Cattle producers should keep an extra-close eye on their animals’ condition before loading for transport, says a Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarian.
“Cattle hide their pain so that they don’t look vulnerable to predators. Keep that in mind when monitoring your herd,” said Max Popp, CFIA animal health district veterinarian, western area operations. “The primary focus of our work is import, export, disease control, disease reporting and one thing that is really critically important is transportation.”
Popp spoke to the Manitoba Beef Producers annual general meeting on Feb. 4 in Brandon.
“When these animals leave you they are not out of sight, out of mind. You have to think about where this animal is going, who is going to see this and you never know who will. The public image of our industry is a key thing, as you all know,” Popp said.
He stressed the importance of monitoring the herd and knowing the status of your animals in order to detect any possible issues that may cause them to struggle in the transport trailer.
“Cattle use their head for balance and will bob their heads to gain momentum to make a better step. If you see funny head movements, it is a sign of lameness,” Popp said. “If a cow is lame or doesn’t want to move, she’s got pain and is unfit for transport. Do not move them anywhere other than the vet.”
Slight lameness can be difficult to detect, especially in a crowd. Popp recommends separating the animal in question and observing it, as you may be better able to see signs of lameness once its stress levels are reduced.
Popp, who is also the humane transportation co-lead for Manitoba and a member of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association’s animal welfare committee, says compromised animals are categorized into two categories: unfit for transport, and animals that can be shipped with special provisions.
“Anything that has a reduced capacity to withstand transport because of injury, fatigue, poor health, distress, very young or old age, or any other cause,” said Popp. “Any animal that is non-ambulatory or downer is unfit for transport and shouldn’t be going anywhere.”
He warns producers should never attempt to transport animals with fractures, dehydration, shock, suspected nervous system disorders or fever.
“Anything that you suspect may calve should not go in the truck. One month before calving is a no-shipping time,” Popp said.
The only exception in transporting an unfit animal would be to acquire veterinary treatment in hopes of a successful outcome.
In these cases, Popp recommends making special provisions to ensure not only animal safety but producer safety as well, as animals in pain can be difficult and even dangerous.
“In this process, to provide the best possible environment for transport you need to make a segregation so that they are separate from all other animals. Load it in the back compartment, only travel locally and as little distance as possible.”
Producers should also be on the lookout for emaciated body condition, as animals with less body and muscle mass have a hard time standing in the trailer.
“These animals have less muscle mass, less stability. If you do load an animal that is on the skinny side, give it extra room or bed it down more and ensure that they have a better level of comfort than an animal that is more sturdy.”
Cattle showing signs of emaciated body condition or slight lameness should also be checked throughout transport as they can deteriorate very quickly.
Shipping unfit cattle can be subject to costly penalties.
In most cases, these are applied when an unfit animal is delivered to an auction mart, problems are visible to others or CFIA performs a routine inspection. Any animal that is transported by any device at any time is subject to inspection.
“We have a spectrum on how we deal with violations. We will issue a warning letter, which describes the injunction or administrative monetary penalty or prosecution,” said Popp. “Monetary penalties are gauged. There are minor, serious or very serious infractions. For example, an animal that wasn’t standing in its natural position would be a minor violation. A very serious violation would be beating an animal, which is also subject to prosecution under the criminal code and a fine of up to $10,000.”
According to Popp, penalties for anything related to livestock transportation start at $3,000 and fines are applied per animal, which he warns can become very costly if someone were to try and transport several unfit animals.
Bedding is key
When shipping an animal that you suspect is compromised, Popp strongly recommends ensuring it has proper bedding on the trailer so it can maintain proper footing.
“Absorption of urine is an issue. Improper bedding can cause the back of a trailer to turn into a skating rink. Cattle need to have good footing when they are on the road and so bedding is a key item,” said Popp.
When transporting animals that are in a weaker state, producers should try to arrange the shortest travel time possible and load the animals of concern last and unload them first and avoid trailer standing time as much as possible.