A cattle transportation symposium was held this past May. A point of emphasis was that two years of hard work can be undone by poor handling during the last ride. Transportation is not the first part the beef and dairy business that may come to mind. However, transportation is very important to both. For many in the general public, their only exposure to livestock production occurs when they see animals being transported on roadways.

According to Lisa Pederson of North Dakota State University, about 125,000 finished cattle are on the road every day in the United States. Add in all the calves and feeder cattle also shipped and the total is likely close to 400,000 per day.

Assessing Transportation Stress: Pull away from chute slowly and make gentle turns. This is especially important the first hour on the road while cattle are getting their balance. Using heart-rate monitors on calves, researchers have observed elevated heart rates during the first 30 minutes of transport, which then returned to normal with good driving conditions (Schwartzkopf-Genswein et al., 2007).

Canadian researchers (Gonzalez et al., 2012) conducted a survey of truckers in Canada during 2007 through 2009. The researchers analyzed data from over 6,000 surveys covering transport of over 290,000 cattle.

Problems with sickness or injuries increase significantly after 25 to 28 hours of travel time (Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Grandin, 2014). In the USA cattle can be transported for up to 28 hours according to the federal 28-hour law. If an animal does not go to feed immediately after unloading and it wants to lie down, that indicates that the animal is very fatigued.

Driver Experience: Recent research shows a link between years of livestock hauling experience and animal weight loss (Gonzalez et al., 2012). Weight loss at unloading was lower in cattle transported by truck drivers having 6 or more years of experience hauling livestock compared with those with 5 years or less experience. The survey also revealed a relationship between driver experience and outcomes, with greater driving experience associated with less shrink, fewer lame cattle and lower death loss.

Driving quality was not assessed in the study but data suggest that experienced drivers may be more competent at stopping, starting, and cornering practices that minimize animal stress. In addition, they may have a better animal care and handling skill. In North America, some large beef plants are collecting data on the performance of trucking firms and driver and data collected at one large slaughter plant indicated that one trucking firm had more animals that produced dark cutting meat (Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Grandin, 2014). The Transportation Quality Assurance Program (http://www.bqa.org/bqamastercattletransporter.aspx) exists to train truckers in livestock hauling skills.

The Challenge of Cull Cattle: In some ways, market cattle are the easier to transport than feeders and cull cows. In the Canadian survey, the greatest rate of welfare problems occurred in loads of cull cattle, which is not surprising since these typically are older cattle, often with physical problems that led to them being culled. Many of the most severe problems occur when transporters use stressful loading methods or load cattle that are unfit for transport.

USDA rule prohibits the processing of cattle that become non-ambulatory after they pass federal veterinary inspection. Additionally, the final rule requires that establishments notify inspection program personnel when cattle become non-ambulatory disabled after passing the ante-mortem, pre-slaughter inspection.

Bruising: Cattle arriving at packing plants with bruises result in economic losses related to beef quality and create animal-welfare concerns. A recent study revealed the prevalence of bruising remains relatively high. Bruises can occur in the feedlot, but transporting cattle to the packing plant can lead to bruising, with horned cattle often suspected of contributing to the incidence of bruises.

Dr. Dan Frese of Kansas State University reported on a study involving carcasses from 4,287 feedlot cattle. They recorded whether or not each animal had horns and measured the length of any horns. They evaluated bruising by location and severity in nine anatomical regions.

Among the beef-breed cattle in the study population, only 6 percent had horns, but the bruising prevalence was 51 percent. Among Holsteins in the study, 11 percent had horns and 70 percent had bruises. Of the total number of bruises, 25.6 percent were rated as severe, 35.6 percent were moderate and 38.8 percent were minor.

The study results suggest that horns might not be the major source of bruising in finished cattle, and some other factors during transportation could be involved. Approximately 62% of the bruises occurred along the backs of the cattle, where horns probably were not the cause. That portion also yields the most valuable cuts of beef, and about one-third of the bruises occurred on the rib and loin areas. The researchers speculated that overhead clearance for cattle entering the belly portion of a trailer could be too low for large-framed cattle, potentially resulting in bruising.

A couple of Critical Control Points (CCP): Ideally, load cattle early is the morning so there is no heat stress, bed down trucks for long distance hauls so it is more comfortable, drivers should know their route so they can pull off if needed and have a plan in place in case of a wreck. Loading and unloading procedures should be performed gently and at an unhurried pace with as little noise as possible. Falling is one of the most serious problems that can occur during loading and unloading. Following are some scores suggested by Dr. Temple Grandin.

This CCP includes cattle that fall or slip inside the vehicle:

Excellent - No slipping or falling
Acceptable - Less than 3% of the cattle slip
Not Acceptable - 1% fall down (body touches floor
Serious Problem - 2% fall or 15% or more slip

Percentage of Cattle that Move Quietly at a Walk or Trot but do not Run or Jump

Excellent - 90% or more move at a walk or trot
Acceptable - 75% or more move at a walk or trot
Not Acceptable - Less than 75% move at a walk or trot
Serious Problem - Less than 50% move at a walk or trot



  • Gonzalez, L.A., K.S. Schwartzkopf-Genswein, M. Bryan, R. Silasi and F. Brown. 2012. Benchmarking study of industry practices during commercial long haul transport of cattle in Alberta, Canada. J. Animal Science. 90:3606-3617.
  • Schwartzkopf-Genswein, K. and T. Grandin, T. 2014. Cattle transport by road. Pp. 143-173. (in) Livestock Handling and Transport, 4th Edition. CABI, Boston
  • Schwartzkopf-Genswein, K.S., M. E. Booth-McLean, M.A. Shah, T. Entz, S.J. Bach, G.J. Mears, A.L. Schaefer, N. Cook, J. Church, and T.A. McAllister. 2007. Effects of pre-haul management and transport duration on beef calf performance and welfare. Applied Animal Behavior Science 108:12-30.