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Developing alternative methods of measuring animal welfare on ships

Project start date: 05 April 2004
Project end date: 03 November 2006
Publication date: 01 November 2007
Livestock species: Sheep, Lamb, Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: International
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Members of nine stakeholder groups (animal transport scientists, animal welfare representatives, pre-export assembly depot operators, exporters, government officials, ship owners, stockpersons, producers and veterinarians) from the livestock exporting industry were asked via a computer-based questionnaire to consider 18 potential welfare indicators. There was a 48 % (140/292) response rate to the questionnaire. The order of declining preference of the 18 indicators, together with the importance value for each indicator, was: mortality (8.6 %); clinical disease incidence (8.2 %); respiration rate (6.8 %); space allowance per head (6.2%); ammonia levels (6.1 %); body weight change over the voyage (6.0 %); wet bulb temperature (6.0 %); proportion of animals passing through the hospital pen (5.4 %); time spent in the pre-export assembly depot (5.4 %); fodder intake (5.2 %); proportion of trough utilised when feeding (5.0 %); stress related metabolites (5.0 %);proportion of animals that can access trough at any one time (4.8 %); debilitating injuries (4.8 %); proportion of animals lying down (4.7 %); cortisol (4.5 %); noise levels (3.9 %); and photoperiod (3.4 %).
The top seven indicators (mortality to wet bulb temperature inclusive) received an above average relative importance score indicating these to be the key indicators for further consideration. Of the top seven indicators, four (mortality, clinical disease incidence, respiration rate and wet bulb temperature) are already in use, while body weight change would be difficult to obtain reliable results. Space allowance per head contained in the industry standards is currently used to determine pen stocking density.
Ammonia level was identified as a potential new welfare indicator; however, further research is required to determine its appropriateness as a welfare indicator. While the respondent's stakeholder group did influence their preference for particular welfare indicators, no one stakeholder group differed greatly from the rest of the stakeholder groups in their preference for the various welfare indicators.

More information

Project manager: David Beatty
Primary researcher: University of Queensland