Study Looks At Livestock Hauling Stress

by 5m Editor
23 November 2004, at 12:00am

TEXAS - A recent study conducted at Texas A&M University could help keep trade simpler between the United States and European Union. The Scientific Committee for Animal Health and Welfare of the European Commission is considering new regulations for hauling livestock.

"This could be used to limit imports into the EU," said Dr. Ted Friend, professor in the Texas A&M department of animal science. "We would have to conform to their regulations if we are to ship products into the EU. We have some of the same regulations. That is, if someone wants to import beef into the United States, they have to conform to the same regulations that U.S. plants follow."

The study, performed by Friend and graduate student Peter Krawczel, shows the time constraints will not significantly improve the welfare of the livestock.

"They wanted to allow certain species, like calves, lambs, horses and pigs to be hauled for up to eight hours," said Krawczel. "After the first eight hours you need to have a six-hour rest period. Then you could have another eight hours of transport which would be followed by 24 hours of rest. Then you would start the whole thing over again until you reached you destination."

Currently, there are few regulations for hauling livestock in the United States. To compare the proposed regulations to U.S. standards, Krawczel transported one group of sheep for 52 hours using the recommendations, 22 hours of transport and 30 hours of rest, and a second group continuously. What were the results? There weren't any major differences.

"We looked at immune function, and we looked at blood chemistry profiles and their behavior after we unloaded them; it was all very similar," Krawczel said. "It didn't seem to have a huge influence on their welfare during transport."

However, Krawczel said the study did show that transport, whether continuous or interrupted with rest stops, negatively affected the sheep, and that it could be a stressor. The sheep that were transported had a significantly lower immune response to a vaccine given pre-transport than the control group that remained in the home pasture. The sheep that got rest fell between the control and the continuously transported sheep, but there wasn't a statistically significant difference.

"We gave them ovalalbumin, which is just a chicken egg protein," said Krawczel. "The point was to give them a novel antigen that they hadn't been exposed to, which gave them an immune reaction. There was a lower antibody titer in the transported sheep than in the sheep that just remained in pasture. That's an indication that their immune system wasn't working as strongly."

Krawczel said the study was comprised of 15 sheep for each transport group and 16 control sheep.

The study lasted 10 days. They gave the subjects a two-day rest period from the time they gave the vaccinations and looked at the primary immune responses. They started the transport for the continuous group 22 hours later.

"Our rested group took 54 hours. That was their transport time and their rest time," said Krawczel. "Then we did another blood sampling for the immune function about a week after transport started, which was 10 days after the vaccination, to see how it worked."

The study started as a side project for a horse-hauling research project. Krawczel said horses are covered in the regulations the researchers were comparing, so they used sheep to model whether it would be a wise to look into the same type regulations for horses.

Sheep were chosen for the research because they were small, easy to handle and could be restrained without use of a hydraulic chute. Also, Krawczel said a large number could be hauled in a gooseneck trailer.

"It served as a model that made the most sense for getting the project done in a reasonable amount of time and a reasonable cost," he said. The researchers tried to eliminate outside stressors by restraining the sheep during feeding to acclimate them to transporting procedures.

"Prior to the transport, we had the sheep for about two months," said Krawczel. "In that time we did a lot of hand feeding and hand watering, trying to get them used to being handled so that we as researchers wouldn't add to that stress."

He said because very little difference was seen in the research, they will not pursue further studies on horses.

Source: Texas A&M University System Agriculture Program - 22nd November 2004

5m Editor