Change Without Expected Results — Taking a Serious Look at Cattle Transport Stress

There are many potential stressors for cattle during transport, as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein pointed out at the recent Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association conference and annual general meeting. Animals have to contend with handling (often by unfamiliar people), a unique environment, mixing with new animals, feed and water restrictions and the energy/focus required to remain on their feet.

Add to that the high likelihood of poor ventilation, particularly in the nose of the trailer, and it’s no wonder animals lose condition in transport.

“We need to do a lot on trailer design, because what we think might improve ventilation on the trailer isn’t necessarily doing that,” Schwartzkopf-Genswein told RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney in an interview, pointing to porosity as an example.

In her presentation, Schwartzkopf-Genswein referenced research from 2012 (Gonzàlez et al.) that showed a strong correlation between temperature and weight loss in cattle. For every 1°C rise in ambient temperature, shrink increased by 0.04%.

The same study showed that cull cows saw the greatest rate of shrink over time (and the greatest probability of poor welfare outcomes), animals loaded in the afternoon/evening saw greater levels of shrink than those loaded in the night/morning, and even driver experience played a role in mitigation shrink.

The conclusion pointed to several factors to consider “when developing guidelines to reduce cattle transport stress and shrink, including type of cattle, ambient temperature, transport duration, driving quality, and time and origin of loading.”

“I’ve heard many conversations now talking about putting water and feed on that trailer,” said Schwartzkopf-Genswein, adding that more work needs to be done to determine exactly how changes like these would help to improve transport conditions (if it all).

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