Australian farmers produce many more cattle, sheep and goats than required to feed the domestic population. Exports are therefore an important part of Australia’s livestock industry. While the majority of the excess production is exported as chilled or frozen beef, lamb, mutton and goat meat, having the ability to export animals live from Australia provides benefits both here and overseas:
The cattle industry provides employment throughout Northern Australia, but the cattle best suited to the climate are not what Australians typically eat. They are, however, similar to local cattle in South-East Asia.
Not all of the animals fit the requirements of Australian abattoirs when they need to be sold, and live exports provide an alternative market for the farmers.
Many of the countries which buy Australian livestock don’t have enough farmland for breeding the number of cattle, sheep and goats needed to feed their populations.
Meat produced in Australia is often more expensive than people can afford in other countries, and live exports provide affordable and quality nutrition.
Australia is the only country in the world that insists every facility that receives its livestock, such as feedlots and abattoirs, must first meet Australian regulations. Livestock exporters must provide training in areas such as animal handling and slaughter practices before a facility is approved, as well as ensure infrastructure is suitable, and carry out regular audits to maintain those standards.
LiveCorp works with the industry to support ongoing improvements in animal health and welfare, supply chain efficiency and market access, through investments in research, development and extension (RD&E) and support in the countries that receive Australian cattle, sheep and goats.
The vast majority of livestock exported from Australia travel by sea on ships that have been purposely built or modified to transport livestock. In 2018, around three-quarters of all voyages took less than two weeks.
All vessels must comply with Marine Order Part 43 requirements and hold a current Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock (ACCL) that is issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
While on board, livestock have enough space to stand up and sit down throughout the voyage and access to fresh water and feed. Their welfare is paramount, and they are cared for by experienced stock handlers, dedicated members of the ship’s crew and often Australian Accredited Veterinarians (AAVs). Fresh air is continuously available through advanced ventilation systems.
Indonesia and Vietnam are the primary destinations for cattle, while the majority of sheep are exported to the Middle East.
Air freight is a small but important component of Australia’s livestock export industry. All goats exported live from Australia are exported by air, as well as some sheep and cattle. Air freight is highly efficient, very safe, and animals can arrive at their destination within 24 hours of leaving the farm in Australia.
Prior to export, livestock either remain on their property of origin or are brought together from several farms. They are checked by an accredited veterinarian and drafted into groups according to specifications such as sex and weight, and trucked directly to the airport. Livestock are loaded in air freight crates and then transferred into cargo planes, or the belly holds of passenger planes, for export.
Malaysia is by far the key market by volume for sheep and goats exported by air, with the majority destined to end up as meat. Singapore and China are next for sheep, the latter primarily taking breeding stock. Most cattle exported by air are destined for breeding, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Taiwan being the biggest markets.
Western Australia supplies around 80% of all sheep exported from Australia. They are primarily Merinos, although Dorpers and other crossbred sheep are also exported, and generally are not the age or weight that make them desirable to Australian abattoirs who supply local butchers and supermarkets or export chilled and frozen meat. The Middle East is the primary market, especially for exports by sea. This includes Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Oman, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Malaysia is the key destination for sheep sent by air.
Cattle exported from Australia are sourced from farms right across the country. They generally fall into two main categories.
The majority are Bos indicus breeds such as Brahman, and are suited to warmer and tropical climates. Queensland and the Northern Territory are the main source of these cattle, and they are generally exported to south-east Asian countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. These countries are mostly looking for younger, lightweight cattle, which they can fatten in feedlots for several months, adding value and creating employment.
European or Bos taurus breeds such as Angus and Herefords are exported mainly from southern parts of Australia and lower Western Australia. These cattle are sold to a variety of Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Turkey, and Asian countries such as Japan and China. They are a mix of lightweight cattle which will be fattened further in those countries, those ready to be used for meat when they arrive, and breeding cattle.
Australia exports a significant number of dairy cattle each year, predominantly from southern Australian states. These usually high-value animals are exported by both air and sea, depending on the destination. The most common markets include China and Japan.
Dairy cattle shipments often have specific pedigree and pregnancy status requirements. Common breeds include Holstein-Friesian and Jersey cattle.
A small number of goats is exported from Australia every year, all via air freight. The vast majority are sent to Malaysia, followed by China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Philippines. With more than 40% destined for breeding, goats contribute to the development of farms and dairies in-market as well as food security.
It is vital that goats are accustomed to humans and familiar with eating and drinking from troughs before they are exported, particularly if they are rounded up from the wild (known as rangeland goats). Therefore, there are detailed requirements around isolating, sourcing and preparing goats on-farm before export.
Buffalo are occasionally exported alongside cattle, particularly from the Northern Territory. Most are rounded up from the wild, and therefore require unique management, which is outlined out in the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL). This includes spending time in a feedlot to ensure they are accustomed to humans and get used to eating and drinking from troughs before they are put on ships.
LiveCorp does not collect a levy on buffalo. The buffalo industry’s research and development organisation is AgriFutures Australia. More information is also available on the Northern Territory government’s website.
Many other animals are exported from Australia, from cats and dogs to horses, pigs and chickens. However, these are not part of the livestock export industry.
The Australian Government regulates the livestock export industry primarily through two systems - the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
Australian livestock exporters and other participants in the process both in Australia and overseas must comply with a range of stringent requirements:
Exporters must be licensed by the Australian Government
Livestock must be selected, prepared and cared for in compliance with legislated animal welfare standards.
