Officials say more education needed about emergency livestock trailers

Alberta Farm Animal Care says service could have prevented pig deaths this spring

STANDARD, Alta. — Efforts are underway to close a knowledge gap that cost the lives of hundreds of weaner pigs when the semi-truck hauling them rolled near Standard earlier this year.


Swine production manager Alastair Bratton was on a business trip to Calgary in mid-spring when he was asked to assist at the scene, a one-hour drive east of Calgary.


A livestock truck hauling 2,250 pigs to the United States had rolled. Some of the pigs were killed on impact, but the ones that survived the crash were trapped in the trailer and could not be released for fear that they would run into traffic and cause further trouble.


The surviving pigs died of heat stress and suffocation because they could not be removed from the trailer until they could be properly contained, Bratton said later. 


He said they could have been saved if the nearest livestock emergency response trailer had been dispatched as soon as the initial call was made to 911.


Bratton estimated that he and the trailer would have reached the crash site at about the same time.


However, no one at the scene, including the truck driver, peace officers or emergency dispatchers, knew about the 15 trailers on standby throughout the province. 


That’s an information gap that Bratton and officials from Alberta Farm Animal Care are now determined to resolve.


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Red Deer County and AFAC created the province’s first livestock emergency response trailer in 2008, following the gruesome aftermath of a collision on Highway 2. 


The prototype was equipped with gear that would be needed to contain injured and frightened animals, including a generator, emergency lights, ropes, halters, portable corrals, disposable coveralls, gloves and other supplies. 


Ponoka County followed suit, and there are now 15 similar trailers maintained by rural municipalities throughout the province.


Their locations ensure that a trailer can be delivered almost anywhere in the province within a reasonable amount of time, said AFAC director Brent Bushell, who is also general manager of Western Hog Exchange.


Their locations and the emergency numbers for their respective municipalities are supposed to be at the fingertips of 911 dispatchers, he added.


Additionally, AFAC’s 24-hour livestock emergency dispatch has access to the sites and phone numbers, and the information is printed on emergency response postcards available from AFAC. 


The task now is to find out why the information was not available to those at the Standard crash and make sure that everyone involved in hauling livestock, as well as first responders, are aware of the program and how to use it, said Bushell.


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AFAC staff have been updating emergency response centres, and efforts are being made to spread the word to haulers, producers and anyone else who may be involved in a similar emergency.


“We have gone back into all of our commodity groups and ensured that they have all the information on all the trailers, so that is kind of a first step,” he said.


“The second step … is looking at how we engage all of the jurisdictions, all the way from 911 down to individual police departments and peace officers and, secondly, how we look at transport.”


Bushell said it’s important that every hauling unit have a copy of AFAC’s emergency postcard in the cab for the driver’s use and for anyone else to find in case the driver is incapacitated.


“We want those trailers … used as much as possible. We want to make sure that they’re all ready to go and that they’re called upon, when they’re required, as quickly as possible.”


Bratton and Bushell ask that anyone attending a collision involving livestock ask the 911 dispatcher to send the nearest trailer. Failing that, AFAC’s emergency line at 800-506-2273 is available around the clock, and emergency re-ponse information is also on the agency’s website at www.afac.ab.ca. 


Copies of the postcard are available at no charge and can also be downloaded from the website.

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