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SASKATOON, Sask. - All trucks are prone to mechanical failure now and again, but when a breakdown occurs while hauling a load of livestock, it's essential to act quickly to protect the livestock on board.

SASKATOON, Sask. – All trucks are prone to mechanical failure now and again, but when a breakdown occurs while hauling a load of livestock, it’s essential to act quickly to protect the livestock on board.

The Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) Association has released a special report on the subject, after the death of two hogs resulted from a case last year where a truck broke down en route to its central Alberta destination.

The load originated in Manitoba, but the tractor suffered a transmission failure in Saskatoon. At first, the transport company dispatched a second tractor to pick up the load of hogs, but that driver was then told to report back, as it was expected the repairs would be completed before the second unit arrived.

The repairs took about four hours and then the truck was able to continue its trip. However, one hog died en route, with another dying shortly after the trip, prompting AFAC to explore industry protocols in the event of a truck breakdown.

Tim O’Byrne of Calico Beef Consulting completed the report in June 2003.

“Mechanical failure of a loaded commercial livestock transport unit is relatively rare, but when it does occur a considerable amount of economic value is placed in jeopardy,” wrote O’Byrne. “Equally as important, the wellbeing of the many animals on board depends on the decisions that the driver, dispatch and owner/agent make when dealing with a delayed unit.”

O’Byrne explored the existing protocols of commercial livestock transport companies to determine if an update to an existing code of practice is necessary. He asked three of the industry’s top commercial hog transporters how they would respond in the event of a truck breakdown.

This is how they responded:

Q: One of your units loaded with hogs experiences mechanical failure en route to the final destination. What do you do?

Company 1 (Manitoba based, Canada and U.S, routes, 28 units):

A: We would determine how long the repair would take. If it was any longer than two hours we would either send one of our own tractors out to get the load or lease a nearby tractor from a known company to retrieve it.

Company 2 (Alberta based, Canada and U.S. routes, 34 units):

A: We would either send one of our trucks out to get the load or, if it was too far from our Alberta headquarters, we would try to find a lease operator in the area that would take it to its final destination. If we had a cattle truck in the vicinity of the breakdown we would offload the cattle at a feedlot or auction market nearby, drop the empty trailer and go pick up the hog load. The delayed truck could then take the cattle once the repairs were made.

Company 3 (Manitoba based, Canadian routes, 20 units):

A: If the problem was with the tractor and the repairs could be made quickly, we would turn the trailer into the wind (to maximize airflow) and drop it off outside the shop. We would never take a load of hogs into the shop because they need airflow. We would also try to get another tractor in to take the load if the repairs couldn’t be made quickly.

O’Byrne discovered that in each of the responses, the welfare of the hogs remained a top priority.

“All three companies were adamant that the hogs were the top priority and they would go to any lengths to ensure that their comfort and safety were taken care of first,” reported O’Byrne. “They also noted specialty components of some of their trailers such as onboard sprinklers that can be hooked directly to any garden hose outlet.”

O’Byrne also found that livestock transport companies have, for the most part, developed their own protocols independent of industry. He suggested the Recommended Code of Practice – Transportation (Appendix 3, page 46 – Emergency Procedures, Transportation) be revised to include industry standard practices for emergency protocol due to mechanical or any other delay. The Recommended Code of Practice for the Care & Handling of Farm Animals – Pigs also has some recommendations for dealing with a breakdown while hauling a load of hogs. The code suggests posting a “To Do” list in the cab of each tractor that’s used to transport livestock. It should instruct drivers to:

1. Telephone home office immediately.

2. During business hours, telephone the nearest abattoir, assembly yard and/or the manager of the receiving plant.

3. Telephone the packing plant. (The required numbers would be listed.)

4. If necessary, arrange for the use of another vehicle to move the load to a sheltered area or to the plant.

5. During extremely hot or cold weather, seek shelter for the load until the emergency situation is over.

6. Seek the advice of a veterinarian in the event of distressed or seriously injured pigs.

The bottom line is that developing a plan of action in case of emergencies and/or breakdowns is crucial for all livestock haulers. Knowing what to do in the event of a truck breakdown can be a life or death decision for the animals on board.

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