Livestock haulers raise the bar for animal transport

by Tyler Davie

TORONTO, Ont. – Fewer Canadians are growing up on farms and a smaller portion of the province’s truck drivers is coming from that background and with that skill set. As a result, a smaller pool of people experienced in handling animals is available to properly transport livestock.

The Ontario Trucking Association Livestock Transporters’ Division (OTA-LTD) is trying to develop a training program to ensure drivers know all they need to know about animal behaviour and to raise standards across the entire supply chain, says Deanna Pagnan, director of policy and government relations at OTA.

“For this to work, it’s not going to just involve the transporters in training, it’s going to require the plant and the processors verifying, and even their end customers demanding it as well,” she says. “It’s a big campaign, but if we could have it by 2013 I would be happy.”

But the most important part of any training program is for drivers to understand the best interest and welfare of the animals, says Randy Scott, OTA-LTD chairman and Hyndman Transport livestock dispatcher.

“A driver can’t go into a curve at 60 mph when they’ve got a load of cattle on,” Scott says. “The cattle will move in the trailer.”
To emphasize this point, Scott says drivers can picture a man back there. “The guy in the back is hanging on for dear life because he can’t go into that curve at that speed and the force will shift him to the one side.”

This level of empathy with the animals should translate to all parts of the trip from loading to driving to unloading, says Scott. An animal under stress or pain shouldn’t be loaded in the first place, and if found to be sick or injured during the journey, offloaded to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

“My driver is not a licensed vet,” he says. “If the vet says that animal’s okay, we can put her in a special compartment with lots of bedding. Otherwise, I don’t want her on the truck, because it’s going to hurt her more than she’s already hurting.”
Not transporting animals stressed by injury or fatigue is one of the most fundamental Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulations. Scott says CFIA has been very active enforcing this regulation in recent years compared to before, and the message has been sent very strongly to drivers and producers. If a truck is inspected and found with a stressed animal loaded from a production facility, the transporter and not the producer will be fined.

Although there’s no government standard of training, CFIA’s regulations would be covered in the program, says Pagnan. It could be based online with video, tailored to the species hauled by the transporters, and use the same database system as the Long Combination Vehicle (LCV) program. Certification and standards would be audited by spot checks.

OTA is seeking advice from developers of the Canadian Livestock Transport (CLT) certification program. Originally the CLT program developed was by Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC), but federal funding allowed the program to become national. The certification has become mandatory at some processing facilities, such as St. Helen’s Meat Packers in Toronto. The OTA hopes to have the program adopted nationally, and CLT modules would be provided for OTA’s online platform, says Geraldine Auston, CLT project co-ordinator.

The two organizations want room for provincial differences, but don’t want to duplicate programs or systems. Auston says trainers are present in the provinces that can act as auditors, retraining as regulations and best practices change. Certifications are currently valid for three years.

But whatever changes with certification, it all comes back to the welfare and betterment of the animals, Scott says. And there have been some changes in the years he’s been hauling livestock. The transition to air ride equipment and bigger trailers means the animals are more comfortable than they used to be.

“You put that animal in the back of a trailer and it’s on a spring vs. air, it makes a big huge difference,” he says.

The trailers are also better ventilated with better air flow from front to back than when Scott started. Which is important as weather changes over the course of a journey from Alberta to Ontario.

“You could be in southern Alberta and its -25 C, or you could get into Ontario and it’s zero so you’ve got to be prepared to adjust the ventilation,” he says. “Maybe take boards out of trailers, put the panels back in.”

The newer trailers allow far more control than when trains were still hauling livestock, as their cars were built and that was pretty much that.

“They were vented, but there wasn’t really much control of how much hot air went in them or how much cold air went in them,” says Scott. The satellites in trucks also give transporters an exact location of where the animals are and conditions can be adjusted for their comfort.

Hyndman still uses standard transmission trucks for all of its livestock hauling because as Scott says, “With the guys that are good at it, you’ll never notice that truck move.”  

Just as important to moving the animals along comfortably is stopping for breaks. With cattle, that’s a break within five hours of loading. But if done right, the time a driver stops to sleep can be a very comfortable period for the animals.

“A lot of times you can get up eight hours later, and 85-90% of them will be laying down in the trailer quite content,” says Scott.

Seeing how animals go about themselves and how they would move about in a trailer is a key aspect of training at Hyndman and would be in any program OTA implements, says Scott. At Hyndman, younger drivers are paired up with older drivers on their earliest runs when possible. Trainees need to see the loading, transport and unloading happen with guidance to understand how to do it on their own, and OTA’s program could accomplish this through video.

“The good guy (once out on his own) will make a phone call and ask ‘How many should I put in this compartment’?,” says Scott. “He probably already knows, he’s already figured it out, but just to confirm that.”

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