Managing long distance livestock transport

By Dubbo District Veterinarian, Dr Sarah Maher

Are you planning on restocking? Have you been looking to purchase stock interstate? Will purchased stock be travelling a long distance?

There have been a number of large-scale deaths in stock across the district that had recently been trucked long distances. This is largely attributed to stock succumbing to disease as a result of prolonged periods without feed which is compounded by the overall stress of transport. Our vets are encouraging producers to be more involved in the planning of long-distance transportation of purchased stock.

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards for the Land Transport of Livestock define specific requirements in relation to livestock transport in Australia. This outlines the maximum period of time classes of stock can be held off water during transportation and the period of time stock should rest with access to food and water once this period is reached. We encourage producers to review this when planning to transport stock long distances.

Despite these standards, the number of livestock that are not being rested or fed during long distance transportation is a cause for concern. Let’s consider how we manage sheep or cattle on farm. After the drought, we have learnt that time off feed increases the risk of metabolic diseases and nutritional disorders (such as acidosis). To mitigate this, we aim to minimise the time that livestock are yarded or off feed as much as possible. The same concept should apply to stock that are transported long distances.

When stock go for extended periods without feed, their normal microbial population within their digestive tract or ‘gut flora’ decline. This provides the opportunity for the overgrowth of disease-causing bacteria within their gut, such as salmonella. Stock that go for extended periods of time off feed can also develop what we call ‘dead rumen’ whereby the microbes within the rumen die. This reduces the animal’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients, which can take time to recover, affecting weight gains. In addition, stock can develop transit tetany, or low calcium and/or magnesium, due to a reduced capacity to absorb minerals from the gut at a time when their demand for minerals increases. Add on top of this the stress of transportation and we have the right environment for disease and stock loss. Whilst the sheep or cattle you brought in from interstate might survive the journey, they may not last the week.

If stock are travelling long distances and are required to be rested, we are encouraging producers to arrange for stock be fed during this time. The feed does not need to be the animal’s total daily requirement but enough to keep their rumen ticking over. The small cost of providing some good quality hay is well worth the investment to reduce the stock losses.

Additionally, when stock arrive on farm ensure they are provided good quality hay before introducing new feed or putting them out to pasture. Hay is a relatively safe feed source that will provide adequate gut fill and ‘kick start’ the rumen bugs into functioning properly again. Hungry stock in a naïve environment will preferentially select plants they know, and this may be a weed or toxic plant.

So, if you’re planning on transporting sheep or cattle long distances aim to reduce their time off-fed and support their digestive tract so that they are ready to perform on arrival.

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