Feed, water, and rest requirements of transporting weaned calves doesn’t offer extra benefit

When draft regulations for livestock transport in Canada were brought forward in 2017, most within the industry could understand why: the rules that govern the care of livestock transport hadn’t been updated in decades.

But perhaps one of the reasons it took so long to revamp the regs was because they were working quite well.

What’s more, when the rules came in to force in 2020, much of the corresponding science in support of the proposed changes simply didn’t exist.

That’s not to say work wasn’t underway: it was. And some of that research, led by Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Daniela Melendez of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge, suggests that, in the case of weaned calves, the loading and unloading of calves on longer hauls does not equate to better outcomes.

To discuss the findings of this latest study, I spoke with Dr. Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council, to explore what the latest research says, why it matters, and what — if anything — may change with the transport regulations.

One of the key findings was that earlier research showed a very small percentage of cattle experienced poor outcomes during transport — less than a per cent of all cattle shipped. Of those cattle, most negative outcomes were associated with cull cows and weaned calves; that’s why this latest study into weaned calves happened.

When looking at transport requirements for weaned calves, Bergen says the research does show differences in various parameters, including energy levels of calves, but that it was pre-conditioning, not rest stops or unloading, that had the largest impact on calves’ well-being.

There’s also the risks associated with unloading, including co-mingling and biosecurity concerns, to be considered, however these were not part of the study.

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