For Australian cattle and sheep farmers, being sustainable means caring for livestock, land and the environment, giving back to local communities and ensuring farming is economically viable.
Australian cattle and sheep farmers are committed to producing beef and lamb sustainably.
As passionate stewards of almost 50% of Australia’s landmass, they work hard to leave the land, waterways, vegetation and soils in better condition for future generations. The focus on the environmental sustainability of the industry covers key areas of emissions reduction, water use and land management that are important not only for the environment but also for producing nutritious, high quality beef and lamb.
Because of geological, topographic and climatic factors, less than 8 per cent of Australia’s land is suitable for crop production. Cattle and sheep farming is the most efficient use of non-arable land for producing highly nutritious protein.
Through their industry levies, cattle and sheep farmers also invest in research, development and extension projects to continually improve their sustainability and reduce the resources they use. Each year cattle and sheep farmers invest more than $13 million in research and development to reduce the industry’s environmental impact.
Every day cattle and sheep farmers are doing simple things to improve their environmental sustainability, whether it be installing solar panels, fencing off dams to increase biodiversity or using different stocking strategies to improve soil health and groundcover.
Like all agriculture and in fact human activity, raising cattle and sheep has an impact on the environment. Today cattle and sheep farmers work hard to ensure that the impact is minimised and that farming techniques work in partnership with the natural environment. The livelihood of farmers is dependent on a healthy environment and farmers recognise this.
Australia's livestock industry produces approximately 10 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions come from methane which is produced by the natural digestion process of cattle and sheep.
Sustainability isn’t only about the environment, it’s also about good animal welfare. Good animal welfare is a legal requirement in Australia, and cruelty to animals is a criminal offence.
In raising, breeding, transporting and slaughter of animals, the well-being and health of animals is a paramount concern for farmers and a great deal of research, development, innovation and effort goes into maintaining high standards of animal welfare through the supply chain.
WELFARE IN TRANSPORT
Livestock are regularly transported across Australia between properties, feedlots, saleyards, processing facilities and export ports. Due to the sheer size of Australia and the isolation of many properties, livestock are often trucked over large distances. The road transportation of livestock in Australia is regulated under state and territory road transport and animal welfare legislation.
WELFARE IN ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Routine surgical procedures on both cattle and sheep are essential management measures that help ensure that livestock can be reared and delivered to market in the safest way possible for both the animal and the handler. Industry works closely to ensure that the welfare of food-producing animals continues to be a priority and that the efforts that Australian beef and lamb producers invest in this crucial area are recognised.
Livestock industries, government and researchers have collaborated to prepare new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines Genetic tools are available to allow breeders to identify cattle that will give calves without horns. Polled sheep are also available.
Development of industry best practice guides include:
- - Is it fit to load guide
- - A guide to best practice husbandry in beef cattle
- - A national guide to describing and managing beef cattle in low body condition
- - A producers guide to sheep husbandry practices
Investment into ongoing research and development projects including:
- - Selectively breeding to prevent dehorning
- - Castration options for calves
- - Minimising pain for cattle during castration
WELFARE IN FEEDLOTS
The feedlot sector was the first agricultural industry in Australia to implement a quality assurance program, the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS)
NFAS is independently owned and managed to industry, with feedlots also independently audited each year to ensure compliance with its standards along with animal health & welfare, environment and food safety legislation
Continuous updating of this scheme with relevant scientific and technical information enables industry to demonstrate that it operates in accordance with the requirements and expectations of consumers, markets, Government and the wider community
Feedlot cattle are supervised on a daily basis by highly trained livestock handlers and hospitalised if unwell – lot feeders also employ veterinarians to oversee animal health and welfare programs
Feedlot cattle are placed in a yard of up to 6,000m2 in size (ie around the size of 14 basketball courts) enough space for all cattle to exhibit natural behaviour in terms of movement and interaction
In accordance with NFAS requirements, plentiful quantities of clean fresh water and feed are supplied 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. NFAS also requires manure to be regularly removed from pens
The feedlot industry has invested large amounts into research and development to address issues such as heat stress. NFAS requires that feedlots have a heat stress management plan in place which ensures the provision of increased shade and water along with altering rations to enable cattle to better cope with such weather events
A web based risk assessment tool has also been developed by the industry to accurately determine the forecasted impact on cattle from these events thereby allowing time for feedlot operators to activate heat stress management plans to mitigate their affect (http://chlt.katestone.com.au). Such technology is now being used to assist humans in better managing heat stress. Under NFAS, such requirements are independently audited annually to ensure compliance.
Importantly, lot feeders have an economic incentive to deliver good animal welfare. This is because it results in improved productivity and beef eating quality. Lot feeding profit is intrinsically related to both. The fact that the cattle feedlot industry developed the Meat Standards Australia program demonstrates the importance placed by the industry with respect to eating quality and animal welfare
WELFARE IN PROCESSING
The processing industry has developed the Australian Livestock Processing Industry Animal Welfare Certification System or AAWCS – an independently audited certification program used by Australian livestock processors to demonstrate compliance with the industry best practice animal welfare standards (Industry Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments Preparing Meat for Human Consumption)
Standard Operating Procedures for the management of livestock include contingency procedures to prevent and mitigate possible risks to animal welfare.
Facilities and equipment are designed and maintained to ensure minimal interference or stress is incurred by livestock.
Under Australia’s constitutional arrangements, state and territory governments are responsible for animal welfare arrangements within their jurisdictions. The states and territories set and enforce animal welfare standards through animal welfare or prevention of cruelty to animals legislation. The Animal Welfare Act sets out the basic obligations relating to the care and killing of animals. One of these is that animals must be killed in such a manner that they do not suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.
Slaughter practices are also enforced by the relevant licensing bodies, including the State Meat Authorities under the relevant Meat Industry Acts, and AQIS for the Commonwealth.
Australian processors are also required as part of their licenses to meet specific regulations, described in the Codes of Practice, standards and notices that enforce the appropriate management and handling of livestock and prevent practices which are considered cruel and/or that causes or results in unnecessary harm, neglect or suffering of animals.