Livestock Cropping & Pasture General Farm

Questions on RSPCA Livestock Welfare

What is the title of the RSPCA cattle welfare scheme?

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Better Beef Cattle Welfare

How was the RSPCA cattle welfare Vision developed?

This document, originally released as the RSPCA Australia Beef cattle Welfare Guidelines in November 2012, has been renamed to better reflect its purpose and intent which is to outline the RSPCA’s vision for better welfare across the beef cattle industry. The document builds on existing industry codes and standards for livestock management on farm, during transport, and at slaughter. Our Vision focuses specifically on areas of livestock management that influence animal welfare and have been written with the best interest of beef cattle in mind. In developing the document, input was sought from various people involved with beef cattle production, ranging from producers, to researchers and others with relevant expertise.

Does RSPCA expect vets to carry out husbandry procedures that require pain relief?

At present, the drugs available to provide pain relief may only be administered by vets. However, research is underway to look at methods of pain relief that are effective and practical to use on farm by producers themselves. Once these become available, we would expect them to be readily taken up by producers. See more here.

Does horn tipping need to be carried out with pain relief?

Horn trimming or tipping is the partial removal of the upper, insensitive part of an animal’s horn. It should, therefore, not require pain relief, but the animal should be appropriately restrained. Our Vision promotes the breeding and sourcing of polled cattle so that dehorning or horn tipping are no longer necessary.

Why does the RSPCA recommend cattle not be sold through saleyards?

Transport is stressful for farm animals and can cause suffering and distress. The process of loading and unloading, the mixing with unfamiliar animals in unfamiliar environments, the unfamiliar handling, the time off feed and water all contribute to animals experiencing transport as stressful. So, in order to reduce this stress, transport from point of origin directly to the final destination, be that an abattoir, a feedlot or another property, is, from an animal welfare perspective, the best thing to do. Our Vision is intended to convey that which is best from an animal welfare point of view.

Why can’t dogs be used in yards?

The presence of dogs is stressful for cattle. Dogs that are well trained may be used to move cattle towards and into the yards. However, once cattle are in the yards, dogs should be kept well away so as to avoid unnecessary distress. Yards restrict an animals’ ability to move away from dogs. This may cause distress and potentially result in aggression towards the dog. It is therefore also in the dog’s interest to keep them away from cattle confined to yards.

Does the RSPCA have plans to introduce standards for beef production under the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme?

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme currently covers pigs, layer hens, meat chickens and turkeys. While we have had many expressions of interest from beef cattle producers to join the Scheme, the extensive nature of the industry means that at present we do not have the resources to adequately monitor compliance. For that reason, we have not developed a Scheme for beef cattle production just yet. Instead, our Vision and the Beef Cattle Welfare Challenge are our way of providing beef cattle producers with the opportunity to promote the good animal welfare work they are doing on farm to a wider audience.

How will RSPCA monitor compliance with the practices outlined in their Vision?

The RSPCA encourages producers to work towards continuous improvement to on-farm animal welfare. Our Vision aims to assist with this process. Producers wishing to participate in the Beef Cattle Welfare Challenge and those nominating for a Beef Cattle Welfare Award are asked to benchmark how their current practices compare to our Vision. They then commit to meeting their nominated area(s) of improvement from the document within a one, two, or three-year timeframe. The RSPCA asks that producers sign a statutory declaration to support their entry in the Challenge. For those aiming for an Award, RSPCA may decide to visit a potential Award recipient’s property to help with the shortlisting process.

How will RSPCA recognise producers who are participating in the Beef Cattle Welfare Challenge?

Beef cattle producers participating in the Challenge will have the opportunity to have their company name (and property as applicable) displayed on the RSPCA Australia website. Producers participating in the Challenge are also eligible for the Beef Cattle Welfare Challenge Award. Challenge participants are recognised publicly on World Farm Animal Day. See more here.

More and more consumers are interested in where their food comes from. As this demand continues to grow consumers are demanding ethically produced food from paddock to plate. Consumers in Australia are generally satisfied that their steak is essentially ‘free range.’ The vast majority of Australia’s beef cattle graze in extensive rangelands or paddocks with perhaps 2 per cent being finished in feedlots at any one time – it can hardly be called intensive.

However can consumers be satisfied that on-farm practices, cattle transport and slaughter are humane? This is where consumers that are interested in ethical food production and animal welfare are looking and this is where the RSPCA sees an opportunity to work with Australian beef cattle producers to meet this growing demand. Better Beef Cattle Welfare: Our Vision The RSPCA has developed Better Beef Cattle Welfare: Our Vision to assist the beef cattle industry to continually improve and set high animal welfare standards for beef cattle production on farm, during transport and at slaughter. With more than 26 million beef cattle in Australia, the RSPCA encourages the beef cattle industry to look at areas within the supply chain where welfare may be improved. The RSPCA has developed a vision for beef cattle production which focuses on the areas that influence animal welfare on farm, during transport and at slaughter. They provide guidance as to how the RSPCA would like to see cattle management, husbandry procedures, transport and slaughter carried out now and into the future. See more here.

