Slow boat to China Slow boat to China Slow boat to China

Slow boat to China

Mark Eames 

Last year over 36,000 cattle were exported live from New Zealand. Almost all of these headed to China to stock dairy farms. This number is expected to increase this year, and for the next few years it seems that the demand for our dairy stock will increase further.

In June I got to experience first-hand the logistics of shipping cattle from NZ to China. Totally Vets was commissioned to provide a veterinarian to accompany a shipment of nearly 2000 rising one year old dairy heifers and I was the lucky one to get the nod.

I boarded the MV Falconia, a 40 year old, purpose-built, cattle ship in Napier. Also on board for the 23 day journey were 16 Filipino officers and crew, an Aussie stockman, 1781 Friesian and 200 Jersey heifers. We set out into the rough seas of Hawkes Bay in the tail end of a wintry blast, with three metre swells tossing the 100 meter ship around like a cork. I was a bit green around the gills that first day and needed a few breaks from the cattle decks to quell the nausea. Thankfully, it only took a day to get my sea-legs and the ocean gradually calmed for the rest of the trip!

We sailed close to New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, but not quite close enough to see land. The sight of another ship became an exciting highlight of my day!

The cattle were housed in pens of 15-25 and the feeding, watering and washing down was done manually. The heifers ate through about 10tonnes of pellets and 1.5tonnes of chaff per day which all had to be carried to their troughs in 25kg sacks by the crew. Seawater was desalinated for the cattle to drink, but not fast enough to keep up with the 50,000L/day demand, so stored fresh water was needed as well.

The stockman and I walked the four cattle decks twice daily, checking the stock for any signs of ill health and making sure the feed, water, ventilation and cleanliness were adequately addressed. My job was made easy by the awesome crew and their great work ethic. I never heard a complaint or argument from any of them and they never showed any ill-will toward the cattle. It was fascinating hearing about some of their other cargo that they had shipped around the world, such as water buffalo from Italy to Phillipines and stags to Gadaffi in Libya!

We arrived in Rizhao (a small Chinese city of just 2.8million people!) where the cattle were transferred to trucks for a 20 minute drive to a quarantine facility where they would spend 45 days. It was with a mix of relief and sadness that I bid farewell to both the heifers and the crew... An amazing voyage that I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to experience!