A number of tweets have been coming across my feed lately concerning the welfare of animals during transport and the regulations in Australia that govern those welfare rulings. To me these are reading like we don’t have regulations in place or they simply aren’t good enough! This isn’t true as Australia has the national ‘Land Transport Standards’ introduced 1st January 2013, a replacement and national streamline of 20 previous codes of practice.
Another document was supplied to me called the ‘Scientific Opinion Concerning the Welfare of Animals during Transport’ European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), requested by the European Commission, dated 19th Jan 2011.
As I produce cattle in the Northern Territory I will comment on cattle.
Having only read the abstract and summary the ESPA seemed like a practical analysis based on good animal welfare standards, until I hit this completely stupid statement.
“In the case of sheep, acceleration, braking, stopping, cornering, gear changing and uneven road surfaces should be avoided….”
To me this reads animals are loaded but can’t move, if the truck does move, then it’s expected to travel on an unerringly straight uninhabited road that’s perfectly smooth. I’ve never travelled overseas but I assume their roads have corners, intersections, and other traffic too.
As for the rest of the article I thought in general it was relatively sound animal husbandry.
Australia has a standard in place that has been recently upgraded.
The Australian National Land Transport Standards (LTS), a set of nationally agreed standards and guidelines to ensure appropriate welfare for livestock during the transport process. The standards are legislated and regulated by law.
It is important to appreciate the effort and diversity people who participated in the upgrading of the LTS. A writing group was organised in 2008 from government, industry and animal welfare groups involving 1 RSPCA, 2 animal advocate members. These people met and using the 20 prior codes of practice for many sorts of livestock updated and formulated the LTS. This same working group are involved with the development of National Animal Welfare laws for livestock still being finalised. Other working groups will consider wildlife, animals in sport, animals on display, companion and aquatic.
Much of the LTS is relative common sense and practical organisational skills. So I thought I’d write about the process of what we do when ‘Trucking’.
It needs to be remembered a short trip for our cattle is Darwin, 700km by road.
We expect our truck driver to deliver all animals we load in as healthy a condition except for fluid loss as they were loaded. This is why we specifically ask for one driver to drive our cattle and have used that one and only driver for the last 18 months.
We don’t load any cattle that are lame, have weepy sores, injured in any way. We don’t load any animals if they are poor condition, not that they would be sellable anyway but just saying. We also don’t load any cattle that for some reason have succumbed to a sickness while recently in the yard. We don’t load cattle if we have observed them not eating or drinking and generally withdrawing from food and water.
It takes approximately 10-12 hours for our truckie to travel to yards just south of Darwin. Normal process of handling is we sort the animals and draft what will be sent a number of days before travel. The whole time in the yards they are given electrolytes in water and fed every day. Animals are dipped for ticks generally on draft day when it is also checked they have the necessary NLIS tags. Day before travel is a rest day and they aren’t moved around the yard at all except to feed and water.
From the outset we stipulate our cattle are to travel the longer route. The longer way is a better maintained road, though an extra 150km, at $1.65(excluding GST)+2.5% insurance/deck/km this costs money but we feel the cattle travel better and thus the expense is validated not only in the hip pocket but by healthier animals to the buyer.
To those sceptics that say as a producer we are only interested in the money may I remind them why they need to have a job. Do they want to make a better life for themselves, their family or be totally reliant on the continually depleting resources of a cash strapped government? We make money by producing good quality animals for others to eat. The importance of how healthy those animals arrive at their destination and handle is imperative to encourage a buyer to return and purchase more of our cattle in the future.