RSPCA Australia knowledgebase / Farm animals / Cattle / How are beef cattle reared?

Beef cattle are reared outdoors in all Australian states and territories. Southern areas with good pasture have herds with a high density of stock and northern areas, with less feed, have herds with a low density of stock. Queensland and New South Wales account for 69% of beef and veal production. While Australia is the world’s seventh-largest beef-producing country, it is the world’s second largest exporter of beef. In 2010, around 60% of total beef and veal production was exported.

Beef cattle come in many breeds and crossbreeds, some suited to mild climates and some to tropical climates. Some are from the dairy industry where cows may be mated with beef bulls to improve their calves’ meat quality.

Beef calves are usually weaned at 8–10 months of age and can be sold for slaughter or veal production. They can be weaned at younger ages if cows are losing body condition and, in a severe drought, calves can be weaned as young as six weeks provided they are given a high protein diet.

Although abrupt separation of the cow and calf is a common way to wean calves, it is stressful for both. Less stressful methods are gradual separation where cows are slowly moved further from calves, and ‘creep feeding’ calves, where a small opening in a fence lets calves, not cows, go to better-quality pasture and the calves get used to being separated. The least stressful method is ‘yard weaning’ where calves are given good-quality feed in a yard, while their mothers graze in an adjoining paddock and, a few days later, are moved further away. It is labour intensive but calves benefit by getting used to yards, people, handling and group socialisation. In addition, being in yards makes it easy to do health checks, vaccinations and parasite control. This weaning method is important if calves are going to a feedlot or are destined for live export. Cattle producers aim to mark (identify), dehorn if necessary, and castrate calves before weaning. It is acceptable to use a knife to castrate calves less than four months of age or rubber rings to castrate calves less than two weeks of age. The horn bud may be removed up to eight weeks of age by heat cauterisation or dehorning knife. Where the herd is spread over a large area, some animals may miss musters and unfortunately will be older when these procedures occur. In this case, it is best if both castration and dehorning are treated as surgical procedures — performed only by a veterinary surgeon using anaesthetic. In general, the RSPCA believes that all surgical animal husbandry procedures should be performed at the earliest age possible and must be accompanied by pain relief and/or anaesthetic.

Identification of cattle is used for on-farm management and tracking from birth to slaughter, but some methods are painful. Microchips or other electronic methods cause little discomfort. Tattooing and tagging need to be done humanely and, if branding is necessary, freeze branding should be used but not on the cheek. All husbandry procedures should use best practice and good hygiene. Hot iron (fire) branding and ear mutilation are unacceptable marking methods.

At marking and weaning, calves and cows can be checked for disease, lameness, deformity and unsuitable temperament. Depending on the problem, they should be treated by stockmen or a veterinarian, culled or humanely and promptly euthanased. They must only be sent to slaughter if they are fit to travel.

After weaning, management and feeding practices are fitted to beef production targets, for example to reach a particular age or weight for the domestic or export market. Some cattle may go to a feedlot where the diet is aimed to have the animal reach a high degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) before going to slaughter.

Beef cattle producers are obliged to provide their stock with good-quality feed and clean water. They are responsible for cattle safety by providing good fencing, yards, handling facilities and shelter against weather extremes; as well as protection from predators and toxic plants. They must ensure cattle are only handled by skilled workers and, if necessary, using well-trained dogs that are under effective control. Producers should have contingency plans to cover disasters such as fire, flood, drought and major cattle disease outbreaks.

Because of Australia’s vast size, many cattle undergo long-distance transport before being slaughtered or shipped for live export. Ideally, all cattle should be humanely slaughtered as close as possible to where they were reared. The RSPCA is opposed to the live export of animals for slaughter.

There are codes of practice and standards/guidelines for cattle production, transport and slaughter. They outline the minimum recommendations for good animal welfare. However, there can be considerable differences between farms. The beef-cattle production chain should be subject to quality assurance and independently audited to ensure cattle welfare is not compromised. To a large degree good welfare can be achieved with good stockmanship — being the knowledge, skill, attitude and behaviour needed to manage cattle in a humane manner.

RSPCA Australia has developed Beef Cattle Welfare – our vision to encourage producers to improve on-farm practices that influence animal welfare.

For further information, see:

Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (

Australian Animal Welfare Standards: Land Transport of Livestock (

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments (