More than 30 protesters lay down in the road several hundred yards from the airport entrance, blocking the lorry's path, while others scrambled beneath its wheels and chained themselves to the drive shaft.
Police pulled the protesters from beneath the lorry, but they claimed a victory when, after a stalemate of more than an hour, the lorry turned away to return the animals to the West Wales farm they had come from.
A local MP, Gareth Wardell, had acted as mediator between the demonstrators and a sizeable police presence, and persuaded the protesters to withdraw on condition that the lorry and its cargo did not enter the airport.
However, the demonstrators pledged to continue their 24-hour vigil at the main gates of the airport as a Russian-owned Antonov transport aircraft still awaited its first cargo.
The Farmers' Union of Wales is still planning to transport live calves to the Continent from Swansea in an agreement with an Irish export firm, following the decision by the major ferry operators in November not to carry live animals any longer.
Jan Henderson, who chained herself to the wheels, said: "The strength of feeling is growing daily. Today has been a victory - a victory for animals which were facing a life of suffering."
As the attempts to begin the Swansea airlift were frustrated, Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, demanded a full investigation into the veal calf flights from Coventry airport after it became clear that the Air Algerie flight which crashed before Christmas had been operating without the necessary Department of Transport permit.
At the time of the disaster, in which a Boeing 737 leased by Phoenix Aviation crashed, killing all five crew members, the aircraft was not operating illegally because it was returning empty after making a delivery of calves to Amsterdam. But a DoT spokesman said officials were now aware that the company had made a "significant" number of deliveries without the necessary permit, despite having been instructed to make an application.
To obtain the permit, the company would have had to provide a certificate of airworthiness and the relevant insurance document. A spokesman for the department said: "Mr Mawhinney takes this matter extremely seriously and there will be a full investigation."
Directors of the company could be fined up to £2,000 if they were convicted in a magistrates' court and could even be imprisoned if the matter went to a higher court. But Christopher Barrett-Jolley, managing director of Phoenix, immediately rebuffed the allegation, saying that the statement by the DoT was fundamentally wrong and that the matter was in the hands of its lawyers.
Campaigners suffered a setback when plans by the environmental group Greenpeace for a weekend harbour blockade to prevent live animal exports were outlawed by the High Court last night. The beleaguered port authority at Shoreham, West Sussex, won an injunction against Greenpeace and its spokeswoman Ann Moynihan banning them from entering land owned by the authority and the water within the port.
The order was granted by the judge, Sir John Wood, after a private hearing at which Greenpeace was not represented. Shoreham Port Authority solicitor Robert Hinton said the move followed statements by Ms Moynihan that Greenpeace intended to launch dinghies into the harbour to stop the sailingReuse content