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Are your cattle fit to travel?

Transport: News Roundup from the January 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

The latest research into cattle transport looked at the effects of rest stop duration on calves.

When it comes to culling and marketing cattle, are your animals fit to travel? The beef industry isn’t doing too bad but the dairy industry needs to pull up its socks.

Overall there is room for improvement in all sectors of the cattle industry, says Melissa Moggy, a veterinarian and researcher with Alberta Farm Animal Care. She organized a study looking at the condition of cattle being shipped to Alberta auction marts and packing plants.

The results weren’t a horror story, she told delegates attending the Alberta Beef Producers annual general meeting in Calgary, but at the same time it wasn’t perfect either. With ever increasing public awareness of animal welfare issues (and the fact you never know who is out there with a cellphone camera), the industry needs to pay close attention to the health and fitness of animals being shipped.

Moggy’s study looked at the condition of 4,561 head of cattle trucked to auction marts, 1,069 head sent to provincial abattoirs, and 4,013 head sent to federally inspected plants.

Overall, 96.8 per cent of cattle sent to auctions were fit, 79.2 per cent going to provincial abattoirs were fit and 98.15 per cent shipped to federal plants were fit. Overall the figures aren’t too bad, but it still leaves about two to three per cent of animals that shouldn’t have been on a truck at all.

Moggy rated cattle in two categories. Compromised cattle are those that have reduced capacity to withstand transportation. Under animal health and transport regulations compromised cattle can be transported locally to receive treatment or to be humanely euthanized or slaughtered.

Conditions that constitute “compromised” is an animal that is still ambulatory but may be blind, has laboured breathing, is wounded, or is lame but reasonably mobile. Even an animal that is in heavy lactation and requires milking at least every 12 hours is considered compromised.

The other rating is unfit. An unfit animal is one that has reduced capacity to withstand transportation, where trucking will lead to undue suffering. Unfit cattle include those that can’t walk, can’t get up, severe lameness, broken limbs, emaciated body condition, severe dehydration and other dire health conditions. An unfit animal can only be transported for veterinary treatment.

Based on the definitions, Moggy says no compromised animal and certainly no unfit animal should be trucked to an auction mart. With that in mind, looking at the 4,500 head observed at auction marts, on the beef side she found 90 per cent were fit, 9.3 per cent were compromised and 0.58 per cent were unfit.

Looking at mature dairy cattle, only 55 per cent were fit, while 41 per cent were compromised and just over four per cent were unfit. Among feeder beef cattle, 99.5 per cent were fit to go to auction and among feeder dairy animals, 97 were fit and three per cent were compromised.

In shipments to provincial abattoirs, among mature beef cattle she found 75 per cent were fit, nearly 22 per cent were compromised and about three per cent were unfit. (Again, compromised cattle can be shipped for slaughter.) With mature dairy cattle about 42 per cent were fit, about 42 per cent were compromised and about 17 per cent were unfit. Among feeder beef cattle going to provincial abattoirs, about 17 per cent were compromised and two per cent were unfit. She found similar numbers for feeder dairy cattle.

At a federal abattoir she found very good numbers among mature beef, fed beef and fed dairy cattle with 97 to 98 per cent of those being fit and one to three per cent being compromised or unfit. She saw no mature dairy cattle going to the federal packing plant in this study.

Moggy told ABP delegates the take-home message is that there is room for improvement in deciding the health status of cattle before they are being trucked.

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