Transportation, stress and cattle health

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cattle truck Transportation of cattle is a common practice and may influence the risk of subsequent calf health and performance. The impact of transportation on cattle health is influenced by the internal truck environment, the environmental conditions at the time of the journey, or the length of the travel, explained Brad White, DVM, MS, Kansas State University, at the Dr. Jack Walther 85th Annual Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas this week.

The transit environment is not homogeneous between compartments for all calves White said. “Research by our group has illustrated that the environmental temperature may differ between the middle and the outside of the trailer during both a journey and a rest phase. Our group has also illustrated that specific sections of the truck may be at higher risk for BRD during the post-transit phase.”

In addition, White said the number of cattle in each section of the truck may also influence subsequent disease risk with cattle in compartments with more than 31 head having higher risk of BRD treatment compared to cattle in compartments with less than 15 head.

Weather has an impact

Transporting cattle in extreme weather conditions, including wide ranges of ambient environmental temperatures, may induce additional stress responses. “Our research group recently evaluated the physiologic and behavioral impacts of transporting calves when ambient temperatures were relatively high (summer),” White said. “In our study, we found that transportation even in times of high ambient temperatures produced only transitory (48-hour) changes in physiologic and behavioral parameters.”

Also noted was the length of the journey and the body weight lost during transportation which may be used as a gauge of the quality of the journey and how prepared the calves were to travel.  “Our research group evaluated data from several feedyards to determine that both the distance traveled and the body weight lost during transit (or shrink) were associated with health and performance characteristics of cattle during the feeding phase.”

The impact of the journey on disease rates and final carcass values was influenced by the time of year the calves arrived, the region of the country the calves were shipped from, the gender of the calves, and the initial weight of the calves upon arrival. “In several parameters, a threshold effect was also observed indicating that performance and health did not continuously change in a linear fashion with either the distance traveled or the shrink,” White said. “Understanding transportation factors that influence cattle health may lead to better preventive health and management plans.”

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