Animal welfare issues have been discussed and reviewed in the past. Lately, transportation of livestock has come under scrutiny. This article will offer a veterinarian’s perspective and provide ways to improve transport decision-making for your operation.
Transportation is mainly about trucking between locations such as to the auction market or to slaughter. But the broader definition really involves the movement of livestock whether it is down an alley, down the road to change pastures or taking an individual animal to the veterinary clinic. All of these situations involve some type of transportation.
I find that producers are generally aware of the best ways to transport animals humanely. Stock trailers in my eyes have greatly facilitated this. The avoidance of steep loading/unloading chutes and the ability to open the entire back of the trailer has been a massive step in eliminating certain injuries. The ability of producers to segregate different classes of stock (cows and calves) with divider gates also avoids injuries and unnecessary fighting.
One area of concern is the space created between the truck and loading chute. Feet can slip through this gap and cause severe injuries, even broken limbs. Newer trailers have eliminated this issue and flooring with the checkerboard aluminum trailers or the utilization of mats has greatly minimized slipping. A well-maintained stock trailer is an absolute must for any modern livestock producer. Clean manure out and add fresh bedding after every use, as this is the easiest time and avoids dangerous footing or frozen doors in the winter.
In general, the most common abuse of animal welfare during transport is overcrowding, followed by poor stockmanship and driving care. If commercial drivers follow their weight restrictions they will not overcrowd with market weight cattle, but it is definitely a possibility when moving calves. Once loaded get on the road quickly as stationary pushing and fighting (especially with bulls) may start. When hiring trucking my only pet peeve of a regulated and highly regarded profession is always waiting until all the trucks are loaded so they can go in a convey. I always fail to see the real value in this and cattle are left stationary for a long time.
Climate must be taken into consideration when transporting livestock. Upper critical temperature is around 30°C and in the cold one must consider the wind chill and type of animals moved. Any animals such as pigs or dairy cattle who are usually indoors will not be acclimatized and will be prone to frostbite on their ears (pigs) or udders (dairy cows). At extremely high temperatures it is imperative to keep the vehicle moving or at least park in the shade if having to stop. This is where the border crossings should really ramp up to facilitate movement of cattle during hot weather and prevent unnecessary long stops for truckers.
Non-ambulatory animals are probably the most at-risk. In Alberta, a downer is considered “an animal that cannot rise, remain standing or walk without assistance.” It is almost impossible to move mature downer animals humanely. They need either early veterinary treatment on farm, on-farm slaughter, or euthanasia. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces the Health of Animals Regulations Part XII. They state that you cannot transport any animals with injury, illness or fatigue, which may undergo suffering during the expected journey. This is common sense. Also eliminate overcrowding, drive responsibly without starting or braking too quickly, and avoid fast lateral movements which can cause cattle to lose their balance. This is especially critical when moving older cull cows. Always load the lame, thinner animals at the back with lots of room.
Compromised animals are those which have ailments that need special consideration. Things like prolapses, lameness, and penile injuries are prime examples. These animals need to be segregated and then taken to receive care. Attention to these conditions by a veterinarian will make them more marketable and/or give them the potential for recovery. There are exceptions but I would argue most times issues may be handled best on farm. Phone first and clarify if the clinic wants the animal brought in.
I would suggest everyone display a copy of the Transport Decision tree from the Beef or Dairy Codes of Practice. It gives a clear-cut way to make an actual decision on transporting specific conditions. There is a section on unfit animals for transport that is worth reviewing. Downers, severe lameness and uterine prolapses fit into this category.
Animal welfare with transportation is no different than other forms of animal welfare so educate others you see abusing the common-sense rules. Today’s stock trailers and the experience of our producers go a long way to alleviate transportation issues, but there is always room for improvement. Work closely with your veterinarian on the compromised or unfit stock. Use common sense when transporting and always double check trailer door latches before pulling out.