Barnaby Joyce has been given a rock star reception at a crisis meeting of more than 1000 farmers in a WA country town where the former federal agriculture minister labelled opponents of live sheep exports "zealots".
Two of three major exporters are now not trading with the Middle East during its sweltering summer, which peaks in August, after 2400 sheep last year died from heat stress on the Emanuel Exports-chartered Awassi Express.
Livestock Shipping Services voluntarily suspended its northern hemisphere sheep business while Emanuel had its licence suspended.
Mr Joyce said those who wanted to shut down the sector were "zealots" but the industry could fight back and win, citing the resumption of the cattle trade to Indonesia and NSW's abandoned proposal to ban greyhound racing.
"What we're up against is like a religion, it's zealotry and they're not going to stop at just the closure of the live sheep industry," he told the approving crowd.
"These people haven't got a partial religion - they've got an absolute religion. "They want to close the live sheep game and where will they go next?
"Live cattle. And then it's going to be the live transport industry."
But WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, who wants to stop live sheep exports to the Middle East during their summer, got a largely hostile reception.
She was booed and told to "get off" the stage when she told the farmers they needed to develop a "plan b", including selling locally slaughtered, packaged meat and modifying herd genetics to breed multi-purpose merinos.
She said the state government didn't wish to end the trade but it needed to improve and evolve because the loss of community confidence was profound.
Otherwise, no one could say whether the industry would survive in five years time, Ms MacTiernan said.
The proposal to phase the live trade out over several years was a federal Labor position, she added.
Mr Joyce told AAP after the meeting he didn't believe Ms MacTiernan's "heart is in the live animal export industry".
"I hope what this meeting does is temper some of her views."
Mr Joyce admitted he was disgusted by the Awassi footage.
"Everybody was but let's remember, don't use the exceptional and make it the generality. More than 99.5 per cent walk off the ship alright."
WAFarmers president Tony York said new rules introduced after the Awassi scandal had put the squeeze on the industry and were viewed by some as extreme, but change was necessary.
"When you've got an event like this (Awassi shipment), it's never going to be the same again," he said.
"You've got to do something about it."
Australian Associated Press