There was a time not so long ago when the majority of truck drivers migrated to the highway from the family farm, where handling live animals was as common as tossing around a mud rake.
Much has changed in trucking – and the livestock hauling sector in particular – over the last few decades as very few commercial drivers today actually grew up with animals like cattle or hogs. And if the current trend in truck driver demographics is anything to go by, there’ll be a lot fewer in the years to come.
With that come considerable implications for the livestock transport industry as it relates to the food supply chain’s ability to secure highly-trained, safe and professional drivers.
At the very least, being comfortable around large, live animals should be a bona-fide occupational requirement for livestock drivers. Animal care must be foremost in every transporter’s mind throughout the course of their day.
It’s true that all commercial drivers require specialized training so that equipment is maintained properly and cargo loads are delivered safely and reliably, but when dealing with live animals this duty is obviously elevated to a different level compared to, say, hauling a load of tissue paper. It can’t be overstated that animals must be treated with patience and care.
Livestock operators must be responsible for the set-up of trailer compartments, lay-down of bedding, care for animals while in transit and animal loading and sorting. Truck drivers are also the first line of defense to prevent the entry of sick or diseased animals into the food chain. It’s also critical that drivers understand the behavioural differences between the animals they are transporting, therefore adjusting procedures and driving techniques accordingly.
The Ontario Trucking Association’s Livestock Transporters’ Division (OTA-LTD) is at the forefront of advocating for safe transport and sensitive handling of various types of animals. In collaboration with animal welfare experts and supply chain partners, the LTD is working hard to raise the industry bar by, among other things, proactively developing a one-of-a-kind, industry-created driver training program so that all transporters are skilled in secure transportation practices while remaining sensitive to animals’ needs.
Specialized training is necessary to give incoming new drivers the proper skills to work with livestock while more experienced drivers also benefit by freshening up their knowledge and best practices. Also, by protecting livestock, transporters help ensure the best possible meat quality for the store shelf.
We recently launched a campaign to educate the public and the food supply chain on the OTA-LTD’s initiatives to raise standards and achieve industry-wide adoption of a certifiable training program as a requirement to transport animals.
(Be sure to check out this entertaining, high definition video explaining our position at http://ontruck.tv/jr).
Although the campaign was launched in Ontario, it’s gaining traction across Canada. Our goal, to put it simply, is to create the safest, most respected livestock transportation system in Canada and, hopefully, the world.
The truth is, though, that we really can’t do it alone. All supply chain stakeholders need to get involved in supporting carriers who make investments in specialized driver training. We’re looking for food producers and large retailers to join us in ensuring that the animals being transported across Canada are handled and delivered by quality carriers whose drivers are trained to the most modern standards.
This effort is arguably more important than it’s ever been before. As mass consolidation of farms and meat processing plants continues to shrink their capacity to hold livestock, transporters are increasingly expected to take on a bigger role housing and caring for animals around the clock.
Adopting such a training program would go a long way towards strengthening the health and integrity of the livestock transportation sector. In the meantime, several opportunities exist for immediate enhancements. OTA-LTD is continuing its efforts to improve enforcement by urging targeted on-road blitzes aimed at less scrupulous livestock carriers. As well, every vehicle that transports livestock should fall under the same provisions as trucks required to have a CVOR and farmers and producers should be utilizing the CVOR system to ensure that carriers they use to transport their animals are investing in safety.
There is no doubt that many of these recommendations would improve the well-being of livestock in transit and the safety of the motoring public while also leveling the playing field among carriers. But it’s not just about truckers. It never is. Excellence should be demanded throughout the entire supply chain.