October 7, 2003


Oversized Cattle a Growing Problem to Livestock Industry


Big steers, cows and bulls are sometimes shipped to packing plants in Western Canada in overcrowded conditions, leading to stress, scrapes and bruises.


"This started with an Alert call to AFAC," said Susan Church, head of the Alberta Foundation for Animal Care. The Alert line is a confidential telephone call available to anyone wishing to report animal welfare concerns. Packers were among the first to be concerned when they saw the condition of overweight, tall animals arriving at plants, she said.


The situation is related to marketing problems that resulted when discovery of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada in May prompted many countries to ban beef and cattle exports. Producers held animals back, hoping for a change in market conditions. While they waited, animals continued to grow.


An Alberta Cattle Feeders Association letter is circulating to packers and feedlots advising them about the federal Health of Animals transportation and humane handling regulations. Violations could mean fines or prosecution.


The letter said the problem is especially acute among cattle weighing more than 1,500 pounds. Many are too tall to fit comfortably into cattle trucks.


For example, 46 head averaging 1,500 lb. each equals 69,000 lb. of live weight. The proper weight for a tri-axle truck is 44 head at 1,500 lb. equalling 66,000 lb.


The height problem can only be dealt with by placing taller animals in the compartments with higher clearance, usually at the back end of the trailer.


If the entire load is over height, a way out is to use straight liners, modify trucks or reduce the number of tall animals placed in tri-axles or pots.


Taller animals may mean a 30% reduction in the number. Instead of hauling 39 to 40 head of large Holsteins, the number may have to be cut back to 25 or 26.


In the case of Alberta Holstein cows shipped for slaughter, all are inspected at assembly yards before loading to ensure they are fit for the long trip to XL Foods in Moose Jaw, Sask.


A broader crisis management plan is in the works for the humane handling of livestock that cannot be sold because of the BSE crisis. In some cases, Church said, older, weakened animals may have to be destroyed on the farm rather than putting them through the stress of trucking to an abattoir.


"In some cases that is the most humane thing to do."

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