Wellard vessel docks with world record cattle cargo

Rebecca TurnerCountryman
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The world's biggest livestock ship, the MV Ocean Shearer, unloaded a record shipment of 24,683 steers and heifers in Indonesia earlier this week.

The animals arrived in the Indonesian ports of Jakarta and Panjang to supply customers who had previously received Australian cattle under new export regulations as well as importers that had met the audit requirements for their animal welfare and traceability systems.

The Wellard Rural Exports shipment, which was also carrying cattle for another exporter, reported a survival rate of 99.98 per cent upon arrival.

It was loaded with 6465 Queensland-produced cattle in Townsville and a further 18,218 breeder cattle in Darwin.

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The ship's previous record of 23,372 cattle was set in July 2008. At the time, it was named the MV Stella Deneb.

Wellard Rural Exports managing director Steve Meerwald said the imposition of Indonesia's 350 kilogram weight limit, which led to a reduction in the size of the cattle on board, had also aided in achieving the world record.

Mr Meerwald said despite the record cargo, the vessel was loaded at less than 80 per cent of capacity, allowing the crew to allocate each animal more space than the Australian regulatory standards prescribed.

He said the cattle were loaded efficiently and safely with the logistics involved in assembling and loading such a large consignment of cattle both immense and complex.

"The fact that we have been able to load so many cattle without issue is testament to the professionalism of pastoralists, helicopter pilots, truck operators, veterinarians, pre-export feedlots, stevedores, ship crew and Wellard stockmen who support this important trade," he said.

Mr Meerwald said induction into pre-export quarantine was also assisted by cattle producers who had responded well to Wellard's new requirement that all cattle must be tagged with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to assist with the traceability requirements in Indonesia.

He said the large shipment would assist with the restocking of part of the disrupted Indonesian cattle pipeline, but a return to more 'normal' trading would take time.

"We are continuing to work with our Indonesian customers to get more feedlots and abattoirs accredited to meet the new Australian guidelines so we can increase cattle supply to Indonesia and purchases from Australian stations," he said.

Another Wellard cattle shipment to Indonesia set sail on Sunday. Wellard's newest vessel, the MV Ocean Swagman, loaded about 7000 head in Darwin. The ship had just completed a voyage to the Philippines, largely filled with cattle that had outgrown Indonesia's 350 kilogram weight limit.

Yalleen station owner Michael Percy said hearing about shipments such as Wellard's record voyage to Indonesia was a boost for the industry.

Mr Percy said he had reservations about the recovery of the Indonesian live cattle market after the ban, but "there was never any guarantee with anything".

"The Indonesian market is not as lucrative as it was following the introduction of a 350kg weight restriction on cattle last year," Mr Percy said.

The change in Indonesia's requirements has led the Percy family consider other markets for their cattle as well as selling a lot of their heavier cattle at the Muchea Livestock Centre.

"This year, we have sent about 14,000 head of cattle to Muchea," Mr Percy said.

"That's more than double what we would in a normal year, with the cost of freight doubling in that time also."

Mr Percy said it had cost between 20c/kg to 30c/kg to send cattle to Muchea with prices for pastoral cattle in many cases lower than they had been in the past.

Despite the pastoral industry facing difficulties, Mr Percy remained hopeful about the future. He said Yalleen station would start building up cow numbers after last year's drought, in which numbers were reduced.

He said mustering had continued as normal and the good season had resulted in a lift in cattle weights this year.

As part of the Percy family's long-term outlook, they are looking at producing heavier types of cattle and considering different selling strategies for these types of cattle.

"We will just have to wait and see how it plays out and remain hopeful we will be in a good position to supply different markets," Mr Percy said.

He said further rain would be the biggest factor in determining the pastoral industry's outlook with the fear of a repeat of last year's drought still at the back of many people's minds.

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