Research Report

Animal welfare indicators pilot project for the livestock export supply chain

Brief summary

This project identified animal welfare indicators which cover the behaviour and health of livestock being transported by sea from Australia, and developed a practical monitoring system for use by the livestock export industry.

The protocol describes how livestock are responding to variations in environmental, resource and management conditions, using the internationally recognised Welfare Quality® framework of good feeding, good housing, good health and appropriate behaviour.

A total of 97 animal welfare indicators were tested on farms, in pre-export quarantine facilities, on eight livestock export voyages, and in destination feedlots. Many are now being collected under livestock export industry regulatory reporting requirements, while others require further research or are being considered by industry as voluntary measures.


The project aimed to develop and pilot a scientifically valid protocol for monitoring animal welfare throughout the livestock export supply chain, including practical requirements for the collection of data.

Key findings
  • The final report provides a comprehensive list of animal welfare indicators and the practical requirements for data collection. This includes the scientific basis for each measure, how many times a day and how many animals should be sampled.

  • Importantly, data on behaviour and demeanour provide the potential to inform industry on the positive and negative experiences of livestock, taking into account different environmental, resource and management conditions.

  • While shipboard trials did not encounter the full range of potential variations in environmental conditions (e.g. heavy sea swell and temperatures), the indicators have been designed to cover these situations. Over time, the data collected will help the livestock export industry to predict the risk of poor outcomes and identify thresholds for acceptable and unacceptable welfare risk.

Benefits to industry

The identification and practical application of animal welfare indicators provides the livestock export industry with an opportunity to better communicate its performance, particularly on livestock export ships, and increase transparency.

Standardised data collection will allow benchmarking to occur, once enough information is available for valid analysis.

The framework developed by this project could also be applied to farms, feedlots and saleyards, providing similar benefits.

Future research and recommendations
  • Further research is required to understand appropriate selection of pens for shipboard welfare monitoring, and to address variability within a voyage (considering consignment size, route, season, species, class, vessel type and the personnel resources associated with data collection).

  • Following the adoption of the protocol and collection of data for at least two years across many voyages and to all regions, industry-wide benchmarking and thresholds regarding acceptable animal welfare outcomes can be considered.

  • It is recommended that a further study is conducted, addressing inter- and intra-observer reliability of animal welfare observations and the level and frequency of training required to ensure confidence in standardised assessments.

Animal welfare indicators pilot project for the livestock export supply chain
Research Organisation

Murdoch University



Project Code