By Connor Lynch
Here’s a tip. Your cattle can become lame and start dying after 20 hours on a truck. Don’t feed your pigs before you load them. Don’t ship chickens when it’s hot and humid. And don’t worry about sheep. They’re plenty tough.
These are the findings from a panel of scientists, commissioned by the National Farm Animal Care Council, to review livestock transportation codes of practice for livestock.
The research, however, is sometimes contradictory or incomplete. Hard and fast rules are hard to come by. The sometimes loose conclusions in the report suggest that the as-yet-unformed rule-writing committee will have to rely on its judgement in balancing cost and convenience for farmers, and the concerns of consumers.
Here are some of the takeaways:
Hogs: If you fast (don’t feed) your pigs before you ship them, mortality rates don’t go up for the first 24 hours of shipping. Fast your hogs before shipping. No matter how long the journey, fasting reduces both mortality and sickness in the herd.
Despite how cold Canada can be, heat is a serious problem for pigs since they don’t sweat, despite our common day reference to sweathogs. Sprinkling them with water is an effective way to cool them off, since they won’t drink on a trailer. Bedding is always a good idea — it reduces mortality in the summer and helps keep animals warm during the winter and prevents frostbite. Giving enough room for all the hogs to lie down at once generally made for better-quality meat at slaughter and less mortality or injury on the truck.
Poultry: The industry suffers from a lack of consistent research when it comes to transportation. A few key points stick out. There’s a widespread assumption that heat is the biggest danger to chickens on the truck. Based on what little research is available, the cold is just as dangerous, and farmers trying to compensate for the heat can kill off their birds by creating a too-cold microclimate in the truck. Birds seemed to do best between 10 C and 15 C; above or below that temperature and mortality seems to climb consistently. Birds at the back of a truck should be water-misted if it’s hot, since they’re generally farther from the fans keeping the birds at the front cool.
Sheep: Sheep are hardy and tolerant, and can handle being shipped much better than many other kinds of livestock. Their rumen stores water that they can draw on while fasting, and they can go four days without water before starting to become dehydrated. They’re resistant to fatigue and can stand for long periods, though they will lie down if given the opportunity. Sheep can tolerate both heat and cold, though humidity is an issue and a fully-fleeced sheep will have trouble with temperatures above 20 C. Truck them up to 48 hours with minimal fatigue.
Cattle: Cattle first start running into serious problems at 20 hours on the truck. That gets significantly worse after 30. Don’t ship for more than 20 hours at a time, and definitely not more than 30, at least if it can be helped. There are pros and cons about rest stops: Lying down and eating help relieve stress but cattle don’t digest properly after fasting. Mixing herds puts them at serious risk of fighting. Overloading and underloading a trailer are both bad for cattle, but whether an overloaded trailer causes more harm to the animals than it saves in shipping costs was outside the review’s scope.