Animal Welfare

Recent media stories about a cow being impaled on a tractor fork and a deer farmer convicted for illegally removing velvet from his deer has raised some questions about the scope of the Animal Welfare Act.

Care of Animals and Humane Killing

Animal welfare is becoming increasingly important for exporting requirements and consumer preferences. The act places obligations on people who own or are in charge of animals to ensure that the physical, health, and behavioural needs of the animal are met, including in relation to:

  • Food and water
  • Shelter
  • The opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • Physical handling, and
  • Protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, injury and disease.

The act also places an obligation on the owner or person in charge of an animal that is ill or injured to ensure the animal receives treatment for any unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.

It is an offence for a person who owns or is in charge of an animal to fail to ensure the animal's needs listed above are met. It is also an offence to kill an animal in an inhumane way (the humane killing provisions do not apply to hunting animals, including pests). The offence if one of strict liability, the offence need not be intentional. However, there are defences in the act if it can be shown that all reasonable steps were taken not to breach the obligation or if the offence took place in an emergency situation.

Surgical Provisions

Prohibited procedures: The act specifically prohibits cropping the ears of a dog and blistering, firing or nicking on a horse.

Restricted procedures: These procedures may only be carried out by veterinarians who have first satisfied themselves that the procedure is in the interest of the animal. Examples include the debarking of a dog, declawing of a cat and docking of the tail of a horse.

Controlled procedures: These procedures may only be carried out by veterinarians or animal owners (or the employees of the animal owners) who have veterinarian approval. The approval must be given by a written certificate. Examples of controlled procedures include velveting of deer.


The act sets out penalties of imprisonment for up to six months and/or fines of up to $25,000 for individuals and fines of up to $125,000 for body corporates.

Codes of Welfare

Codes of welfare are issued under the act, the breach of which while not an offence itself under the act, will be used as evidence to support prosecutions. There are specific codes for animals including: chickens, deer, companion cats, and pigs. Codes for dairy cattle and dogs are also being finalised, while the consultation process for a code for sheep and beef cattle closes on December 12, 2008.

The Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare 2005 contains important minimum standards for the care of animals including limits on the methods that can be used and when they can be used for procedures such as:

  • Dehorning (if without pain relief must occur as soon as possible and within nine months of birth)
  • Sheep tail docking (only when necessary, if without pain relief must occur as soon as possible and within six months of birth)
  • Cattle tail shortening (only to remove the last two or three vertebra, using a rubber ring)

The codes are available at:


The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document.
If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser.


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