Study examines reasons behind shipping of unhealthy animals

A two-year study wants to find out why cattle in poor shape show up at auctions and processing plants.


“We are looking at what is compromised and where are they coming from and what are the conditions that make this worse,” said Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein of Agriculture Canada.


The beef and dairy industries want to know how many cattle are arriving sick, crippled or damaged in some other way. The study, which will start later this year, is supported by the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Farm Animal Care and the University of Calgary.


Its goals were explained at the Canadian Livestock Transportation conference held in Calgary May 6. 


The study is still in the planning stages, and co-operation is being sought from 25 Alberta auction yards, 50 provincial abattoirs and two federal slaughter plants. 


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has strict guidelines on the handling of these animals. Many should never leave the farm, but they do show up. 


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The agency describes a compromised animal as one with reduced capacity to travel but may be transported if it does not lead to undue suffering. These may be shipped locally for veterinary care, euthanization or humane slaughter. 


An unfit animal has reduced capacity to withstand transportation, which will lead to undue suffering. Unfit animals may be transported only for veterinary treatment or diagnosis. A degree of discretion is allowed when moving these animals. 


“It is dependent on the stage of some of these and the severity of some of these conditions before they would be considered compromised,” said Schwartzkopf-Genswein. 


For example, animals may have a visible limp but can still walk. There should be no broken legs. Some may have dermatitis, founder or cancer eye. 


Researchers will look for uterine and rectal prolapses as well as poor body condition score to assess whether they are thin or overly fat. 


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The animal’s age and sex will be considered. Weather and distance of travel, driver experience and market conditions are also taken into account. 


Illness or injury might include bleeding wounds, lesions, broken horns, respiratory disease or lump jaw. Swollen udders and heavily pregnant animals will be noted. 


Other conditions might be nervous system disorders, poisoning or a reportable disease.


Researchers also want to know how the animals are disposed of and where they came from. 


The CFIA policy on handling of livestock in poor condition may be found at www.inspection.gc.ca. 


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