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Animal welfare indicators for sheep during sea transport: The effect of voyage day and time of day

Willis, R.S., Fleming, P.A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0626-3851, Dunston-Clarke, E.J., Barnes, A.L.ORCID: 0000-0002-7227-230X, Miller, D.W.ORCID: 0000-0002-4634-5819 and Collins, T.ORCID: 0000-0003-4597-0812 (2021) Animal welfare indicators for sheep during sea transport: The effect of voyage day and time of day. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 238 . Article 105304.

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Ensuring the well-being of animals during transport is becoming an increasingly important societal concern. The Australian livestock export industry recognises the need for comprehensive monitoring and reporting on animal welfare during sea transport. It is predicted that pen-side assessments of sheep can be used to monitor environmental conditions, resource access, and animal health and behavioural outcomes throughout a sea voyage. Pen-side assessments by observation are non-invasive and practical to apply in an industry setting. This study monitored sheep using a pilot list of welfare indicators during two sea voyages from Australia to the Middle East, in contrasting seasons. Sheep behaviour, environment and resources were recorded three times daily via pen-side observations of six pens of Merino wethers (castrated males), repeated over three decks for each voyage. Behavioural outcomes were examined for the effect of sampling frequency on group assessments. The number of behavioural measures were reduced via Principal Component (PC) analysis. The primary three PC factors were tested against the time of sampling and pen location after accounting for the effect of environmental- and resource-based predictor variables. PC 1 (24.0 % of the total variance) described activity levels, with sheep on Voyage B being more active in the morning and resting or recumbent in the middle of the afternoon and evening. PC 2 (14.7 %) reflected heat responses with the majority of the variation in these data accounted for by changes in Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) and manure pad moisture. The heat responses described by PC 2 also varied by voyage day (p < 0.001) and time point (p < 0.001). PC 3 scores (9.5 %) reflected flight distances and feeding behaviour and strongly correlated to WBGT and pellet consumption per head per day. Feeding behaviour generally became more competitive, and flight distances reduced as both voyages progressed. Results indicate that a comprehensive welfare monitoring protocol requires repeated daily sampling throughout a voyage. The findings of this study are pertinent for developing a sampling strategy to assess sheep welfare during sea transport.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Veterinary Medicine
Publisher: Elsevier B.V.
Copyright: © 2021 The Authors
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