Opinion: Voyage of discovery a thrill

Tahlia McSwainCountryman
South West dairy farmer Tahlia McSwain is encouraging other passionate livestock producers to complete a live voyage.
Camera IconSouth West dairy farmer Tahlia McSwain is encouraging other passionate livestock producers to complete a live voyage. Credit: Danella Bevis

Last month, I set sail on my first live export trip.

Naturally, there were a lot of nerves and me overthinking different aspects beforehand.

However, I quickly felt at home.

Aboard Ocean Drover, I and 10,915 head of cattle departed Fremantle on December 17 — it was a big breeder cattle consignment bound for Tianjin in China.

There was a great mix of breeds on the vessel including a mixture of Holstein, Jersey and Angus all the way through to Wagyu, Hereford and Simmentail.

For me, it was also a humbling personal experience because 36 of my family’s Holsteins were on board.

I was really proud of what Dad had put on the boat, it is his genetic and breeding achievement — China is lucky to be receiving those cattle.

I’m also proud of the staff that we have on-farm for their hard work, effort and determination calf rearing and feeding.

Chapman Hill dairy farmer Tahlia McSwain.
Camera IconChapman Hill dairy farmer Tahlia McSwain. Credit: Zach Relph

The 23-day voyage with AUSTREX — one of the largest livestock export businesses in the world with operations from Russia to Indonesia and New Zealand — was a treat.

The livestock on the vessel travelled really well, which was indeed a very desirable result.

Before I was able to set sail, I took part in LiveCorp’s four-day Shipboard Stockperson Training Course in Perth.

I was one of 22 people involved.

I believe that I was very well-prepared for the voyage with the help of the LiveCorp program, which I attended through sponsorship from the Young Livestock Exporters’ Network.

Coming from a dairy farm at Chapman Hill, near Busselton, I have an extensive knowledge of animal health treatments and how to manage several illnesses.

However, nothing can prepare you for the challenges you face throughout a voyage.

As a new experience and having never set sail on a livestock carrier, I went into the voyage with an open mind.

I found my feet pretty quickly with the assistance of the other stockmen on board.

I was nervous, but I was excited.

During the voyage, there were days where I was not able to function and sea sickness got me pretty badly.

But once I got over that, every day was exciting.

Each day was definitely different, but soon I felt really comfortable and at home with everything.

I bounced off my colleagues really well, which was great, and they were fantastic and really helped me a lot.

I got back from the China trip and instantly wanted to go on another one, it really is exciting, so to go from breeder to feeder cattle will help me get more experience under my belt,

Tahlia McSwain

The whole journey was a learning curve, I gained more and more confidence every day and got to the point where I didn’t have to rely on the help of others.

The livestocks’ ability to adapt when we headed into different weather patterns was incredible.

For example, as we entered the South China Sea, the temperature dropped rapidly but the animals adapted quickly, and we ensured there was enough feed to regain body warmth.

Discharge was the final stage of our journey, and with the help of the crew, we unloaded the vessel and the livestock headed off to the designated quarantine area where they are required to stay for 45 days.

Discharge was very much out of the stockmen’s control, because once we arrived the buyers took control.

Our main duty was to ensure the livestock were unloaded with the correct procedures and animal welfare was maintained at the highest level from loading, through sailing and to the completion of discharge.

My next voyage is leaving Townsville on February 3, with a load of feeder cattle bound for Jakarta — live exports have ignited another passion for me.

I got back from the China trip and instantly wanted to go on another one, it really is exciting, so to go from breeder to feeder cattle will help me get more experience under my belt.

The upcoming trip will be a completely different voyage, given my first shipment was a breeder consignment, and this one is a feeder shipment.

Following my first ever livestock voyage, I would 100 per cent recommend anyone who has an admiration for livestock and upholding animal welfare to complete a trip on the sea.

Each day is varied and you get to witness some of the most beautiful sunsets, while working alongside some of the best stockmen.

Networking and ensuring our Australian animals get to their destination with the utmost care is the best feeling.

I can’t wait for my next trip.

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