Loading of cattle onto trucks is always early in the morning, as its generally in the dry season its usually cool. Cattle numbers per pen in the trucks is determined by the type and size of animal and we rely partly on the experience and knowledge of our truckie to tell us what is comfortable for the animals. Numbers for a pen of Indonesian steers (less than350kg) will be larger than a pen of Philippine Steers (weighing over 450kg) each. Knowing what’s too loose and what’s too tight is a skill. Too loose the animal actually has nothing to brace against and can get thrown around by the movement of the crates. Too tight and individuals will get pushed and squashed around by another’s movement and fall, then cause others to fall by undermining their neighbours feet. Cattle take a while to ‘settle’ they will shove and push to find ‘their’ space, even while the trucks are stationary they fidget and wiggle. Often the cattle will form a pattern of head/toe formation and generally stand side on in the crate with the face and butt to the sides as the animals ride movement better on an angle or side on stance rather than facing straight forward.
Our truckie will travel at less than 60km/hr for the first 3 hours, That’s just to get to the bitumen, he has to contend with a very rough rocky in parts,all dirt road, 7 gates to open and close, road trains need a kilometre to stop when traveling at pace and are over 50m long, animals on the road, corners and an extremely steep jump up. He actually allows the animals a rest by stopping for half an hour at the turn off onto the bitumen. He’ll walk the whole truck around and top plank to check every single animal. If any are sitting or worse fallen and hasn’t got up he’ll get them up. He may have to use a jigger to reach into the truck but sitting animals tend to make others fall so it’s a big no no to let a steer sit.
Large bovine should not be allowed to sit on trucks. Calves will often sit under their mums but in general you segregate all animals to their equal sizes. Never putting large bulls unless polls with steers, they are simply too aggressive and beat the crap out of them. Horned bulls if trucked you try to keep with other horned bulls but we don’t sell many horned animals anymore with any length of horn because the specifications for the boats simply don’t want them. We sell an animal that has any horn it’s an automatic deduction of 20c per kg, if we send one and don’t declare that animal its 30c or the possibility it will be sent home at our expense .
Truckie’s need breaks too, he’ll will have a sandwich, the normal bacon and egg we provide, a cup of tea, check his tyres and any other checks he needs to do.
The Stuart Highway is generally 2 lane bitumen, it’s a fair road for a car, but by highway standards for a truck it’s pathetic! The road during the dry is extremely busy with the grey nomads and slow caravans traveling in convoy, many wide loads, and other road trains carrying mining supplies, fuel, groceries and animals, plus normal car traffic including the army. A survey conducted in 2007 counted 9000 vehicles passing through Katherine each day with heavy vehicles making up 15% of them. The Royal Automobile Association rated the section of Stuart Highway in South Australia in May 2007 as so poor is was graded as 5 out of 10 a grading unchanged from 2 years previously.
So our truck driver enters this fray. He and his now 100 plus tonne, with 70 tyres on the road is allowed to travel at 100km/hr but will need to abide by local laws when passing through a number of small townships before getting to Katherine. Before Katherine is the dreaded Scalies (road transport inspectors). They always seem to be open in Katherine and with only one road south they tend to pull over every single vehicle over 4.5t. Our truckie has to pull in there, pass the requirements of weight, and general vehicle checked for registration and licences. This has nothing to do with animals and is a government requirement.
Truckie pulls onto highway again and in a few kilometres is at Katherine, a small town where he’ll need to fuel up and weigh again. This time to weigh our cattle. This is done on the truck by using a method of ‘tare off’ the truckie will have weighed fuelled up before coming out home so a figure can be realised for the weight of the cattle and this is what we are paid on. By rights change of legal ownership of these cattle has just occurred. Usually truckie gives us a call and lets us know how he’s travelling at this point.
The animals will be checked again and the whole process of climbing on and over the truck carried out again, by now it is generally about late morning/midday. This rest stop may be an hour. The cattle have been on the truck now about 5 hours.
Truckie will continue on the same Stuart Highway to Darwin. This generally takes another 4-5 hours depending on traffic, weather, road maintenance. Generally the animals are checked every 3-4 hours so our truckie tends to pull up somewhere and check the animals are travelling OK.
