendant low prices offered to suppliers. Implementation period Time to implement the recommendations will depend on industry and AQIS.
All recommendations are achievable with current technology, and it will be a matter of negotiation between the export goat industry and AQIS to modify the code of best practice relating to domestication. Individual export feedlotters could implement relevant recommendations immediately, and establish preferred supplier statns with overseas buyers. While some further work may be needed, shipping managers could address the issues of dust and waste gas buildup, and enhance the welfare of goats accordingly. Destination feedlotters could obtain a pellet formula- , tion from Australian suppliers, to minimize the sudden change in diet which currently occurs post shipping. Beneficiaries of this research In addressing the issues identified by this work, all sectors of the industry will benefit. End buyers will have a higher regard for the Australian product. A higher price should be negotiable between suppliers and buyers, based on greater survival and better quality animals (e.g. a "preferred supplier" scheme). Shippers could reduce death rates through addressing conditions on board, and present a better animal on conclusion of the voyage. Feedlotters would reduce costs through shorter domestication periods, and at the same time present goats in better condition, of types required by importing countries, and a greater assurance of survival. Suppliers would be more sure of markets, of demand for goats, and of a fair price. The whole process lends itself to a quality assurance program that will protect and benefit the whole export chain. Not the least, the welfare of the goats themselves would be enhanced, with liveweights maintained, and survival maximized.