Ongoing research into livestock transportation practices in Canada should help government regulators and the industry develop new guidelines for trucking cattle that hopefully will strike a balance between animal welfare and economic interests, says the lead researcher.
The research project, that began in 2009 with a comprehensive survey of about 7,000 drivers of Canadian cattleliners as they hauled about a quarter-million head of cattle, will help establish a benchmark, says Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, an animal welfare research scientist with Agriculture Canada at the Lethbridge Research Centre.
Ultimately it is expected the research will help the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the livestock industry in revamping 30-year-old transport regulations.
STA RTING POINT
“The survey informat ion gives us a starting point,” says Schwartzkopf-Genswein. “It provides some basic information on where we are at today in the handling and movement of livestock. There have been some guidelines on the books, but they are about 30 years old. There is some research on transportation of cattle, but none of it under Canadian conditions. So as we started this project, we needed an honest assessment of how cattle are being trucked today in Canada.”
The 10,000 surveys that garnered an impressive 70 per cent response rate, asked drivers for wide ranging information on current trucking practices, including, length of haul, how long it took to load and unload cattle, shrink weights, types and lengths of trucking delays, weather conditions, bedding and boarding conditions, availability of feed and water, and mortality and morbidity rates.
Understandably it was a touchy subject says Schwartzkopf- Genswein, as the survey represents the industry doing a report card on itself. “But, they really did step up to the plate,” she says. “They took a proactive approach by funding transport research so we can pinpoint any areas that need improvement, and also produce science-based evidence of what works well.”
Four initial research reports, emerging from the 2009 survey, are just now being written and peer reviewed before being published. Details of those reports have not been released, but Schwartzkopf- Genswein says the survey is a useful guidepost.
Overall the transport benchmark survey shows the Canadian trucking industry is generally doing a good job, although more research is needed. One key point of the survey, emphasized by the Alberta Beef Producers, one of the research funding agencies, is that “99.9 per cent of long-haul and short-haul cattle reached their destination injury free.”
Some of the survey results showed:
average distance travelled by truckers was 1,079 km.
average temperature during hauls was 18 C (with a range of -42 C to a high of +45 C).
23 per cent of all loads used bedding.
34 per cent of drivers had more than 10 years of experience.
for every hour on the truck, shrink increased 0.15 kilogram. The average amount of shrink was 5.3 per cent, ranging from a minimum of zero to a high of 21.8 per cent.
average delay time due to weather for unloading, border access and other delays was 3.3 hours.
The survey also showed the average number of cattle per truck on long hauls was 46.7 head, although the low was 42.3 head of fats per load, and as many as 104.3 calves per load. Those numbers are generally above what is currently recommended.
The average border crossing delay was 1.6 hours, although the survey showed the shortest was about eight minutes, and the longest delay was 14.5 hours. And it was interesting that the introduction of COOL (country-of-origin labelling) in the U.S. more than doubled delays and wait times. Before COOL the average truck delay was 40 minutes and after COOL that increased to one hour and 46 minutes.
The average time on truck for fat cattle was 15.8 hours (ranging from a minimum of 4.5 hours to a maximum of 56.7 hours). While the average truck time for feeder cattle was 22.4 hours (ranging from a minimum of 4.1 hours to a maximum of 44.8 hours).
SHRINK PLAT EAU
Schwartzkopf-Genswein says one of the important indicators of cattle condition during transportation is body shrink — the amount of fluids lost by the animal during transportation. The survey showed it appeared that shrink topped out or plateaued at about 30 hours of trucking time. Schwartzkopf- Genswein says in her view that would suggest that 30 hours is too long, and that 24 hours is a more optimal maximum hauling time, both in terms of economics and animal welfare.
“But these are the sort of points the survey raises which need more study,” she says. “What is the more optimal trucking time, and what is the optimal loading density of a truck for the various classes of cattle, and how do they affect shrink.”
Schwartzkopf-Genswein says fat cattle showed the fewest incidences with handling transport stress, while feeder calves were more susceptible to transport stress. The research hopefully will be used to bring about positive change in the industry, including everything from guidelines on the maximum time cattle should be on a truck to design of trailers for better ventilation. She says it is important to strike a balance between commercial and economic interests and animal welfare interests.
“I think we can help make some important changes in the industry,” says Schwartzkopf-Genswein. “The economic losses from cattle transportation are considerable, and through our research we hope to work with industry to develop best management practices for transport.”
The research project is a collaborative effort involving funding from Alberta Beef Producers, the Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund (now ALMA), Alberta Farm Animal Care and Agriculture Canada.
LeeHartiseditorofCattleman’sCornerbased inCalgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]