Changes to Sri Lankan dairy program after welfare concerns

Changes to Sri Lankan dairy program after welfare concerns

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Facilities in Sri Lanka before (left) and after (right) upgrades to receive Australian cattle.

Facilities in Sri Lanka before (left) and after (right) upgrades to receive Australian cattle.

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Wellard has sought changes to its dairy heifer export program with the Sri Lankan government.

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An Australian-based live export company has sought changes to its dairy heifer export program with the Sri Lankan government.

Wellard, which is based out of Perth, WA, said it was unhappy with a handful of the 68 farmers selected by the Sri Lankan government that have received some of the 5000 cattle shipped to date under the program because they failed to follow the prescribed herd management advice processes, causing animal welfare concerns.

As a result, Wellard plans to change its farmer selection criteria.

Wellard said dairy export program had successfully reduced Sri Lanka's reliance on imported, powdered milk, fostered the growth of its dairy industry, and upgraded its herd management skills.

In 2014, Wellard was awarded a contract to supply 20,000 dairy heifers to the Sri Lankan government, and to provide technical support to the farmers who applied to receive cattle.

Two shipments have been provided so far, 2000 heifers in May 2017 and 3000 heifers in December 2017.

From these exports and including a pilot program in 2013, some 84 million litres of milk has been produced, replacing US$32 million of milk powder imports.

Wellard said its regularly monitored a number of key production and animal health related measures to assess performance and identify emerging issues.

Mortality was one of the measures recorded.

There were 95 mortalities from the first shipment in the first year, a mortality rate of 4.8pc, and since then a further 331 mortalities were reported from the second shipment, representing an annualised mortality rate of 9pc.

Four farms that received cattle in the second shipment accounted for 61pc of the recorded mortalities from that shipment.

Wellard executive chairman John Klepec said this had been a source of immense frustration, as those farmers had been ignoring advice, particularly on nutrition.

"So while we are continuing to seek immediate changes to the nutrition management on those farms, we must also change the Sri Lankan farmer selection criteria for future shipments so the negative animal welfare outcomes that have occurred on these few farms are not repeated and other farmers in the program are not tarnished by the results of few," Mr Klepec said.

There had been up to 90 Wellard staff in the field in Sri Lanka, advising and educating the local farmers on best practice nutrition and husbandry techniques.

"The due diligence, training and oversight undertaken by the Sri Lankan government and Wellard has worked in the majority of circumstances but has failed in a few," Mr Klepec said.

"We strive for 100pc success and the changes we will make will help us progress towards achieving that goal."

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