Improvements to Canada’s livestock transportation regulations are commendable but they’re unlikely to have their intended effect unless they include financial incentives for compliance, says a leading American expert on animal welfare.
“You have to have the right financial incentives,” said Temple Grandin, an expert on animal behaviour.
“In some countries … for example, they get paid based on how many kilograms of cattle they can stuff on a truck. That does not motivate good transportation (practices).”
Grandin, who delivered a keynote address March 25 at 4-H Saskatchewan’s 100th anniversary gala in Saskatoon, said the North American livestock industry has made significant improvements to handling practices, particularly at feedyards and packing plants.
But when it comes to transportation, more work needs to be done.
Grandin said too many lame, weak and sick animals are being transported, even though they are unfit to be loaded and moved.
Weak or poorly conditioned animals will continue to suffer during transit, regardless of what regulations are put in place.
“The first thing you have to do is put a fit animal onto that trailer,” she said in an interview before her presentation.
“I still think some of the worst problems in transportation stem from the fact that an unfit animal was put on that trailer.”
Beef cattle lameness is a common concern. The problem is a further complicated when lame animals are loaded onto trailers and shipped over long distances.
The practice of shipping old, weak and lame dairy cows is also common.
“Some dairies do a great job (managing lame animals) but there are a few that don’t,” Grandin said.
Proper animal management during pre-loading and en route is important to reducing transportation-related injuries and stress.
In an ideal world, all animals being transported would be pre-conditioned, pre-weaned and pre-vaccinated before loading, she said.
“There’s still a big problem in North America with calves getting weaned on the truck,” she said.
“(This is) very bad practice.
“The science is very clear. Weaning feeder calves on a truck … is a terrible thing to do but in order to get that practice stopped, there needs to be a financial incentive.”
The Canadian livestock industry is in the process of updating livestock transportation regulations with the aim of reducing livestock injuries and stress during transit.
Canadian livestock groups have emphasized that new regulations must be practical and science-based.
Grandin, a professor of animal science at the University of Colorado, said there has been a significant amount of scientific research conducted in some areas of animal handling.
But in other areas, more study is needed.
Providing rest periods, food, water and a smooth ride during transit are critically important to ensuring animal comfort.
The benefits of rest stops during transit, for example, are still open to debate, particularly when unloading is involved.
Animals that are relatively tame and properly conditioned are more likely to benefit from rest stops than animals that are anxious and uncomfortable in strange surroundings.
“There’s a point where you can get too many rest stops and they turn into stress stops, and that’s not helpful,” Grandin said.
Common sense and good judgment should always be used when making decisions about driver fatigue, transit times and the use of shielding panels inside stock trailers during cold weather.
Grandin said numerical scoring systems that rate handling practices should be used more routinely at all points in the handling system.
“I’m a big believer in numerical objective scoring…,” she said.
“What percentage of your animals did you use an electric prod on? What percentage fell down (during handling)? What percentage got miscaught in the squeeze chute? What percentage got banged on the head in the squeeze chute…?
“When you measure things, you manage them and then you can tell … (if you’re) getting better at my cattle handling, or … getting worse.”
Grandin compared numerical scoring to monitoring traffic speeds on a freeway.
“If the police weren’t out there monitoring speed, can you imagine what it would be like out on the highway?” she said.
“It would be a mess. You manage what you measure.”