Life on livestock carrier 'pretty non-eventful'

Cows aboard the Ocean Drover, heading for the Middle East.
Supplied

Cows aboard the Ocean Drover, heading for the Middle East.

A man who has made four trips to the Middle East and China on the world's biggest livestock carrier says the cows on board arrive at their destination in excellent condition.

Brent Wallace, formerly of Gore, but now living in Arrowtown, works on contract for Australian and New Zealand companies that live export sheep and cattle.

He has travelled on livestock carriers out of both countries more than 40 times, bound for the Middle East, China and Indonesia.

Aerial view showing the livestock carrier Ocean Drover
John Bisset

Aerial view showing the livestock carrier Ocean Drover

Export companies have their own ships such as the 30,000 tonne Ocean Drover, the world's biggest livestock carrier, which was commissioned in 2002 and can transport 75,000 sheep or 18,000 cattle.

It has an area of 24,000 square metres for livestock, carries  2,740,000 litres of fresh water and produces 600 tonnes of water per day from desalination plants.

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Its ventilation system delivers 60 air changes an hour.

The Ocean Drover was contracted by Fonterra and was in port in Timaru last month loading cows destined for China.

Wallace said a trip to China took between 13 and 16 days and due to the conditions on board newer ships like the Drover, New Zealand is able to export high quality stock knowing it will arrive in excellent condition.

"Now with ships like the Drover there's so much room. There's heaps of space for cattle.

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"The first two or three days out of port are pretty busy because you're loosening any pens off so they have plenty of room."

Cattle eat dried grain pellets on board and a reserve of two or three days worth is carried in case of delays.

"It's very high in protein and nutrients so they don't lose condition on board.

"Every day is the same. Its pretty non eventful. Cows eat, drink and sleep."

Cows are feed at 6am, 9am and again at about 3.30pm and stock is regularly checked by a vet for any signs of injury or illness.

"Every two or three days you give it a good wash out and that's probably the most important part of the whole trip."

"The big thing is ventilation and it is much, much better on these newer ships compared to what it used to be.

Wallace said some people were critical of the live export of animals but the mortality rate was low.

"You might get one. Fresians especially are really good travellers and the conditions are second to none.

"We're selling a product to the rest of the world and we want them to come back and buy more, so you want whatever is walking off the boat to come off in the best condition.

New Zealand does not export animals for slaughter and Wallace says the standards that have to be adhered to for live export are very strict.

"They are the best in the industry, worldwide."

A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman said all live animals being exported from New Zealand were inspected by an MPI veterinarian prior to export.

MPI personnel are not on board the ship during the journey but trained stockmen or veterinarians that are MPI-approved are required to be on board.

MPI must be contacted immediately if there is a disease outbreak on board and actions taken would be dependent on the disease, but New Zealand is either free from 'diseases of concern' to importing countries or there are appropriate testing and treatment requirements in place.  

MPI only exports livestock for breeding, not for slaughter, and does not inspect destination farms in importing countries.

"However, it's worth noting that importers make a significant investment in importing live animals, so it is in their interests—and the animals' interests—to ensure that the animals are well cared for.

"In relation to the Ocean Drover, MPI does not have any concerns about the cattle it is transporting to China."

 - Stuff

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