Around 3.5 million Australian sheep are exported to the Middle East each year. The most popular sheep breeds for live export are merinos from Western Australia. In 2009, the 3.5 million live sheep exports exported to the Middle East contributed $323 million in export earnings to the Australian economy.Australian sheep are highly regarded in the Middle East for their quality and disease-free status, and provide thousands of families and communities with a vital source of protein. Many countries do not have the land, climate or infrastructure to raise livestock sheep, and religious and cultural beliefs and a desire for fresh meat means many Middle Eastern countries rely on Australia for safe, fresh meat and protein.Kuwait was the largest market for Australian sheep in 2009, with the 950,000 sheep exported there representing 26% of total exports. Bahrain was the second largest market, taking 747,000 head. Everyone involved in Australia’s live sheep export industry cares deeply about the welfare of the sheep we export overseas. The Australian live sheep export industry operates to world-best standards and is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world.
AQIS accredited Australian veterinarians and stockmen care for the sheep during their journey overseas. Sheep have constant access to feed and water and room to move around and lie down. Each vessel has ‘hospital pens’ to provide extra care for sick animals. In 2009 over 99% of all sheep exported from Australia arrived fit and healthy at their destination after being well cared for during their journey.When the live sheep exports arrive in the Middle East the sheep walk from the ship into transport trucks and are taken to local feedlots. Here, they again have constant access to feed, cool, clean water and shade, and are cared for by local stockmen trained by Australian animal welfare experts. Most animals are then transported to local abattoirs for processing while some go to local markets for sale.Australian animal welfare experts are based in Bahrain in the Middle East and provide training, education and infrastructure upgrades to help improve animal welfare and care for Australian sheep in the region. They are delivering many animal welfare improvements with the help of local people, importers and governments.A key initiative that has delivered improvements for Australian sheep exported to the Middle East is the ‘in the ute, not the boot’ program. The program is aimed at educating locals on the correct way to handle and transport Australian sheep, and to date has been introduced in Bahrain and Qatar during the Eid al Adha religious festival. During the year, the majority of Australian live sheep exports are transported directly from feedlots to abattoirs for processing, however during Eid al Adha communities purchase sheep directly from feedlots for religious reasons and are often unaware of how to properly handle and transport Australian sheep.
A team of Australian animal handling and welfare specialists worked at feedlots in Bahrain and Qatar to ensure Australian sheep were transported in appropriate livestock trucks or utes. Feedlot staff were trained, advertisements were taken out and signs were placed throughout feedlots to inform locals of the transport policy. The program has resulted in a much improved system of handling and transporting sheep during peak religious festival periods, delivering significant welfare improvements for Australian sheep exported to the Middle East.