Cross Canada cattle transport — the journey and the destination count

Livestock transport is one subject for discussion at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference next week

With hundreds of thousands of beef cattle being transported across Canada each year, welfare during transport is a hot topic among producers, scientists, and society. Discussions around potential regulation changes regarding the amount of time cattle are on a truck, and how many hours cattle are transported without feed and water, have people all along the beef value chain taking notice.

Livestock transport is the subject of an upcoming Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) Bov-Innovation session during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in London, Ont., this month. Derek Haley is an animal welfare researcher from the University of Guelph who will provide some scientific context around long-distance hauling. Steve Eby, a beef producer from Kincardine, Ont., who ships and receives hundreds of cattle annually, will share his insight into how to achieve successful livestock transport outcomes.

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“Transporting animals is integral to Canada’s beef industry today so it should matter to every producer,” said Derek Haley. Much of Haley’s recent research has involved studying the practice of providing cattle with feed, water, and rest during long-distance transport. He will be collaborating with Dr. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, at Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, in Lethbridge to do more.

“Whether the haul is long or short, producers need to understand the process, and understand how transportation affects the animals, which it does,” Haley explained. Beef industry players are also becoming aware of the element of public perception. “Transporting cattle is a very visible and public activity and that also matters,” Haley said. “There are real opportunities in this area, to show that the industry cares about reducing stress on its animals, and to fine-tune our practices to benefit not just the animals, but also producers.”

With research providing greater insight into the complex nature of transport, regulations are anticipated to change. It’s expected that proposed amendments to the Health of Animals Regulations affecting the humane transportation of livestock will be passed by the end of 2018. The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) is also scheduled to update the Transportation Code of Practice, first drafted in 2001. The development of the updated transport code will take time and numerous opportunities for awareness, and industry consultations are built into the process. NFACC says the code is intended to support awareness and implementation of regulations, and ideally it will serve as a complementary guideline.

“Proper transport starts well before the cattle are loaded and continues after they are walked off the truck” Steve Eby explained. “Animal welfare is our number one interest when it comes to shipping and receiving cattle,” he said. Eby, who operates a 900-head feedlot along with his father Stan, said 90 per cent of their cattle come from Western Canada, which means they’ve travelled a great distance before they arrive at their new home. “If I could tell the public one thing, it’s that we take transport very seriously,” he added. “It’s a well co-ordinated system. When we are purchasing cattle out of province, we will not purchase unless a truck is available and waiting,” he specified. He also added that for most cattle destined for his farm, the drivers must stop at Thunder Bay. “This gives cattle a chance for feed, water, and a rest — and it’s good for the driver too,” said Eby.

A long list of complexities can have an impact on the success of a long trip, including driver experience and fitness, truck maintenance, trailer design, weather fluctuations, and stressed or commingled livestock. “If something goes wrong, you need to have a Plan B ready and you need to go for it,” noted Eby. He added that communications technology has changed over time and that has enabled transport practices to evolve as well. “Twenty-five years ago, you would sleep on the couch so you could hear when the truck arrived. Now with cell phones, we’ll hear from the driver two or three times along the way to discuss their trip and the weather and identify if they need to speed up or slow down for parts of their journey,” he added.

The weather can change dramatically in the course of a long haul and in some ways, this makes Canada unique. Critics often suggest Canada’s transport rules should be more in line with other countries, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. “No two countries are alike — and Canada is especially vast and varied in terms of both topography and climate,” Haley explained. “I think it would be a mistake to assume that rules from other countries, just because they are different, are either evidence-based or necessarily better for the care and welfare of the animals.”

The beef industry will have to address some transport issues in the future but they are not insurmountable. “Ultimately, I do believe in the ingenuity of the Canadian beef industry working together with various partners, including scientists, to come up with made-in-Canada solutions that will be acceptable,” he said.

This discussion continues during “Cross Canada Cattle — best transport practices” during BCRC’s Bov-Innovation session on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in London, Ont.

About the author

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Tara Mulhern Davidson is a rancher, writer, and agrologist from Ponteix, Sask.

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