New regulations and a code of practice for livestock transportation are coming.
The scope of the code of practice covers cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep and equine for road transportation, said Jackie Wepruk of the National Farm Animal Care Council.
Why it matters: Consumers are becoming more aware and more concerned that sound animal welfare practices are adhered to, which can drive producer requirements.
“We need to make sure the codes are in line with regulatory expectations. It is very important to have the Canadian Food Inspection Agency included in this update,” she said at a recent animal welfare meeting hosted by the North American Meat Institute.
The work should start next spring for completion by 2023. It involves stakeholders who will have to pay attention to what is practical and what the science says about animal welfare, cleanliness, sanitation, driving practices and species specific vulnerabilities.
The science committee work is done and has examined the effect of transport duration, time off feed and water, rest intervals, environmental conditions, loading density and factors related to animal welfare.
Agriculture Canada researcher Karen Swartzkopf-Genswein has led many transportation trials to understand what is happening to animals in transit.
“It is probably one of the most stressful events in an animal’s life,” she said in a webinar last fall hosted by the Beef Cattle Research Council.
Animals may never have been on a livestock trailer and they become stressed as they are loaded and unloaded. They may have travelled a long distance to an auction, they are mixed with unfamiliar cattle, feed and water was restricted and injuries may have happened.
The new government regulations may include shorter duration trips with breaks for rest, feed and water.
“The shorter duration will depend on the type of animal and the conditions of transport,” she said.
Animals transported short distances can also suffer and show physiological effects.
“We really need to do the studies to show what is the best rest period or is it causing more stress than actually leaving them on the trailer. That is something we need to find out,” she said.
Research has looked at everything from the conditions of trailers, the effects of weather and the impacts on animal health.
It is known animals lose weight during transit and when they arrive at the final destination, they are tired.
“It is a feat to maintain balance even for a short period of time so imagine those animals in a trailer over a 10- to 30-hour trip and the energy it takes to keep their balance the entire time,” she said.
Weight loss, or shrink, is correlated with ambient outside temperature and time on the truck.
At 15 C, shrink starts to increase rapidly. For every 1 C rise in ambient outside temperature, shrink increased by 0.04 percent. At 30 hours travel time, shrink starts to plateau. Handlers think it is safe to continue the trip because the animals will not lose any more weight.
“That is not the message we want to send. In fact, all the fluid has been lost and you are getting into potential tissue loss so really that 30-hour mark means the transport should have ended before they start to reach that plateau,” she said.
Stress and shrink may also be linked to long waiting times on trailers. Drivers may have to wait anywhere from one to 15 hours to cross borders, get through traffic or wait to unload at the final destination.
Research found driver experience is important to the welfare of animals. Those with zero to two years of livestock transport experience had more welfare issues compared to those with more than six years of experience.
Fats and feeders had the fewest incidents while cull cows and calves had more problems. The culls may be thin and fragile with weaker immunity.
Another project looked at the fate of 673 cull beef cattle from Manitoba travelling to an Alberta slaughter plant.
Out of 670 animals, 80 carcasses were bruised, with the worst damage done to cattle riding in the doghouse of the trailer. This is to the right of the internal ramp on the upper deck of a multi compartment trailer.
Shipping compromised cattle or unfit cattle are major welfare concerns and researchers found 50 per cent of loads had one compromised cow.
“Poor cow condition at loading is the biggest risk factor in determining condition at offloading. That is not a surprise,” she said.
“Even the best transporters and conditions cannot compensate for poor loading decisions.”
Another study examined cattle arriving at auctions as well as federal and provincial abattoirs in Alberta. The cattle in the worst shape were usually destined for slaughter but some did appear at auctions.
The overall arrival condition of cattle was good but there are areas of improvement where animals in heavy lactation, emaciation, lameness, leg injuries and respiratory signs needed attention.
“We need more education to identify unfit and compromised cattle. This is not easy,” Swartzkopf-Genswein said.
Previous research has shown feeders and finished animals are almost always fit. The most vulnerable types of animals are culls and calves. They may be immune compromised or thinner.
“Whatever you put on the truck, whether it is a calf or a cull cow, it has to be in adequate condition to make the journey under the conditions of that transport,” she said.
The CFIA policy states a compromised animal has reduced capacity to withstand transport, but with special provisions it may be transported without undue suffering.