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Review of effluent spillage and animal welfare during livestock transport: a discussion paper

Transport of livestock via public road networks and by rail (Queensland only) is an indispensable and crucial component of the live-export and red-meat supply chains to move animals between farms, feedlots, saleyards, live-export ports and abattoirs. Public concerns have been raised over several issues related to livestock transport, particularly effluent spillage and limb protrusion. 

These issues can lead to: 

  • Aesthetic issues through effluent deposition on public roads and odour from transport vehicles; 
  • Potential community exposure to health risks from effluent deposition; 
  • Potential environmental contamination from livestock effluent and manure;
  • Animal welfare concerns from limb protrusion and possible entrapment through the sides of livestock trailers. 

These issues are particularly apparent where livestock travel through urban centres en-route to ive-export ports, abattoirs and saleyards. Live-export facilities, abattoirs and saleyards are usually located in urban centres and, with population increase, have been encroached by residential land uses. Impacts typically occur where the conflicting land uses adjoin. 

Road livestock transport represents the closest proximity of animals and animal waste to most urban Australians. Zoonotic organisms from animals can cause health impacts with humans and the potential threat of disease transfer via livestock transport is a risk. Livestock are transported in Australia in a variety of vehicles ranging from body trucks to semitrailers, B-doubles and road trains. Older vehicles had detachable crates while most modern vehicles have the crate built as an integral part of the trailer. For simplicity, these will be generically referred to as livestock transport trailers. 

Traditionally, most livestock transport trailers were not designed to retain the excretions of the livestock on the trailer. More recently, effluent containment is common with trailers designed to retain effluent on the floor of the trailer allowing a gradual release of the effluent to the road during travel. While not mandatory, effluent holding tanks are being installed in Australia on an increasing number of new commercial livestock trailers. However, they are not common on older trailers and small owner-operator livestock transport trailers. 

On occasion, effluent discharges have resulted in community complaints, though there is little consensus on who is responsible and who needs to address the issue. This has resulted in localised solutions being implemented without a coordinated industry approach to the problem. The issue of sheep limb protrusion during livestock transport is of particular concern for the Western Australian live-export industry and has been raised by animal rights and liberation groups on numerous occasions. The issue largely relates to the use of old style stock trailers that were designed with wide rail spacing to improve air flow and minimise the risk of limb fracture if limb protrusion occurs. 

While welfare codes have been developed for livestock transport in Australia, there is not sufficient detail in these codes with respect to trailer design to address this issue. To address these issues, the project objectives were to: summarise current knowledge and opinion from stakeholders regarding livestock effluent spillage; consider livestock limb protrusion from livestock transport vehicles (road and rail); and provide a recommended way forward on these issues. 

To further understand the issues of effluent spillage and limb protrusion during livestock transport, a consultation and survey process was conducted with key stakeholders. The key stakeholders were identified via a mapping process to identify the major beef cattle and sheep road transport routes in Australia using spatial and statistical data on cattle and sheep production areas, cattle feedlot locations, saleyards locations, abattoirs locations and live-export facilities. A literature review was also conducted to complement the survey and consultation process and provide recommendations on a way forward with these issues. 

The literature review included research and information on: effluent spillage from livestock transport (amount and characteristics); costs of carrying effluent; overseas solutions to effluent spillage (New Zealand, Europe and North America); regulations and codes for controlling road livestock transport; biosecurity issues for livestock transport; quality assurance in livestock transport; livestock trailer design; effects of transport on liveweight; effect of curfew on liveweight, carcass weight, meat quality and animal welfare; livestock trailer washdown facility availability; and issues for effluent disposal at various sites. 

Industry stakeholder consultation has identified the following potential techniques that could be used to minimise effluent spillage from livestock transport vehicles: 

  • curfew of livestock prior to transport; 
  • selective effluent containment through urban areas using drop pipes; 
  • compulsory effluent holding tanks; 
  • provision of more readily available washdown facilities;provision of effluent dumps where effluent from effluent holding tanks can be disposed;
  • alternate routes around towns for heavy vehicles. 

During the project it was observed that the issue of effluent spillage is being progressed by several groups across the country. It is recommended that the relevant stakeholders, including the regulators and industry groups progress the issue with a coordinated approach. 

It is recommended that a task-force of industry participants be formed to address the issue at a national and local level. This taskforce could coordinate the locally effected stakeholders to address the issue at each local level, with the industry taskforce addressing common issues and solution at a national level. There is, however, a positive indication from survey results that an industry-wide voluntary effluent management system would be accepted. 

The project found that limb protrusion is primarily a localised issue in Western Australia and relates to two main issues with transport between the live-export bulking depots and the port: 

1. use of old style trailers with wide rail spacing; and 

2. inappropriate handling and loading of sheep. 

These issues can be addressed at an industry level, and as such there are several recommendations. 

  • Live export industry host a workshop with all participants involved in handling and transport of sheep to raise awareness of the issue. 
  • A set of minimum standards need to be developed for livestock trailers used in the transport of sheep to the port. These standards should specify a maximum rail spacing of 120 - 150 mm.
  • A simple fact sheet guide to loading and handling of sheep should be developed for dissemination among drivers and personnel within the industry. 
  • An audit process should be considered to improve handling and loading of livestock. 

These issues will continue to impact on the red meat industry unless they are addressed by all the relevant stakeholders. The most effective methods for addressing will be developed at an industry level. The alternate is to do nothing and governments will develop legislation to address the issues. This would undoubtedly lead to a less effective solution and would likely increase the cost burden for livestock producers.

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3.5MB 02/12/2011

This page was last updated on 24/07/2017

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