Time can be extended if tyres need to be changed due to blow outs or unforseen delays occur. Often wide-load escorts that are only permitted during the day, accidents and road works cause special circumstances and extension of time in transit to occur. UHF Channel 40 is working overtime, the truckies channel, they will be communicating up and down the highway, talking about where the delays are, truck stuff and all the rest. In some ways this can help the cattle as the cattle truck driver may even pull over to truck stops to allow convoys or such pass that he’s heard about coming towards him. We’ve had trucks delayed on the road because people have collided into them and as a procedure of the accident investigation the truckie has had to wait to speak to police before proceeding.
So continuing up to Darwin, hopefully with no delays, usually late afternoon the truckie arrives at the depot yard. Unloaded the animals are put straight onto water and feed by the buyer this will continue up to the point when cattle are ready to be transported again.
Cattle in their natural environment, the paddock, tend to graze for about 4 hours, come into drink, chew their cud, where they regurgitate the food and digest more (ruminants) rest/sleep a number of hours then graze again for a number of hours. On the truck they haven’t been able to sleep and its tiring standing all that time on a moving floor so the 24 hours in the exporters yard while they may eat a small amount and drink, but they will mainly just sleep.
While we feed hay on the property the exporters will introduce the cattle to the feed they will eat while on the ship. A form of stockfeed pellets. All animals take a while to adjust to new feedstuffs and it will be this week that the animals will do that.
In these yards the animals will be prepped for loading onto the boats, they will go through a process of several vet checks and induction requirements to meet the Standards required under the ‘Australian Standards for the Export of livestock’.
When boats are in port and the buyers are certain that the boats are ready for livestock they will load the cattle onto trucks and in generally a couple of hours have pulled up on the wharf and directly loaded the cattle onto the ships through special ramps that direct connect truck to ship.
I’ve never been on the livestock ships so I need to rely on people who I trust in the industry for the following information. Considering I have heard these same views from many numbers of trusted people I know well, I am convinced they are true.
The understanding and improvement in the chemical analysis of electrolytes in water solution supplements have advanced greatly in the last 2 years. Specifically with a number of products developed by a company call Beachport. We use these products for our general herd and an electrolyte replacement that is designed for animals, to enable replacement of salts and minerals required. Specifically we use one when weaning calves and removing them from their mothers as they are in a new environment and feel stressed. So the electrolytes help to calm them and we find they have a tendency to go on feed and water better using the product rather than not using it. The way this works is that the natural Amino acids (Fulvic acid component) in Beachport assists the rumen to improve moisture absorption and retention. A specific blend of supplement with chelated trace elements in the mix suppresses stress causing hormones which results in calmer cattle .
In a similar fashion the exporters will use electrolytes if they feel the animals need it to assist with replacement of essential minerals the animals may require. There are all sorts of blends available not unlike a person buying multi vitamins from a chemist and using as required.
Automated feed and watering systems are on the ships with air ventilation strictly monitored and controlled. The ship on-board ventilation actually beats commercial passenger aircraft and cruise liners by three times industry standards.
While I applaud the discussion of innovative ideas for animal welfare it needs to be recognised that that not all studies irrespective of scientific basis meet other requirements of practicality and real life situations. While it could be argued we have shorter trips for cattle on the assumption it will be less tiresome for the animal in a practical sense any form of handling of animals is tiring. Increasing loading and unloading will actually add to stress and weariness of the animal. Mustering, handling in the yards walking back to paddocks all induce some exertion of physical activity by an animal, in regards to stress well that’s personal opinion. Low stress animal handling is certainly attainable and commonly practiced, the calmness of the way animals are handled on the ground during their life will often dictate how well they travel.
The LTS is a definite improvement on the codes of practices it replaces and is an enforceable Australian legislated nationally recognised standard which must be adhered to so as to meet the livestock management practice requirements in Australia. It has been developed with industry and those opposed to the industry involvement while it still recognises the animal welfare science and stockmanship behind those practices.