Animal transportation issues are coming under increased scrutiny of late.
This column offers a veterinarian perspective and offers ways animal transportation might be improved.
Transportation is mainly about trucking between locations, such as to the auction market or to slaughter. But the broader definition involves the movement of livestock, whether it is down an alley or road to change pastures, or taking an individual animal to the veterinary clinic.
I find producers are very cognizant of humanely transporting animals.
Stock trailers have greatly facilitated this. The avoidance of steep loading chutes and the ability to open the entire back of the trailer have been massive steps in reducing the injuries, bruises and excessive use of stock prods.
The ability for producers to segregate different classes of stock (cows and calves) with divider gates also avoids unnecessary injuries.
Producers should always segregate as much as possible because it avoids unnecessary fighting. On a few occasions, I have seen animals’ feet slip through the space between the truck and loading chute causing severe injuries even broken legs. Newer trailers have eliminated this scenario and actually speed up the process.
Flooring with the checkerboard aluminium trailers or the use of mats has greatly lessened injuries caused by slippery floors.
A well-maintained stock trailer is an absolute must for any modern livestock producer.
Producers should clean out manure after each use and add more bedding as this is the easiest time and avoids dangerous footing or frozen doors in the winter.
Non-ambulatory animals are probably 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 humanely move mature downer animals. They need either early veterinary treatment on farm, on-farm slaughter or euthanasia.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees the transportation of animals act. It indicates that nobody can transport any animals with injury, illness or fatigue, which may undergo suffering during the expected journey.
This is common sense and ties in with not overcrowding.
Drivers must drive responsibly without starting too fast, braking too fast or making fast lateral movements, which can cause cattle to lose their balance.
This is especially critical when moving older cull cows. Always load lame, thinner animals at the back with lots of room.
When it comes to transportation in general, the most common abuse is overcrowding, followed by stockmanship and driving care. If commercial drivers follow the weight restrictions, they will not overcrowd with market weight cattle but it is definitely a possibility when moving calves.
New style loading facilities and trailers have helped with handling issues but once the trailer is loaded, producers should get on the road quickly because stationary animals may start pushing and fighting (especially bulls).
My pet peeve for hired trucking jobs, which I consider to be regulated and highly regarded profession, is the practice of waiting till all trucks are loaded so they can travel in a convoy. I fail to see the value in this and cattle can be left stationary a long time. As well, long waits before unloading at packing plants can increase bruising.
Weather must also be taken into consideration. The upper critical temperature is about 30 C. During extremely warm temperatures it is imperative to keep vehicles moving or at least park in the shade if the truck has to stop. This is where border crossings should improve to help make cattle more comfortable during hot weather and prevent unnecessary long stops for truckers. CFIA and the United States Department of Agriculture must live by the examples they have created.
When it comes to cold temperatures, one must consider the wind chill and type of livestock. Any animals that normally live inside, such as pigs or dairy cattle, will not be acclimatized and will be prone to frostbite on ears (pigs) or udders (dairy cows).
Compromised animals are those that have ailments that need special consideration. Things like prolapses, lameness, and penile injuries are prime examples.
They need to be segregated and then taken to receive care.
Keep in mind that with most of these conditions, being attended to by a veterinarian will make them more marketable or give them the potential for recovery.
Contact a vet if you are unsure whether an animal should be transported. The earlier the treatment the better able we are to minimize bad situations.
I suggest that everyone post a copy of the transport decision tree from the Beef or Dairy Codes of Practice. There is a section on unfit animals for transport that is worth a review. Downers, severe lameness and uterine prolapses fit into this category. There are exceptions for transporting if the animals are going for veterinary care, but most times it is best to handle the situation on the farm.
Today’s stock trailers and the experience of our producers goes a long way in alleviating transportation issues, but there is always room for improvement.