Vet Column 12-14-09 |

Vet Column 12-14-09

David L. Morris, DVM, Ph.D.
Fort Collins, Colo.

Cattle are commonly transported by commercial truck carriers. With cow-calf producers distributed throughout the country, and U.S. feedlots concentrated in the Great Plains states, commercial cattle transport is inevitable. Previous research has shown that transportation-related handling and travel are potentially stressful events for cattle. Transportation has been associated with increased calves getting sick after transport, changes in blood parameters, and modifications of potential immune responses. It can also decrease weight gain after arrival.

Several factors may contribute to the level of transport stress including noise, vibration, crowding, temperature and humidity. Cattle transport tucks are often divided into sections, and although many of the factors may vary dependent on the compartment of the truck where the calf is housed, little research has been performed to evaluate health and performance impact of cattle location within the truck during transport. Researchers from Kansas State University recently describe the effect of calf wellness within 40 to 60 days of backgrounding following truck transport by location within the truck.

These investigators monitored 21 loads of calves with an average weight of 463 pounds and an average of 101 calves per load. For each shipment, calves were divided into eight compartments within the trailer. Calves originated from the southeastern U.S., commingled in Tennessee, and shipped to Manhattan, Kansas, averaging 675 miles per shipment. Upon arrival, calves were unloaded by section of the transport carrier and placed in holding pens maintaining segregation of animals by original truck compartment.

All cattle were processed with standard health protocols approximately 24-hours post-arrival. A second vaccination protocol was administered between 10 and 16 days after arrival for each load. All animals were evaluated twice daily for clinical signs of potential illness including depression, off feed, coughing, or musculoskeletal ailments. Truckloads of calves were fed for a period of 41 to 63 days, with an average of 46.6 days in the backgrounding phase.

When effects of arrival time, sex, individual load, and pen were included in the analysis, no significant associations were identified between transport vehicle compartment and the probability of dying, being treated for the first, second, or third time, or being identified as clinically ill in the first 14 days after arrival. Individual animal average daily gain over the entire period was not associated with transport vehicle compartment.

Placement of the cattle on the top or bottom deck was not significantly associated with any health or performance outcomes measured. When the truck was categorized as forward, middle, or rear, no associations were identified between placement in any of these three areas and the probability to die or to be treated a second or third time. A tendency between compartment and short-term average daily gain was identified.

Cattle in the top deck of the rear had less short-term body weight gains as compared with calves in the nose of the top deck and tended to be less than calves housed in the nose on the bottom deck. Cattle in the forward sections were less likely to be treated at least once compared with cattle in the middles sections. Calves in compartments with 14 head or less tended to have reduced odds of being treated compared with cattle in compartments with 16 to 30 head, or greater than 31 head.

Granted, the truck has got to be loaded and there’s not much one can do to alleviate placement. On the other hand, data such as these provide scientific background when discussing important issues such as animal welfare during transport and making decisions to potentially improve conditions if needed.

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