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Authors: Dr. Antonio Velarde1, Dr. Dayane Teixeira1, Dr. Maria Devant2, Dr. Sonia Martí2
1 Animal Welfare Program, Institute for Food and Agriculture Research and Technology (IRTA) Veïnat de Síes, 17121 Girona, Spain; 2Ruminant Production, Institute for Food and Agriculture Research and Technology (IRTA), Caldes de Montbui, 08140 Barcelona, Spain.
- Unweaned calves between 2 and 4 weeks of age experience an immunological gap due to the shift between passive and active immunity, and therefore they are more susceptible to long journeys than weaned calves.
- To meet the basic physiological and behavioural needs, unweaned calves need between 10 and 20% of BW as temperate milk or milk replacer daily with 16-22 MJ and 160-240 g crude protein.
- On the basis of farm practices, 12 h may be recommended as maximum interval between milk meals, but this needs validation under transport conditions.
- Confirmation of the date of insemination or mating should be obtained before the transport of pregnant females to ensure that the stage of gestation can be ascertained.
- Alternatively, determination of gestational age could be possible with ultrasonography. However, the available data do not currently allow reliable benchmarks to be derived during late pregnancy.
- Further research is needed to establish the gestational age at which females are at particular risk of suffering poor welfare during transport.
The European Implementation Assessment of October 2018 on the Regulation (EC) 1/2005 highlighted the long-distance transport of unweaned animals and the ascertaining of the state of pregnancy of live animals as two of the most important issues that remain unsolved.
This study aims to analyse the welfare needs in transport of unweaned animals (focused on calves) and pregnant females (focused on cattle, sheep, goats and sows). The study examines the available academic literature, analyses the data related to the transport of these animals and provides an overview of the main current protocols/guidelines implemented in the EU Member States and third countries. It also highlights the main issues remaining unsolved and describes the best animal welfare practices in the transport of unweaned animals and pregnant females and identifies the main conditions for its proper enforcement. Finally, the research provides policy recommendations to improve the EU animal welfare standards in this area.
Particular welfare needs in the transport of unweaned calves
The term ‘unweaned animals’ refers to those young animals that are still on a milk diet. The focus of the study is on unweaned calves of 2-4 weeks of age, transported over long journeys (> 8h), regardless of the means of transport (road and sea transport). In the dairy industry, calves not kept for replacement are considered by-products. It can happen that the amount and timing of colostrum feeding is not adequate if provided. Furthermore, calves could be sold and placed into collection centres before long distance transportation and sometimes without receiving an appropriate quantity and quality of feed (milk replacer) and water during that time. At this age calves experience an immunological gap due to the shift between passive and active immunity that compromise animal health and welfare during and after transport. During the journey, unweaned calves may experience negative welfare consequences such as prolonged hunger and thirst, resting problems, thermal stress and diseases. The magnitude of the welfare consequences is likely to increase over longer journeys.
As unweaned calves are more susceptible to long journeys, the assessment of fitness for transport is a critical point. Calves with wet or inflamed nibbles, lame, with respiratory disease signs, dehydrated or underfed are not fit for transport and should not be transported.
Based on knowledge on calves when kept on farm, unweaned calves need between 10 and 20 % of BW as temperate milk or milk replacer daily, with 16-22 MJ (3-6 weeks of age) and 160-240 g crude protein. On European farms, dairy calves in the age of 2-5 weeks are typically fed manually twice per day with an interval of 12 h, if they are not fed by automatic milk feeders. Even though unweaned calves are fed liquids (milk), they still need water. Long transports where calves are not properly fed before departure or during the resting period challenge the welfare and health especially of those unweaned calves that have low body reserve and immunological weakness.
Calves have a behavioural and physiological need to ingest their milk by sucking. The position of the head during milk drinking is essential to prevent liquid from flowing into the developing rumen. To secure best welfare liquid feed should be provided with rubber teats placed at 50-75 cm high. After milk feeding calves need at least 3 h of rest for a proper digestion. Improper digestion increases de risk of diarrhoea. Electrolytes as pre-transport diet do not fulfil the calves’ nutritional requirement.
On the basis of farm practice, 12 h may be recommended as maximum interval between milk meals, but this needs validation under transport conditions.
Therefore, during the journey calves should have enough space and of adequate quality in terms of surface texture, dryness and hygiene, lie down, stand up and turn around without hindrance. If space allowance is reduced too much, calves cannot rest properly, resulting in fatigue. Physical space requirements increase with increasing body weight and can be calculated using the formula A = k x (BW)2/3, with a k between 0.027 and 0.047 for animals resting properly and change position, if required.
At any time during the journey (stationary or moving) the temperature range have to be maintained from 5 ºC to 25 ºC. In winter, pre-warm/air conditioning vehicles by using heaters/AC prior to loading. During hot weather and delays, provide water manually and spray the floors with water when risk of heat stress and only with low environmental humidity. In case of engine failure have a generator to keep running the ventilation.
Transport of dairy beef calves after weaning could mitigate the negative welfare consequences occurring during transport and might help to reduce post transport morbidity and mortality.
Particular welfare needs in the transport of pregnant females
In the EU pregnant females who are 90% or more through their gestation period are considered unfit and should not be transported. Females in the last 10% of gestation are considered vulnerable, i.e. they present physiological weaknesses or pathological process that prevent them from being transported without undue suffering. This length of the pregnancy represents 255 of 284 days in cattle, 135 of 150 days in sheep, 139 of 155 days in goats and 104 of 115 in sows at the time of arrival at the place of destination. The major critical point on transport of pregnant female is the ascertaining of the state of pregnancy. A simple method to determine the length of pregnancy is through documents with the insemination or mating date. In case of natural insemination, the first day the male are put together with the female might be considered as the date of conception.
There are alternatives for pregnancy diagnosis. Some of them are invasive, expensive and/or not applicable in commercial conditions, while others are more practical approaches, but the determination of the gestational age is not accurate. Determination of gestational age should be possible with ultrasonography. However, the available data do not currently allow reliable benchmarks to be derived during late pregnancy. Further research is needed to develop an appropriate method to determine the gestational age during late pregnancy when the date of insemination or matting is unavailable.
Scientific evidence is lacking to determine the fitness for transport according to the stage of gestation. Further research is needed to establish the gestational age at which females are at particular risk of suffering poor welfare during transport and if their transportation should be avoided.
Further research is needed to determine the appropriate space allowance, partitions, ceiling height, bedding material and maximum journey duration for transporting pregnant females for each livestock species.