Livestock must only be prepared in Australian Government approved quarantine premises, known as Registered Premises (RPs) or Approved Premises (APs).
Livestock export vessels must hold an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
Exporters must control the arrangements for livestock transport, management and slaughter from the time animals leave the vessel overseas, and ensure they can trace all animals within each supply chain.
Exporters must report on the outcomes of each voyage, including if animals become unwell or die. If this exceeds legislated levels, a comprehensive investigation is undertaken and conditions may be placed on future shipments to reduce the risk of a repeat.
The livestock export industry also observes the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for:
The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) outline strict requirements to safeguard the health and welfare of cattle, sheep and goats (as well as buffalo, camels and deer) through all parts of the livestock export industry, from farms through to when they leave the ship or plane in the country of destination. There are separate standards for livestock exported by sea, and by air.
Strict criteria must be met to ensure the animals selected for export are fit and healthy, and meet a range of requirements starting with age and weight. Before being put on a ship, the animals spend at least several days in an approved feedlot where they are checked again by an accredited veterinarian and can get used to eating the pellets they will be fed on the ship.
Complex formulas are used to calculate how many animals can be loaded onto ships, based on the type and weight of the animals and the size of each pen. This ensures they have room to move and lie down, and can get to the feed and water troughs.
For sea voyages, the standards outline strict rules on the amount of food and water available on each ship, based on the number of animals and their weight as well as the number of days at sea. There are requirements for extra food to be loaded in case of a delay, and most ships have desalination plants to provide water.
During all sea voyages, livestock are cared for by LiveCorp Accredited Stockpersons and other trained livestock handlers, including the ship’s crew. During some voyages, an Australian Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) may also be present.
ASEL include strict reporting to ensure that the regulator can monitor animal health and welfare throughout each journey. On journeys of 10 days or more, the regulator is provided with a daily report containing information such as temperature and humidity on board the ship, the health and welfare of livestock, and how much feed and water is being consumed. Reports are also provided at the end of all voyages, regardless of their length.
The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) is designed to encourage continual improvement in animal welfare. It comes into effect as soon as animals step off a ship or plane in international markets.
ESCAS applies to Australian sheep, cattle and goats that are exported for meat (either immediately or after being kept in feedlots for some weeks or months). It does not apply to animals exported for breeding, as they may live for many years.
Even though the animals are no longer Australian-owned, the exporters remain responsible for their welfare right up until they are killed, even if they are kept in feedlots for several months before that happens, in accordance with the internationally accepted requirements for animal welfare established by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Every facility which handles Australian animals must be first approved by the regulator. Exporters wanting to send animals to a new facility provide training in animal handling and welfare before applying for approval, and there are ongoing independent audits to ensure they maintain the standards.
ESCAS also includes requirements for Australian licensed exporters to demonstrate that they have control of all arrangements for livestock transport, and they can track or account for the location of animals at all times.
If exporters do not comply with ESCAS, the regulator may revoke their licence, apply conditions to a licence, refuse to approve future shipments, or even impose criminal sanctions.
Australian livestock can only be exported by a licensed Australian exporter and cannot be exported to all countries. If you would like to export livestock from Australia you can contact an exporter by submitting a trade enquiry. Note that we cannot guarantee a response.
To export livestock from Australia, you first need to obtain a licence from the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Details of the process are available on the department’s website, which also outlines the fees and charges, and the regulations which need to be met once a licence is obtained.
You can contact an exporter by submitting a trade enquiry, which will be available to LiveCorp members, or by searching for the company details of an Australian livestock exporter online.
For privacy reasons, LiveCorp cannot provide company names or contact details.
In most cases, the Australian Government and the country where livestock are being sent have negotiated a health protocol, or other conditions which have to be met, before trade can occur.
A full list of the countries and requirements is available on the Manual of Importing Country Requirements (MICoR) website. An application for access will need to be submitted to the administrator.
Key countries where these arrangements are in place include:
Sheep: Bahrain, China, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
Beef cattle: Brunei, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
Dairy cattle: China, Pakistan and Russia.
Goats: Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
Other destinations: A valid import permit from the destination country is required, which must be assessed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to ensure the disease and health conditions are able to be met and certified.
LiveCorp cannot help to buy livestock in Australia, for export or other purposes.
If you are looking to import livestock from Australia, we suggest you submit a trade enquiry, which is available to LiveCorp’s licenced Australian exporter members, and they may provide a quote specific to your request.
Livestock being prepared for export from Australia by sea must be assembled at specific feedlots which have been licenced by the regulator. The list is not publicly available – for details contact the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment via its website.
In 2019, Australia exported a total* of 2,438,557 livestock, which included:
The total value** of livestock exported from Australia was $1.9 billion:
$1.7 billion for cattle
$142 million for sheep
$7 million for goats.
Our largest export markets* for each species in 2019 were:
Indonesia, taking 679,538 head (52% of all cattle exported)
Kuwait, taking 385,120 sheep (34% of all sheep exported)
Malaysia, taking 6,900 goats (43% of all exported goats).
*Source: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
**Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics - all figures are free on board (FOB) and in Australian dollars
NOTE: The two organisations source their information at different points in the livestock export process and categorise the animals in different ways, which may result in discrepancies. Only the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a dollar value for the animals exported.