Truck sensors help drivers monitor livestock welfare

Canada’s livestock and livestock transportation industries continue to look for ways to ensure the comfort, health and welfare of farm animals during transportation.

Last year, the Canadian Animal Health Coalition (CAHC) teamed up with Transport Genie Ltd., a technology company based in Guelph, Ont., to launch a two-year research project that uses remote wireless sensors to monitor environmental conditions inside livestock trailers.

The project comes as the country’s livestock and transportation industries adapt to new industry-wide regulations that were introduced in February. The regulations are designed to ensure that livestock animals are healthy, comfortable and properly cared for during transit.

“Farmers are concerned with the welfare of their livestock and that concern doesn’t end once their animals are in transit,” said Jennifer MacTavish, CAHC chair.

“Technology like Transport Genie will enable farmers and truckers to effectively monitor animals in transit to ensure their welfare needs are being met,” she continued.

“This research project will determine whether Transport Genie offers the robust, reliable solution that the industry needs to (ensure)… that everyone is doing the best they can for animals in transit at every stage of their journey.”

Transport Genie, an agricultural technology company, uses wireless sensors to monitor temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions inside stock trailers.

The system collects data and provides real-time displays to truck drivers, dispatchers and livestock managers.

When environmental conditions inside the trailer fall outside of an acceptable range of values, the sensors send a wireless signal alerting drivers and handlers that steps should be taken to ensure proper animal comfort.

The system can also be integrated with remote controlled devices inside the stock trailer, such as heaters, coolers and misters, which could automatically be activated when temperature and humidity thresholds are breached.

In a recent interview, Joel Sotomayor, president and chief executive officer of Transport Genie, said the smart sensor system has the potential to address important animal welfare issues in the livestock trucking industry, a part of the supply chain that has been criticized for doing too little to ensure animal comfort.

“Right now, anybody can buy an off-the-shelf data logger but it won’t provide any real-time information so if there’s a condition occurring in the trailer, it’s either too hot or too cold for example, the driver doesn’t know and corrective action isn’t taken,” Sotomayor said.

“With our system, we have a real-time messaging system so if conditions go above or below a certain threshold, and an alert is sent to the driver.”

The system is also capable of collecting GPS data along the truck’s route and recording braking and acceleration patterns, which can be a factor in livestock injuries sustained during transport, Sotomayor added.

In the CAHC research project, Transport Genie’s smart-sensor technology will be tested over a two-year period, in real-world conditions, during different climatic conditions over long- and short-haul distances, said Tim Nelson, the project’s co-ordinator.

Additionally, in collaboration with researcher Terry Fonstad at the University of Saskatchewan, the Transport Genie sensors will be used to monitor the surface temperature of empty stock trailers that are baked in high temperature conditions between livestock loads.

The baking process can be used to kill livestock pathogens in trailers and minimize the spread of infectious animal diseases, including porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED).

“It’s all about the health and welfare of livestock during transit and it’s all about cleanliness of transport and sanitation of transport between loads to make sure that we are in fact doing the best we can in terms of (ensuring animal welfare)….”

Nelson said stakeholders in the Canadian livestock industry have been discussing the need for new measures aimed at enhancing livestock welfare during transit and addressing embarrassing incidents involving livestock deaths and downgrades caused by poor conditions during transport.

“Also, there was the impending legislation and regulations around the need to be able to check livestock in transit… and at the time, there was nothing on the market at all that was able to do this automatically or remotely if you like,” he added.

Without remote sensing capabilities, livestock drivers would be forced to make frequent stops, particularly on long hauls, to check the status of livestock on the trailer,” Nelson explained.

“If you’ve ever seen a truck loaded with pigs or cattle on a double decker, for example, that’s pretty hard to do,” he said.

“It can be pretty hard to see what’s going on in the centre of that trailer.”

According to MacTavish, the CAHC project is aimed at improving animal welfare and reassuring the public that the livestock and trucking industries are taking animal welfare issues seriously.

“I hope the project results in a valuable tool that our truckers can use to monitor the welfare of the animals that they’re transporting,” MacTavish said.

“It’s another way for us to demonstrate the level of care and commitment we have to (animal welfare)….”

Nelson said the CAHC project and the validation of Transport Genie’s technology will ensure that quality control and animal welfare issues are addressed at all points in the livestock value chain.

Quality control and animal welfare are already high priorities on the farm and at processing plants, he said. But concerns have remained in the livestock transportation sector.

“We know that farmers spend a lot of time raising livestock. They put a lot of money into it and they put a lot of emotional energy into livestock farming and when the truck arrives, they wave (the animals) goodbye and hope they’re going to get to where they’re going in one piece.”

Until now, “the whole issue of livestock transport has been… a bit of a black hole so what Transport Genie is doing is shining a light on what goes on inside the trailer when the animals are being transported.”

The project is funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) AgriAssurance program and includes collaborators from the University of Guelph, the University of Saskatchewan, Agriculture Canada and private-sector partners in the livestock and trucking industries.

The Canadian Animal Health Coalition is a non-profit organization that represents a variety of livestock industry and animal health organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Equestrian Canada, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council.

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