Research Report

Development and assessment of livestock welfare indicators


Animal welfare is an important issue for Australia’s livestock export industry, in terms of both economic returns and community attitudes. Meeting the demands of industry, consumers and the broader public for sustainable and ethical animal production requires a proactive approach to ensuring the welfare of all the animals.

The project included a literature review, including current standards and regulations for livestock exports, and a survey of 921 people within the industry and external to it regarding indicators of animal welfare. From the results, a number of welfare indicators were recommended for use in the livestock export industry.

The findings of this project will be used to guide the development of a set of animal welfare indicators which may assist in identifying potential issues early, allowing changes to management practices that avoid problems developing, and encourage continued improvement amongst those caring for animals.


This project aimed to identify existing measures and indicators for the welfare of sheep, cattle and goats in Australia’s live export supply chain, and internationally accepted indicators, and develop a method to benchmark the current welfare performance of the livestock export industry. Indicators needed to be important, practical, economical, measurable and quantifiable, and demonstrate industry’s commitment to animal welfare.

Key findings

A widely advertised online survey was completed by 921 people, with 26% identifying themselves as working in the livestock export industry. The other 74% were classified as ‘public’, with 41% of these indicating they were animal welfare advocates. The survey showed:

  • The ‘public’ group indicated greater concern for the welfare of animals throughout the livestock export industry than those who worked in it.

  • For both groups, the greatest number of respondents considered injury/wounds and ventilation as important, while fewest considered sneezing and smell as important. Similarly, for practicality, more participants rated injury/wounds, inability to stand, ventilation and amount of shade/shelter as practical to measure, and fewest identified pain and smell as practical to measure.

  • People outside the industry overwhelmingly believed data on animal welfare should be made public (92%), collected by independent welfare officers, and used by the government to regulate the industry and impose penalties for poor welfare.

  • Workers in livestock exports generally believed animal welfare data should be confidential, collected by those in the industry, and used by industry for self-regulation.

Benefits to industry

Understanding the values and beliefs of industry, consumers and the broader public is critical for providing reassurance about the treatment and welfare outcomes of animals exported live from Australia. The development of internationally accepted, practical and quantifiable animal welfare indicators will also allow continued improvement in livestock management and animal welfare.

Future research and recommendations
  • Only two indicators of animal welfare are used by industry or stakeholders – on-board deaths and non-compliance with regulations. As a result of this project, further work is recommended on 56 potential measures of animal welfare relevant to the livestock export industry - 26 are animal-based (such as weight, injury/wounds, lameness), 14 environment-based (such as air temperature, shade, noise), and 16 management-based measures (such as access to feed and water, available veterinary equipment).

  • An online ‘Quality Assurance dashboard’ interface is proposed, with data sent to a central database. An industry average would be calculated each time data is submitted, and participants in the supply chain would be able to directly compare their individual measures across time, or against the industry average. Direct, real-time feedback will facilitate immediate action where this is relevant.

  • Training of welfare assessors will be required to ensure that each person is carrying out their data recording in a similar manner.

Development and assessment of livestock welfare indicators
Research Organisation

Murdoch University



Project Code



Beef Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Dairy Cattle