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Livestock transport regulations could drive change

Studies show national standards are mostly being met for cattle rest, but experts say humans involved need consideration too

Everyone involved in the process has responsibility for maintaining animal welfare when shipping beef cattle, especially animals trucked long distances.

If anything goes wrong, then it needs to be communicated back down the shipping chain.

Those were the key messages from Kincardine-area feedlot operator Steve Eby during a session on moving cattle long distances during the recent third annual Canadian Beef Industry Conference (CBIC) in London.

Why it matters: Regulations affecting cattle transport are in final stages of review. It is expected the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will release a final draft updating the regulations that haven’t been changed since 1997, although that might not be until next year.

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According to co-presenter Derek Haley at the CBIC session, it’s a near certainty that maximum transport times without feed and water for cattle will be reduced in the final version — most likely from the current 48 hours (with a grace period stretching to 52 hours if the cattle are destined to their final destination and not an auction barn) to a strictly adhered-to 36 hours. Other possible heightening of restrictions could be seen in minimum rest times and allowances for compromised animals.

Regardless, Eby noted at the conclusion of his portion of the presentation, “it could change the way we (manage) cattle on those long hauls.”

He stressed that the nation’s beef producers needn’t wait until amendments are finalized to improve how they account for animal welfare during the types of voyages he sees on a regular basis as a consistent buyer of young stock from Western Canada.

Preparation for long-distance transport should start weeks ahead of time, he advised. Animals need to become accustomed to human handling. The Eby farm, he related, often receives cattle which remain calm when approached by humans on horseback or on four-wheelers, but spook when someone approaches on foot.

Don’t send animals with sore feet or legs, he said. Keep an eye on those destined for transport, and if anything develops ahead of time, have a paddock available in which they can be treated and recuperate. Get them recovered before they are put back in the transport stream.

Make sure you know that the truck is going to be ready, with ample space and bedding, at the assigned time. He’s a big fan of lots of straw — 30 bales for a long-haul trailer. “We hear the odd story that you’ve bought cattle and you don’t have a trailer ready, and it ends up being three days before they’re actually on a truck. That’s not good for anybody.”

For the receiver of the animals, it’s “common knowledge, simple stuff,” he said. Have ample pen space with lots of bedding. But also have a Plan B in case of inclement weather or breakdown.

Haley, associate professor and steering committee chair of the University of Guelph’s Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, stressed the importance of en route conditions to the public perception of livestock agriculture.

“It’s probably the closest some people will come to seeing a live animal — on the highway, with eye-to-eye contact,” he said. This may not be the interaction livestock producers necessarily want consumers to have as their first impression, but there’s not much they can do about it. So, with or without CFIA heightening its rules, in the age of social media it’s best to make animal welfare a priority.

And it might not be that difficult to comply once the final version is released, Haley suggested. The national umbrella group representing long-haul trucking companies already instituted an animal handling training program; if this training can be expanded to those handling the animals immediately prior to and immediately after transport, it could go a long way towards meeting CFIA’s goals.

And regarding duration of uninterrupted travel and minimum rest times, a 2014 University of Guelph/OMAFRA study led by Haley provided strong indication that a large proportion of long-haul livestock voyages in Canada already comply with proposed amendments.

“Loads were at the rest station for, on average, 11.2 hours,” Haley said of the study, for which 104 truck drivers were interviewed after stopping at a widely-used commercial cattle rest station near Thunder Bay. “The federal regulation states they must be there for at least five hours.” The interviews also indicated “that no loads would exceed the legal limit of 52 hours in transit” by the time the cattle reached their destination.

That doesn’t mean that Haley sees no need for improvements. For that portion of the presentation, he passed the microphone to Eby.

But before doing so, he also noted that a separate study tracking livestock truck crashes in Canada showed that the majority involved vehicles hauling cattle, that 60 per cent happened between midnight and 9 a.m., and that 80 per cent were single-vehicle collisions. Driver fatigue, it seems, is clearly a dominant factor.

“In addressing questions of animal welfare, we have to consider the well-being of the humans involved in their transportation,” Haley said.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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