Cattle are being moved every day but what are the true implications and how can negative impacts be minimized?
“Even though transportation is only a small part of a cow’s life, it can have lasting impact on them. Transportation can affect animal welfare, production, social and even trade,” said Carolynn Kehler, project co-ordinator with the Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP).
Kehler completed her master’s degree in animal science last year with a research project that looked at the effects of western Canadian transportation on cattle welfare and carcass quality.
She presented the study’s findings at this year’s MBP annual general meeting held in early February in Brandon.
“These research projects highlight some ways that we can manage transport and make improvements. They also highlight a few areas where we may be able to minimize shrink and bruising, which is important for the economics as well as the animal welfare,” said Kehler.
Two studies were conducted involving cull and finished cows where all aspects of transport were examined, including factors within the trailer, on the animal and the carcass.
“All of these studies were carried out in the winter. Mostly, because it is winter when most animals are hauled and a lot of the other research done on animal transportation has been done in other countries where the climate is warmer and that data is not as applicable here,” said Kehler.
In order to collect the necessary data, trucks and trailers were fitted with temperature and motion sensors as well as GPS monitors to track distance and path.
“Before transport we measured the body condition score, the cleanliness of the animals, any injuries, took note of lameness, and looked at serious health issues. We looked at cattle behaviour as they were loaded onto the trailer, we looked at the speed of the cattle entering the trailer and we scored the handling as well,” said Kehler.
During transportation, temperature and humidity were monitored as well as the impact of acceleration, stationary times and starts and stops.
Once the cattle reached the final destination, the same aspects that were measured before travel were remeasured.
“We then followed the cattle into the slaughter plant and measured their carcass quality, so bruising, shrink, dark cutting, yield grade and hot carcass weight, and we made comparisons between all of the data,” said Kehler.
The cull cow study looked at 17 loads, involving 517 cows.
Kehler reports the study found an increase in torn udders; three of the 517 animals had to be euthanized on the truck.
“That is definitely something that could improve and possibly, certain cattle could have been prevented from being loaded in the first place,” said Kehler.
Following transport 85 per cent of the cattle had bruises, with 17 per cent of them considered severe. Each animal had approximately five bruises.
The study also found that cattle loaded in the doghouse portion or the trailer had the highest cases of severe bruising.
“There was also a connection between wait times. So, as the cattle stood at the slaughter plant waiting to unload, that corresponded with more severe bruising. It is really key that the slaughter plant unloads those cattle quickly when they arrive.”
Kehler also noted that despite general conceptions that boarding in the trailer will minimize airflow, it in fact increases airflow within the trailer while in motion.
“What we found was that the trailers that had boarding had increased temperature and humidity during stationary periods but when the trailer was moving it actually increased airflow, especially when they had the alternating boards,” said Kehler.
“That is something to keep in mind if you are hauling cattle and deciding whether or not to put boards in. By putting the boards in you may be in fact increasing the airflow throughout the trailer.”
The finished cattle study examined 36 loads of cattle, involving approximately 1,500 cattle and looked at both long- and short-duration transport.
Of the 1,500, one cow was found to be compromised with fatigue and unable to move.
Consistent with the cull cow study, 85 per cent of the finished cattle also had bruising, with 20 per cent being considered severe and a rate of 1.18 bruises per animal.
“We also found that the yield grade and position on the carcass had a lot to do with the severity of the bruising,” said Kehler. “Animals that had yield grade one had more bruising along their back and animals that had more fat, a yield grade three, had more bruising along their sides.”
Kehler notes acceleration to be a factor in bruising outcome and says, when possible, truck drivers should avoid stationary time and routes with excessive stops and starts.
“We found that the vertical acceleration or vertical motion of the trailer had an effect on bruising and as the acceleration increased the bruising increased by eight times,” said Kehler.
Researchers found cattle in the study had a low dark-cutting rate, registering at 0.5 per cent, compared to the national average at about two per cent.
The studies also looked at the temperature and humidity indexes during travel and wait times at the slaughter plant and found that as temperature and humidity increase on the trailer, even in the winter, the shrink will also increase.
“That really indicates to me that we need to be careful, even in the wintertime, that your trailer doesn’t get too warm, because those animals are acclimated to those colder temperatures and even 0° may be too warm for an animal that is used to being outside in -20 or -30°,” said Kehler. “Even in cold weather we don’t want to get those trailers too humid because the humidity can get those cattle wet.”
Stemming from the study results, to minimize negative effects on cattle Kehler recommends ensuring the animals are fit at the time of loading in order to prevent any incidents during transport, to avoid high speeds on gravel or uneven roads, reduce stationary time as much as possible and be aware of ventilation within the trailer to avoid less desirable temperatures and humidity.