Animal husbandry techniques
The Australian beef industry is committed to best practice animal welfare, to meet community expectations, and because it is the right thing to do.
Animal welfare is also a legal requirement and animal cruelty is a criminal offence.
Australians, and customers around the world, expect that the beef industry does its best by its animals. Participants are also committed to doing the right thing, however the beef industry recognises that it can continuously improve its treatment of animals.
The beef industry is dedicated to ongoing improvements in animal welfare across the Australian supply chain. Only the highest standards of animal welfare are acceptable to the industry. Any form of livestock abuse is highly condemned by industry.
Improving aversive animal husbandry practices is a priority for the industry. These practices are castration, dehorning and spaying.
Producers are guided by the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle. These recommend appropriate husbandry techniques which deliver better welfare outcomes for the animal. The independently audited Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program, is required by many domestic and international supply chains. It specifies that staff handling animals must be familiar with – and receive training about – these animal welfare standards.
The industry aims to replace certain procedures. As alternatives are developed, the industry is also working to improve pain management methods.
The red meat industry’s guiding document, Red Meat 2030, sets out the aim for the industry to be “recognised as the world leaders in animal health, welfare and production practices”. This is to be achieved through initiatives that include ensuring whole-of-industry animal health and welfare standards and systems, as well as adopting animal health, welfare, biosecurity and production best practices.
MLA is the Australian red meat industry’s research and development corporation. MLA is a member of the National Animal Welfare Research, Development and Extension Strategy, and works closely with other research and industry bodies, including Animal Health Australia.
The Australian beef industry:
- Supports the use of pain relief in unavoidable aversive procedures, and aspires to 100% use of pain relief for these procedures by 2030.
- Recognises the five domains and five freedoms of animal welfare as our true north when setting best practice.
- Recognises that Australian law and other industry standards are the minimum compared with best practice.
- Supports the continuous improvement of animal welfare based on science.
- Does not condone cruelty to livestock within in our care.
- Supports and invests in alternatives to animal husbandry procedures.
- Recognises that until suitable and effective arrangements are available, the industry supports practices as identified in the Standards and Guidelines for Cattle.
- Supports promoting the benefits of pain relief to producers, decision-makers and the community.
- Australian livestock exporters lead the world in assuring the welfare of exported animals throughout the supply chain
- The timeframe for the industry’s 100% pain relief goal has changed from 2025 to 2030. After further consultation, 2030 was identified as a more realistic timeframe. This date better aligns with the 10-year red meat strategy, Red Meat 2030, and other industry goals (such as the industry’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The Cattle Council of Australia sets the industry policy on animal welfare for production, which can be found here.
What is the data telling us?
This figure comes from a different data source this year as the source for last year's data has changed their measurement methodology. This makes it difficult to compare data to last year.
This figure has come extrapolating the proportion of each breed that is genetically polled to the national herd. Data from this year has been calculated from seedstock. The commercial herd is expected to have a lower percentage due to generational intervals and lag in genetic progress between stud and commercial herds. The data is further limited as not all seedstock herds record poll status comprehensively.
The uptake of pain relief for regular use when undertaking aversive husbandry practices has increased to 21% in 2020. This figure is from a 2020 producer survey, where 21% of respondents said they regularly pain relief for aversive husbandry practices.
Self-assessment through surveys is currently the best available data, recognising that it is not an ideal data source. Alternative measures were explored, such as pain relief drug sales which were not feasible. In lieu of better data, the Framework will continue to report on this indicator using survey data.
Snapshot of activity
MLA leads the industry’s on-farm animal welfare activities across research, development, adoption, engagement and communications. For animal husbandry, MLA is focusing its efforts on three areas:
- Replacing invasive procedures with alternative, non-aversive, stress-free procedures
- Increasing the use of pain relief during animal husbandry procedures
- Refining necessary procedures by applying the least stressful method
Replacing aversive procedures
The developed ‘Australian Poll Gene Marker Test’ enables producers to accurately breed out horns from their beef production system, removing the need to dehorn. In 2020, another round of optimisation was completed and published leading to accuracy of more than 99%. The completion of further research has led to the development of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) based optimised poll test that is compatible with other genomic products allowing more rapid adoption of the test.
The industry prefers to find alternatives to certain procedures, such as breeding polled (hornless) cattle. Work continues to increase the percentage proportion of cattle that are polled. Immunocontraception offers the possibility of replacing castration and spaying.
Increasing the use of pain relief during husbandry procedures
MLA has invested in projects to identify suitable pain relief solutions for different situations. These projects include testing different chemical compounds and investigating novel approaches to administering and assessing pain relief.
The MLA Donor Company (MDC) project ‘Development of a transdermal technology to deliver analgesia to cattle undergoing surgical husbandry procedures’, developed a transdermal formulation of ketoprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle. The formulation could provide up to 24 hours of pain relief following surgery. The search is now underway for a commercialisation partner.
Work is underway to increase the uptake of commercially available pain relief. An MLA Producer Demonstration Sites (PDS) integrated R&D project is investigating the use of analgesics at the time of castration and/or dehorning, and the resulting impacts on welfare and production outcomes in beef cattle. A pilot study is being conducted on Douglas Daly Research Station, consisting of 400 weaners that will be randomly allocated to four treatment groups. Results from the pilot will then inform a PDS project involving a number of Northern Australia properties in years two and three to assist with broader implementation and practice change. MLA is also working with stakeholders to replicate this type of project across other production regions.
Improving methods for measuring animal welfare on farm
MLA is working with research bodies to investigate new ways of measuring and recording the wellbeing state of cattle, as well as establish benchmarks for enterprise and industry evaluation of livestock wellbeing management.