The May period is a time of year when livestock transportation is perhaps at its peak. The return of grazed heifer animals to the home dairy platform, the off-farm grazing of cows for the winter, the sale of prime animals, the destocking of culls prior to winter and farm sales mean transfers of stock mean carriers have a logistical challenge.
As veterinarians, we are consulted on the transportation of livestock and can treat or certify animals suitable for transport if the farmer is unsure. The involvement with your local veterinarian can help avoid situations where stock are transported and are not fit enough to endure the journey without suffering pain and distress. Ethical transport operators and stock agents will guide you to seek veterinary advice if you have animals that are marginal in terms of transportation.
Recent experience highlights that many experienced farmers are still uncertain of what conditions can be made worse through transportation, particularly around the area of lameness, cancer eye, body condition, horns and late pregnancy.
Lameness, in particular, is a contentious area. Even if an animal has suffered a severe traumatic event i.e. fracture or soft tissue injury veterinary attention must be sought immediately. It is no longer acceptable to leave an animal suffering pain and distress in the 'back paddock' for five-six months and then seek a veterinary certificate for fitness to transport. The key point here is that livestock must be able to weight bear on all four limbs and not have a definite limp. The backline must be straight and their heads must be above their backline as a guide.
Horns must not project beyond the length of their ears, not ingrown, bleeding or causing injury to other stock.
If you chose to get them dehorned under local anaesthetic by your veterinarian it must be more than a week before transport.
Cancer eye is a definite area of concern. If a lesion is more than 2cm diameter, bleeding or evidence of spread then it is best the animal is humanely euthanized at the farm. For the interests of welfare and how it looks these animals are best not transported.
Winter grazing of pregnant cows carries the risk that they could give birth at grazing or within 24 hours of being transported. Most farmers transport cows that are due to calve greater than 30 days to avoid this situation. Adequate energy and Magnesium/Calcium supplementation is important.
The 'emptying' out of livestock in a grazed out area or holding yard prior to transport for 4-12 hours (don't limit water) will reduce effluent and cleanliness of your livestock.
Feeding hay or baleage during stand-off is a good idea.
Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) provide useful tools on their website-even a mobile phone app to give you guidelines as a farmer.
It is also available to the public for guidelines/contacts if you see a condition that you believe an animal is suffering unduly.
Remember as a farmer — if it doubt leave it out.