THE live sheep trade has come a long way since news broke of the highly-publicised Awassi Express live export journey to the Middle East 12 months ago, triggering a chain of events that disrupted the trade and brought uncertainty and fear to the WA sheep industry.
A year on, despite sheep being exported, there is still concern about the future of the trade, which is on a knife's edge.
Recently The Sheep Collective continued its work to improve transparency and provided about 50 producers and industry leaders with a first-hand experience on board live export vessel, Al Messilah, while it was docked at Fremantle Port.
Rural Export and Trading WA (RETWA), which has been open to supporting the public relations campaign, had a consignment of about 69,000 sheep and about 300 cattle being loaded when the tour was on.
The Al Messilah was being prepared for a 14-day journey to Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Approximately 30,000 head were going to Kuwait, the first port of call, then a small number will be discharged at Dubai before the remainder (30,000) will be delivered to Qatar.
The Sheep Collective, with support from Emanuel Exports and RETWA, has been working to change perceptions and provide a greater understanding by presenting information about the whole live export supply chain and the onboard workings of the stock people and veterinarians.
For most of the group it was the first time they had experienced being onboard a live sheep vessel.
Self professed "stay at home mum", Dannielle Keatley, Brookton, took to social media to express her thoughts on the experience.
"Today I had the privilege of touring the Al Messilah livestock carrier along with other representatives and producers," Ms Keatley said.
"As a person who is happy to admit I know very little of the live export industry, even though it's a very important part of my husband's business, I thought 'what a better way than to see this part of the process for myself' and gain a much better understanding and perspective.
"It was loading livestock as we were aboard.
"My first impressions were of amazement of the highly satisfactory conditions on which the animals were kept.
"As they were loaded on the race up to the ship, they were up off the ground and had a draftsman above and an inspector below at eye level to the body of the sheep.
"Each of these people were withdrawing any animal they did not think was fit for the voyage.
"The loading race was huge."
Ms Keatley said the sheep could walk up with ease and were not under any stress or restriction.
She said the sheep were content in their surroundings, and their food and water was fresh.
"The area I was most impressed about was the state of each yard, the floor was dry (yes untidy with poo, but was compressed and dry) we were later informed that the livestock are on the same diet as what they will be fed on their journey for a minimum of five days before they leave the feedlot," Ms Keatley said.
"So the animal is comfortable and used to the food.
"It's also balanced so their poo is more dry and will compact nicely in the yard so it won't foul up their environment.
"There were staff wandering around each deck (about nine decks all up) and all water and feed was checked and cleaned thoroughly."
Ms Keatley, a major asthma sufferer, said there were no issues with smell either.
"The ventilation systems (and the pressure of ventilation) on board were amazing," she said.
"I even wore a jumper the whole tour even in the closed areas of each deck and the temperature was extremely comfortable.
"Yes we were still docked in the harbour and yes they are yet to go over the equator, but with 80-odd ventilation and extraction fans (with some of the fans being able to be reversed to aid more ventilation when needed) was very reassuring that the livestock will be as comfortable as possible for their whole trip."
Ms Keatley said the tour lasted two hours and all her questions were answered professionally and with confidence.
"Due to obviously not being able to witness the trip from loading at Fremantle and unloading in the Middle East, we watched multiple clips of camera footage from previous voyages and how the sheep were handling it all, and the images of the livestock being unloaded showed they were in fantastic condition, if not better than when they were loaded in Australia (and on average each sheep will gain roughly 1kg whilst on board)," she said.
"And on the way down each deck I noticed many of the animals were laying down and very happy.
"I am very appreciative of gaining this insight and experience."
Ms Keatley said The Sheep Collective had done a fantastic job promoting the positive and accurate policies and procedures that are followed to ensure the confidence in this industry remains.
Wickepin sheep and cropping farmer Tim Dawes, who supplies about 300-400 Dorper sheep to the live export trade each year was "impressed" by the "good ventilation, fresh clean water and the dry pad".
It was his first visit on board a vessel as well and he was happy with the way in which his sheep would be treated and cared for while on the vessel to the destination market.
"All the sheep looked good, they were in good condition," Mr Dawes said.
The tour was broken up into two segments, with the first part an opportunity to see the loading of sheep and where they would be housed while on board.
The Sheep Collective spokeswoman Dr Holly Ludeman hosted a presentation on the supply chain and gave the tour group a chance to ask questions.
Dr Ludeman and Australian accredited veterinarian Dr Colin Scrivener, who was to accompany the voyage to the Gulf, explained the day-to-day processes on board and the compliance standards that they operated under.
Dr Scrivener said "it was fantastic that people could come aboard" and see for themselves how things were done.
He then outlined the daily routine of a vet on board and described what would be included in daily reports to the Federal Department of Agriculture, which was also conducted by the Independent Observer.
Dr Scrivener said the report included the mortality numbers, conditions on board, wet bulb temperature, numbers of sick or dead sheep and what was done to treat them or how many were euthanised, lambs born or abortions if any and what was found in the autopsies.
He said on a previous voyage there were 209 mortalities, which when traced back through identification tags "40 per cent came from three vendors".
Dr Scrivener said it was found that they had been unvaccinated and developed a form of salmonella, or gastroenteritis.
Another issue found in some of the sheep that were being supplied was scabby mouth.
Dr Scrivener said three truck loads of sheep had to be rejected a few weeks ago due to the viral disease.
"Sheep that make it to the ship are pretty good quality, they have been through a rigid selection process," he said.
"What I've found is that mortalities on board are random across the ship.
"One of the biggest killers is pneumonia.
"When there are any issues that come up, such as a high number of mortalities in any one lot, we take the ear tag numbers and give feedback to the producers, which helps them."