More about Animal Welfare

The Five Freedoms – what does it mean?

The ‘Five Freedoms’ is a widely used method of describing, in simple terms, the key attributes of good animal welfare standards.

These guidelines apply to all animals on the farm.

This includes pets, working dogs and horses.

In simple terms they mean that animals will be cared for so that they are free from:

  1. Hunger and thirst
  2. Discomfort
  3. Fear and distress
  4. Pain and injury
  5. and free to behave normally

We spell out what this translates to below


Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

Access to fresh water

  1. Sufficient to satisfy natural requirements under the current weather conditions.
  2. Clean water of good quality free of contaminates
  3. Frequency of water points such that does not place stress on stock to access.

Access to adequate feed at all times

  1. For adult sheep to maintain bodyweight
  2. For young sheep to grow and increase body weight
  3. For pregnant sheep or sheep with lambs to be able to maintain bodyweight while lactating

A drought strategy should be in place and a plan for its implementation. This will include:

  • monitoring the condition and nutritional value of available pasture
  • an action plan with trigger points to ensure sheep do not drop below fat score

Freedom from Fear & Distress

Low stress handling:

Minimal use of dogs for mustering and yard work

Dogs should be muzzled when working in yards

Shearing:  Shearers must be instructed not to abuse or mishandle sheep in such a manner as to cause pain or injury. (refer to Shearing Code of Practice)

On farm slaughter: It is illegal to slaughter livestock on farm for commercial purposes. If on farm slaughter takes place it must be for personal use or staff rations only.

Slaughtering should be conducted by trained and competent person and should not be conducted in sight of other sheep.

Method: The animal must be rendered unconscious by stunning. As a captive bolt is generally not available on farms it should be done using a firearm (.22 rifle is suggested) followed by bleeding out after the animal is unconscious.

The spinal cord should not be broken or severed until after confirmation of death. For further details refer:

Animal Welfare Standards – Sheep

RSPCA guidelines

Confinement:  If sheep are quarantined for treatment or observation they should be in the company of others or confined within sight of other sheep. This also applies to sheep selected for slaughter.

Predators: The risk of predators should be assessed and predator control programs should be in place using the most humane method for the species. Reference: RSPCA


Freedom from Discomfort

Provision of adequate shelter and space: In Australia this refers to sufficient natural vegetation or plantations to provide shade and protection from wind. Particular attention should be paid to sheep shorn in cold or wet weather to ensure they have adequate shelter from wind and rain.


Freedom from Pain Injury & Disease

Overview: It is important that attention is paid to providing rapid diagnosis of disease or injury and prompt and appropriate treatment provided. Animals must not be left to suffer unattended.

Physical injury: Animals with a physical injury or disability must be dealt with within 24 hours of being identified.

If the injury or condition cannot be treated effectively to relieve pain and suffering and put the animal back on a path to full health and normal capabilities it should be euthanized  promptly by shooting in an RSPCA appropriate manner (a single shot to the head). If a firearm is not available, cutting the throat is permitted to avoid the animal suffering undue pain and distress

Note: In Australia, the use of firearms is tightly controlled and for legal reasons may not be available.

Examples of injury or condition: lameness, a broken leg, cancerous eye, prolapsed uterus.

Monitoring for worm burden (egg counts) and appropriate drenching.

Lamb marking or other surgical interventions must be carried out at no greater than six weeks of age.

Mulesing is not permitted

Tail docking must be done using a hot knife or rings

The tail must be docked at a point where it will cover the anus in males and the vulva in females

Castration must be done using rubber rings or surgically using pain relief.

Ear marking with earmarking pliers is allowed providing it does not exceed 10% of the surface of the ear. Other approved identification methods include; RFID tags, metal clips, plastic tags.

Dehorning is not allowed. Horn tipping to prevent horn tips from being in contact with the face is permitted.

Shearing injuries must be attended to immediately by someone who is competent in this area. Pain relief should be available.


Freedom to express normal behavour

Feedlots for merino sheep are not permitted.

Sheep should always be provided with sufficient space and company with animals of their own kind to enable them to express normal behaviour. Note: In Australia merino wool is produced with sheep grazing in large open grassland paddocks. They are not housed in winter. They are seldom run at a density greater than 12 sheep per hectare and therefore have adequate space.

At shearing:

  1. Sheep should be shedded the night before to empty out.
  2. Attention should be paid to space so that sheep can get back on their feet without being trampled by other sheep in the event of them going down.
  3. Sheep should have access to water before the end of the next day.