The importance of animal welfare and ethics (AWE) within the veterinary education should reflect community concerns and expectations about AWE, and the professional demands of veterinary accreditation on the first day of practice (or 'Day One' competences). Currently, much interest and debate surrounds the treatment of production animals, particularly around live export. To explore the attitudes to AWE of veterinary students in Australia and New Zealand, a survey was undertaken to (i) understand what students consider important AWE topics for initial production animal competence; and (ii) ascertain how these priorities correlated with gender, area of intended practice and stage-of-study. The results from 575 veterinary students showed that all students ranked strategies to address painful husbandry procedures as the most important issues on their first day in production animal practice. Additionally, it was found that the importance students assigned to an understanding of human-animal interactions declined as they progressed through the veterinary course. In contrast, the importance of an understanding of euthanasia issues for production animals increased for male students as they progressed through the course, and remained consistently high in females. Females also gave higher ranking to the importance of understanding production animal stress associated with transport, and ranked strategies to address painful husbandry procedures more important than did males. These findings should help the development of AWE teaching resources that address students' attitudes and competence and that can be delivered when students are most receptive.