Leo Pekar

We’re quickly approaching a time when some cows are transported off-farm.

Travel can be stressful, but it’s possible to minimise the stress that animals feel with a few easy steps.

Check the condition of your cows

You’ll know that cows should be fit, healthy, strong and able to bear weight on all four legs before they travel.

There are a few things you can check for that will help make that assessment. For example, that animals don’t have unhealed wounds, active mastitis or any other signs of poor health, such as pink eye or eye and nose discharges.

If you’re not sure if an animal is fit for transport, it’s best to check with your vet who can do a check and either provide a certificate or discuss alternative options.

The accepted guidance is that cows have a BCS of 3.0 or more to be transported without a vet certificate. Personally, I would go a step further and recommend sending cows before they get thin or holding them onfarm to gain a little condition if feed allows this.

There is always plenty that you can work on with your transport company, for example reducing the risk of back rub occurring, which can be avoided by using single-deck trucks or loading tall cattle on the bottom deck which has a little more headroom.

If you have tall or horned cattle, or any with vet certificates, it’s a good idea to let your transporter know in advance. That will give them a chance to arrange the pickups so that they can pen your animals in a way that minimises the risk of injury to themselves or other cattle.

Preparing cows for transport

There is comprehensive guidance available on preparing cows for transport, including levy-funded resources, on DairyNZ’s website (see dairynz.co.nz/fit-for-transport). Some tips include moving stock off green feed between four and 12 hours before they are transported to help reduce effluent build-up in trucks. A grazed-out paddock or a stand-off pad is a more comfortable surface for cows to stand and lie on and is a better option than concrete.

As you’ll know, standing cows on concrete for more than four hours can result in them having sore hooves and can make the journey more stressful for them. You can provide cows with dry feed, silage, hay or straw and water during this time.

Something you’ll need to think about is how far your animals are going and how long they might wait at the other end. Your animals may not always go to the closest processing plant, and even if they do, it can take several hours to fill a truck if there are multiple farms to visit. So, even if you’re less than an hour from your nearest processor it’s best to prepare cows for a much longer journey and time off food.

Transport causes a significant drop in blood magnesium levels, so all cattle travel better with extra magnesium beforehand, but lactating cows also need calcium. While they are still making milk, they are putting calcium into their udder, but not getting any more to replace it. Vets recommend that 12 to 20g/day of magnesium supplement be provided to cows on the day they will leave. Lactating cows also need 100g of limeflour calcium supplement, ideally as an oral drench.

Loading stock

I know a number of farmers who take a video of their stock before they are moved. This is a great idea as it provides farmers with a record of the condition of their stock. Cows can, and do, sometimes get injured while being transported or moved off a truck.

Try to be around when the truck arrives, so you can quickly resolve any issues. It also provides another opportunity to check if each animal looks fit and healthy for transport.

Your team know the animals best, so they are best placed to load cows onto trucks. Be patient with cows and avoid anything that may stress them as it will take a lot longer to load cows if they are uncomfortable.

We all want to see cows have a comfortable journey with minimal stress, to give them the best chance in arriving in good condition.

  • Leo Pekar is a DairyNZ consulting officer in Southland.