FOURTH generation dairy farmer Tahlia McSwain is taking her love of livestock on board, venturing into the world of working as a stockman on live export boats.
From a 800 hectare property at Chapman Hill near Busselton in south west Western Australia, Ms McSwain was born and bred on a family farm that has been in the family since 1930. Along with her parents, she runs Boallia Creek Holsteins, milking around 600 Holsteins, and she believes livestock has played a huge part in shaping her future.
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The thought of sailing and delivering livestock to another port in another country has always been something 24-year-old Ms McSwain has wanted to try, and on December 17, 2019 she stepped onto her first boat the Ocean Drover.
"I've been on two voyages. The first was from Fremantle, WA, to Tianjin, China in December 2019/January 2020 on the Ocean Drover," she said.
"It was a big cattle consignment, 10,915 head of breeding stock on board ... and was 23 days sailing.
"There was a great mix of breeds on the vessel including a mixture of Holstein, Jersey and Angus all the way through to Wagyu, Hereford and Simmental."
Ms McSwains first live export trip with AUSTREX was an eye-opening and enjoyable experience that she quickly felt at home with, but it was also a humbling personal experience as 36 of her family's Holsteins were on board.
"My family exports animals, not very often though," she said.
First stepping on the boat was a pretty overwhelming experience according to Ms McSwain, who said its similar to a bigger scaled version of a poddy calf pen.
"The responsibility that you are left with plays with your head a lot but once you've settled in and found a routine everything comes naturally and your gut instincts set in," she said.
"I did get sea sick a few times which left me bed ridden but I was with a great team who handled it well until I was back on my feet."
More recently in February Ms McSwain travelled from Townsville in northern Queensland to Jakarta on the Ocean Shearer.
With 5903 stock on board, the trip to Jakarta was transporting feeder catle and was 10 days sailing.
With the help of the Young Live Exporters Network, Ms McSwain kick-started her live export journey after she was lucky enough to win a place in the Onboard Stockmans Course in Perth. After two voyages the captain of the vessel signed her off and LiveCorp sent her an accreditation certificate.
"While accreditation is not necessary, it is preferred by exporters when they are choosing who to put on a voyage," she said.
Ms McSwain said each ship provides their own workforce, but as for stockman that depends on how many animals are loaded.
"Your main role on board is to uphold and maintain animal health and welfare. To discharge them at the end port having them look better than when they came on is something to be proud of," she said.
"Our roles include monitoring feed consumption, treating ill/sick animals, and working alongside the crew in order to deliver this cargo in paramount condition."
The livestock handle the conditions really well she said, "they are happy content and settled".
"Sometimes when the conditions are rough, they will all settle and sit down and ride the waves like the rest of us," she said.
"The livestocks' ability to adapt when we headed into different weather patterns was incredible."
Once the vessel reaches the end port, discharge is the final stage of Ms McSwain's journey, as the crew and stockman work together to unload the vessel and the livestock head to designated quaratine areas.
"Each port of discharge is different," she said. "Sometimes you are allowed to go to where the animals are being received but most of the time you discharge the ship and your job is done."
Ms McSwain has two other ships lined up, with one scheduled to leave last Friday.
"COVID-19 has had an impact, meaning I can't fly from the west to the east to join vessels over there," she said.