New research from the Aarhus University department of animal science in Denmark may play a part in improving animal welfare during transport of cull dairy cows and contribute to the debate about the concept of "fitness for transport," according to an announcement from Aarhus.
The researchers said cull cows in Denmark are typically transported to slaughter by truck. Dairy operations often cull dairy cows due to various disorders or weaknesses, and knowledge of these issues is important for being able to assess whether the cows are fit for transport and for optimizing animal welfare during transport to the slaughterhouse, Aarhus said.
For the study, the Aarhus researchers observed 411 cull cows from Danish dairy herds on their way to slaughter. On average, the cows were transported 129 km, varying from 20 to 339 km. The journeys lasted between 30 minutes and eight hours.
All cows were thoroughly examined before being loaded onto the truck and again immediately after unloading at the slaughterhouse, the researchers said. The clinical examinations focused on lameness, wounds, milk leakage and the cows’ general condition.
Based on existing European legislation, all cows were fit for transport before the transport; however, 2% (nine cows) arrived at the slaughterhouse in a condition that would have been assessed as unfit for transport — all of them due to lameness, according to the researchers.
Furthermore, the researchers said they found a deterioration of the cows’ condition for several clinical signs:
* One-fifth of the cows had become lame or more lame during transport, and there were more lame cows after transport (41%) than before (31%);
* More cows were leaking milk after transport (17%) than before (1%), and
* The occurrence of wounds was higher after transport (34%) than before (22%).
Even though this study did not focus directly on the concept of fitness for transport, the Aarhus researchers noted that results show that 2% of the cows experienced a deterioration of their condition that resulted in them meeting the requirement of "being able to walk unassisted." Furthermore, the results suggested a general deterioration during transport.
The European regulation for transport of animals states that “all animals shall be transported in conditions guaranteed not to cause them injury or unnecessary suffering” (Transport Regulation, EU 1/2005), the researchers said, but the text does not specify limits for “injury,” which makes it difficult to determine whether or not the deterioration of the condition of the cows in this study was inconsistent with the European Union’s regulations on animal transport.
“Our results highlight the need for more knowledge about the concept of fitness for transport and for further studies of the importance of transport for the welfare of cull cows, including development of methods on how to improve transport of cattle,” said senior scientist Mette S. Herskin with the Aarhus department of animal science.
Optimization of animal welfare
The researchers said they identified a number of risk factors for deterioration of lameness and milk leakage. The risk of deterioration of lameness was higher in cows with low body condition scores, in cows with the hoof disorder digital dermatitis and in cows with pelvic asymmetry.
The risk of milk leakage after transport was higher in cows fewer than 100 days after calving and in the case of traveling a long distance to the slaughterhouse.
“The results from the study give farmers and drivers the opportunity to take special care of the most vulnerable cows during transport and thereby ensure their welfare in the best possible way,” Aarhus senior scientist Peter Thomsen said.
The project results were published in two scientific articles:
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