Animal Welfare And Cow Transportation
The issue of transportation is a crucial one for cow welfare: on average, cows are transported 4-6 times in their lifetime and it is considered one of the most stressful events that they can endure in their lifetime. In the U.S., approximately 934,000 truck loads of cows are transported to slaughter facilities each year, and the average time spent in transport is 15.9hrs. Internal truck temperatures on these rides range from -42 to 45°C (-43 to 113°F). The stresses of transportation can be broken down into five general categories: microclimate; loading density; duration of transport; the quality of transport; and the behavior of the individual cow and those around it.
In this review of cow transportation and animal welfare researchers looked at the above factors and how each individually impacts the welfare of cows. They note that that cows respond both physically and behaviorally to stressors, including increased heart and breathing rates, elevated body temperature, and changes in biochemical markers such as cortisol. The researchers also note that cows can become accustomed to stressors, but may have a recovery period which lingers after they’re removed from the stressful situation. Behaviorally, cows may react to transport by aggressiveness, increasing in ruminating, and loss of balance or footing; physically, researchers observed that these situations may also result in changes in the body, such as “shrink, bruising, and incidence of dark cutting beef that result in lower quality products and lost profit.”
Though animal advocates are no doubt put off by the suggestion that animal welfare be related to meat quality and profits, it is the language of the industry and could actually be a leverage point for animal welfare improvements. Regardless of what motivates changes, however, it is clear that animal transport is in desperate need for reform.