Transport review focuses on travel time

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently received a summary of the 9,500 comments on the proposed amendments

LONDON, Ont. — Canada’s humane transport regulation for livestock was developed in 1977, and 10 years ago the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said amendments were needed.

Growing public interest in livestock transportation and its effects on animals has been expressed in the press and through social media, but updated regulations have moved at glacial speed. Amendments were brought forward in 2016 for a 90 day public comment period. About 9,500 comments were received, and recently the agency released a summary.

The public wants to know where food comes from and how far it travelled, said Derek Haley, a professor at the University of Guelph who studies the behaviour and welfare of farm animals. Part of his research investigates long haul transportation of beef cattle in Canada.

“Livestock transport is probably the most public aspect of animal agriculture. It is probably the closest many will come to seeing a live animal,” he said at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference held in London Aug. 14-17.

“Transporting cattle long distances is widely regarded as impacting animal welfare.”

While it is premature to speculate about what the final regulations might say, the key themes from the public comment period covered the definition and handling of animals considered unfit, compromised or lame. The duration of feed, water and rest intervals was also raised.

A livestock transportation code of practice written in 2001 is also under review, and Haley is a member of the scientist committee struck to review all that is known about long distance travel and its impacts on cattle of different ages and sizes.

The CFIA would like to establish standards of knowledge and training for anyone transporting or loading animals. Canada has a comprehensive livestock transport training program to handle many species of livestock because people can make the difference in animal handling.

In 2008, a research paper from animal behaviourists Jennifer Woods of Alberta and Temple Grandin at the University of Colorado examined livestock transport accidents.

More than half the reported truck accidents involved cattle.

About 60 percent of accidents happened between midnight and 9 a.m., and 80 percent were single vehicle accidents.

“That evidence points toward fatigue of the driver as an important contributor of these accidents,” he said.

“When we talk about animal welfare, we can’t forget about the well-being of the humans in that story line.… When we talk about adding pressure to get animals to their final destination expediently, there might be a final consequence.”

He was involved in research about animal behaviour at rest stops.

Canadian regulations now say cattle can be transported up to 52 hours without feed, water or rest. If they exceed that, a stop of five hours is required so animals can rest and receive feed and water.

A 2014 study looked at feed, water and rest practices at two privately run rest stops at Thunder Bay, Ont., where 7,579 animals in 129 loads were monitored. The make-up was 61 percent feeders, 21 percent weaned calves and 15 percent finished cattle. Of the total number transported, only five animals were down or compromised, he said.

There was wide variability in stocking densities and rest times, but the study found that on average cattle were on the truck for 28 hours until they reached the rest station. The average rest stop was for 11.2 hours.

“We are resting animals for more than double the legal requirement,” he said.

Unloading and loading took around 16 minutes.

It would take some time before cattle settled, but most of the time was spent eating, drinking or lying down. When new loads of cattle arrived, those resting were disturbed and would spend time standing and watching the activity.

Haley said there is no doubt travelling on a truck is tiring for cattle because of the amount of time they were observed lying down, but more work is needed to see how much recuperation time they need.

Funding has been received for Haley to work with Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein of Agriculture Canada to study the quality of rest periods and whether they benefit cattle when they arrive at the final destination.

Other countries have longer rest periods, and those commenting on the CFIA regulations suggested Canada’s transport time before a rest period drop to 36 hours. However, other comments said the proposed intervals for feed and rest may add to stress from unloading and reloading or cause biosecurity risks.

Comments also indicated weather and ventilation in trucks need more attention.

Temperatures within transport vehicles should be kept between 5 and 30 C, and animals should be protected from inclement weather, the comments indicated.

Feedlot owner Steve Eby knows the importance of healthy cattle arriving at his Ontario farm.

His family owned feedlot at Kincardine is 3,300 kilometres from Calgary and 1,400 km from Thunder Bay.

From his perspective, the humane treatment of those animals from start to finish is key.

Canada has a well co-ordinated system for transportation, but there are things that could be done to ease the stress.

Calm cattle are easier to transport and move through auctions, alleys and the feedlot.

“We get cattle in that have never seen people on foot,” he said.

They may be used to seeing people on horse back or a quad but could go wild when they see something different.

Handling equipment needs to be safe, and receiving pens should be well bedded with a good supply of clean water. Flooring and alleys should offer good traction to prevent slipping, he said.

He recommends 30 bales of straw per load to provide protection for long-haul calves. Those loading need to think about the size of the cattle and whether they might get bruised in transport.

When cattle are ready to leave after a sale, a truck should be available rather than making them wait at the auction for several days.

Drivers should be in touch with the client, and with cellphones there is no excuse not to call in the event of bad weather, getting lost or other unexpected events.

When cattle arrive at Eby’s place, they can be observed as they come single file off the truck.

He takes note of shrink because that is a good indicator of buying and travel conditions, he said.

Those receiving the cattle should ask the driver what kind of trip he had.

“Some of the best loads of cattle we received weren’t the fast trips. Those fast trips can be hard on cattle. They come off tired, shaky, so talk that over with the driver,” he said.

For the most part, Eby said cattle arrive in good shape.

A 2009 Agriculture Canada project led by Swartzkopf-Genswein found that 99 percent of long haul cattle arrived healthy and safely. More than half a million feeders and fat cattle were involved in the study.

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