This article is from a special feature on Indonesian live export.
APART from the captain and the chief cook, arguably the next two most important people on a live export vessel are the stockmen. It is the stockman’s role to ensure the health and welfare standards of the animals are met.
On the MV Ocean Swagman, Wellard stockmen Ben Giblett and Charlie Graham were in charge of looking after the 7205 head of cattle bound for Indonesia.
“We need to make sure they are well fed and watered and if there are any sick animals we need to treat them,” Charlie said.
“Anything that needs to be euthanased is done pain-free and stress-free.”
Ben said the stockmen were the exporter’s representatives from departure to arrival and they were put on board the vessel to ensure the cattle were well maintained.
For Ben and Charlie the day begins at 5am at holding yards to monitor the feed intake by the cattle from the night before and adjust “the boards” for the crew which came through and fed the cattle.
The board is a system the stockmen use above each feeder to record how much feed they want in each pen.
On the board it will give an indication to a crew member how much to fill the feed container for the three meal times.
After that the stockmen will liaise with the crew by 6am. On this ship there were 14 Filipino workers and bosun to help deal with the livestock feeding.
Following any further instructions from the stockmen, the crew will begin to feed the cattle, a process which takes about an hour. Ben said the stockmen would usually split the boat to ensure there was no crossover of treatment.
During feeding and after feeding the stockmen would continue to check the cattle, looking for any signs of injury, sickness or disease. They check the cattle’s eyes and body for any signs of the animal being unwell.
Charlie said they were looking for a range of different signs in the cattle.
“Any cattle which aren’t eating, shy feeders or any at the back of the pen which are not eating,” he said.
“We pull them out and give them some more space with some extra chaff then they tend to come onto feed.
“Also we check for any loading injuries or anything which hasn’t been picked up in the depot, like cut legs or swollen feet or any injuries which we can treat.
“We also look for bad eyes and try to treat them.
“Respiratory is a big one on long hauls and you try to get on top of that pretty quickly otherwise it can spread.”
Charlie said there were no common diseases or sicknesses for live export cattle. He said it varied on each trip depending on the type of cattle and where they had come from.
“It all depends on different factors like the time of year, the change in the climate, where they are from and where they are going,” Charlie said.
“For example with Angus and Hereford cattle out of the south heading north from a cold climate to a hot one there is the need for extra care due to the extreme change in temperature.
“But with the cattle on this trip, which are predominantly from the Northern Territory and the Kimberley, it is mainly just shy feeders and injuries. Brahmans are pretty hardy and handle most conditions pretty well.”
Ben said they would generally finish their morning session by 10am unless there were any problems.
The stockmen would then usually have a general meeting with the bosun to discuss any other issues arising.
Throughout the day the stockmen will continue to monitor the cattle, making sure they are all eating and in some cases moving the weaker ones into a smaller pen to allow them to eat.
There are three more meal times throughout the day with chaff at 10.30am, pellets at 1pm and pellets at 3.30pm. Ben said the cattle needed to have set meal times so they were able to adjust to a feedlot environment.
Most of the cattle on board ranged from 270kg-310kg with the Indonesian weight restrictions set at 350kg.
Ben said it was all about maintaining the cattle in good condition.
“You are aiming for them to perform at the end of the day,” he said.
“It is more about quality assurance for the importer rather than a weight gain.
“So we sort of train them to eat in a feedlot situation which is what they are going to have to get used to anyway.” The stockmen would also do a check at 3.30pm following the final feeding session and then do a final check at about 8pm-9pm to make sure they have enough feed and water for the night.
Often the stockmen will also give the cattle some “Go-Go” juice which is a type of mineral supplement to help ensure they are getting everything they need. As a result of the live export cattle ban to Indonesia last year, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) has been implemented through all forms of live export from Australia.
Ben said ESCAS had little impact on what he was doing as his end goal was still the same, but he admitted he now had a greater responsibility when the cattle reached their destination.
“We need to make sure that everything is 100 per cent when the cattle walk off the ship,” he said.
“Everything needs to be feedlot quality.
“If euthanasia needs to be done then it has to be done to save animal cruelty.
“We won’t send a sick animal off the boat if we know it’s not going to make it to its destination.”