Tips for stress-free livestock transporting

Livestock transportation should result in as little stress to the animals as possible, whether they are being transported to the abattoir or other farms. Glenneis Kriel spoke to Dr Dirk Verwoerd and Giepie Bester about best practices when transporting livestock.

Tips for stress-free livestock transporting
Even transporting individual animals requires care. Many breeders prefer to use contractors with specially trained drivers.
Photo: Glenneis Kriel

Stress your livestock while transporting them and you are likely to end up with unnecessary weight loss, or even bruises or other injuries that could lead to disease, carcass rejections or even mortalities.

Stress during transportation also has a negative impact on meat quality, which will affect your profits in the long term.

According to Dr Dirk Verwoerd, a veterinarian at Karan Beef, animals inevitably lose some weight during transportation, as they do not eat or drink during the trip. The main goal, however, is to ensure that they do not lose weight due to dehydration.

“It’s difficult to give a fixed answer for acceptable weight loss during transportation, as you have to take into account the type of animal as well as its age and condition at the start of the journey,” says Dirk.

How much is too much?
However, it is generally accepted that six- to eight-month-old beef weaners can lose up to 3% of their body weight during the first 100km and another 1% for each additional 100km.

“The initial losses are mainly due to gastro-intestinal content and urine,” explains Dirk.

Depending on the condition of the cattle at the start of a trip, and their age, a loss of 8% to 10% of body weight should raise a red flag. A figure such as this indicates that weight loss is caused by intra-cellular dehydration.

Because they are ruminants, cattle usually have enough food in their stomachs to last two days without eating, says Dirk.

This is why the regulations are different for animals with one stomach, such as pigs, which need to have access to fresh water once they have travelled more than 50km.

Recovery stops will also help to prevent intra-cellular dehydration. “At Karan Beef, we have these stops when cattle are transported for more than 500km,” says Dirk.

In the case of weaners, each stop typically lasts for two weeks, during which the animals are supplied with water and feed, and are vaccinated. The break also allows the rumen to adapt to concentrates.

“Other large feedlots follow similar strategies. Long-haul cattle have a period of rest, recovery and adaptation in grass camps or irrigated pasture before entering their feedlot phase,” adds Dirk.

Animals transported over very long distances, such as from Namibia or Botswana to South Africa, have to be treated differently.

“The industry codes specify that cattle and sheep may be transported for no longer than 18 hours, after which they need a break of at least two days before the journey recommences,” Dirk explains.

The problem is that this regulation applies only once the animals reach South Africa; it does not take into consideration the distance travelled beforehand or the amount of time spent at border posts.

On arrival at their final destination, such animals should be given enough space to rest and allowed to eat and drink freely.

Giepie Bester, the owner of Besfeld Vervoer, says that animals should be herded into the loading area the day before they are led onto the transport. Prior to loading, they should receive enough food and, particularly, water to prevent dehydration.

“One of the biggest problems we encounter is poor or nonexistent loading facilities,” he says.

“It might be cheap to build a loading facility, but getting it wrong could add stress to animals, lengthen the time it takes to load animals, and even cause injuries to the animals or workers.”

A loading facility should be spacious enough to accommodate the trucks and allow a stress-free flow of animals into the vehicles.

Giepie advises farmers to rent, borrow or buy portable handling facilities – of the right height – if they do not own holding pens.

However, this solution is likely to work only in summer; trucks could get stuck when loading animals from the land in winter.

Do your arithmetic!
The code of practice for the handling and transporting of livestock recommends a carrying density of 1,4m²/ adult cow; 0,3 m²/small calf; 0,4m²/ sheep or goat; 0,3m²/ porker; 0,4m²/ baconer; and 0,8m²/ any other adult pig. Different species, genders and ages should preferably not be mixed.

Well-designed partitions will help to disperse the weight of the animals evenly in the trailer and prevent overloading of the axles.

“I used to have a problem at certain weighbridges, where the total weight of the animals was within the prescribed parameters, but one axle was overloaded,” says Giepie. “This problem was sorted out when I started using partitions.”

Farmers should do their arithmetic before deciding to do their own transport, whether for livestock or horticultural products.

“Transportation is a specialised, high-risk field,” cautions Giepie.

“If you want to do your own transportation, first of all calculate the cost of having your own horse and trailer. A double-decker cattle cart with a capacity for 160 cattle, for example, will set you back about R2,5 million, whereas the horse could cost in the region of R1,6 million.

“Next, consider how often you’ll use this transport and whether you have staff who can operate the truck. It won’t pay to buy an expensive truck and trailer and then use it for only a couple of weeks in the year. In addition, you’ll need to operate transport as a separate ‘division’ in your business, otherwise there’s a big chance you’ll lose money.

Remember, the trucks need to be maintained and serviced.

“Professional companies such as ours also use technology such as satellite tracking to monitor our trucks. Would you as a farmer have the time or staff to do this?”

Transporting individual animals
Giepie’s advice to farmers who occasionally need to transport individual animals is to buy a trailer with enough space for the animals to turn in. It should also have bedding to help prevent the animals slipping.

“Don’t transport animals on the back of a bakkie. The chances are too high they’ll slip,” he says.

Should you decide to use a contractor – probably the safest way to transport your animals – find someone who does a good job and then stick with them, emphasises Dirk.

The company should not only have the special equipment needed to transport animals safely, but understand the risks associated with livestock transportation and employ drivers who have respect for animals.

“You can’t employ just anybody with a Code 14 licence. The driver needs to have stockman skills and be aware of how his driving affects the animals,” says Dirk.

According to the code of practice for the handling and transporting of livestock, the driver should understand the natural behaviour of the animals he is transporting, such as their visual fields and flight patterns, as well as the appropriate use of flap-sticks, boards and electric prodders.

He should handle the vehicle in such a manner that animals do not slip, fall or get injured, and get his load to its destination within the scheduled time.

He also needs to understand how his driving speed affects the wind chill factor and how this affects dry and wet animals. The danger of pneumonia and death is greatly increased where animals are not sufficiently protected in wet conditions.

“The SPCA can be seen as one of the greatest allies of the livestock industry,” says Giepie.

“For example, there’s a regulation that trucks carrying livestock should be helped within 20 minutes of being stopped at a weighbridge, regardless of the findings at the weighbridge.

If there’s a fine, it has to be served within those 20 minutes.”

Help at border posts
However, stops sometimes take a good deal longer than that, for example, when the SA Revenue Services want to do spot checks at the Namibian border.

According to Giepie, there are cases where these checks have resulted in trucks waiting for longer than eight hours to be inspected, with devastating effect on the animals being transported.

Giepie has found that the best way to deal with such occurrences is to call in the help of the SPCA. “Once you have the SPCA on your side, there’s a lot of pressure on government [officials] to do inspections fast,” he says.

The SPCA can also play a useful role when it comes to the development of new regulations for the transportation of animals.

“There is a new regulation that animals have to be delivered at the feedlot during working hours, between 8am and 5pm. Sometimes, however, a driver is late, and we need a way of preventing the animals from having to spend unnecessary time in the trucks,” says Giepie.

View the code of practice for the handling and transport of livestock at lwcc.org.za.

Email Giepie Bester at [email protected].