Transporting Livestock - Are they 'Fit to Load'?

When transporting livestock there are a few things you should know to meet the Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock (the ‘Standards’).

The duty of care and management of livestock is a shared responsibility for all those involved throughout the transport chain.  This includes stock owners, transport operators, saleyard personnel/receiver and stockpersons.

Best practice is to conduct a welfare assessment of each animal prior to movement ensuring they are fit for transport for the entire journey.  Refer to the MLA Guide - ‘Fit-to-Load’ Guide when transporting livestock.

The chain of responsibility in transporting livestock is shared between the person in charge at any one point. The:

  • Consignor – mustering, handling, preparation including inspection & selection as fit for the intended journey, have adequate feed & water provision and holding periods before loading.
  • Transporter/Driver – responsible from the point of loading until unloading and notifying the receiver at the destination. Includes final inspection during loading, loading density and adequate spelling periods during the journey.
  • Receiver (the person at the destination) – responsible for welfare after unloading.

What does ‘Fit to Load’ mean?

Livestock must be assessed as fit for the intended journey and must:

  • Be able to walk on its own by bearing weight on all four legs
  • See well enough to walk, load & travel without impairment or distress. (Not blind in both eyes).
  • Be free from visible injury or distress.
  • Not be weak, skinny or dehydrated.
  • Not be heavily pregnant.
  • Have had access to water prior to loading to meet maximum time off water standards.

If in doubt leave it out & phone your local veterinarian for advice.

Producer – ‘fit to load’ Checklist:-

  • Animals should be prepared prior to loading. This includes spelling or resting livestock in yards following mustering & provide appropriate amounts of roughage & water.
  • The provision of water is a key requirement for livestock welfare.
  • Provide appropriate loading facilities that are fit for purpose.
  • Ensure livestock (cattle, sheep, goats & pigs) are correctly identified with an NLIS tag or device before loading & transport.
  • Comply with the Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines for the land transport of livestock & relevant state & territory legislation.
  • Observe animals carefully before transport for health & injury which may render them unfit for journey. (if in doubt leave it out)
  • Must adopt measures set out in the standards to deal appropriately with these animals & minimise risks to their welfare.
  • Plan the journey with consideration given to the length of the journey & weather conditions.
  • Complete required transport documentation prior to movement eg. NVD or waybill.

Transport Vehicle

The driver or transporter of livestock is responsible from the point of loading livestock to unloading and notifying the receiver of the livestock destination.

Livestock on the vehicle should not be loaded either too loosely or too tightly because this may increase injury. The truck should have sufficient airflow with suitable flooring to minimise injury including slipping or falling and have no protruding objects.

If you transport your own livestock, check your livestock prior to departure and regular checks on longer journeys.  Take appropriate action if a problem arises that could affect the welfare of the livestock.

Things to consider:-

  • Making sure you plan your journey and take into consideration the condition, species & class of the livestock, nature of the journey and weather conditions.
  • Drive in a manner that minimises impact on the welfare of the livestock, including appropriate driving techniques for the road conditions.
  • Planned rest stops & spells
  • The time that livestock are deprived of feed & water.
  • Affective cleaning of livestock crates & containers.
  • Vehicle gates & facilities should be sufficiently wide to ensure easy movement.

Maximum time off water & rest time


Class of Animal

Maximum time off water (hours)

Minimum spell duration (hours)

Cattle over 6 months old



Calves 30 days to 6 months old



Lactating cows with calves at foot



Calves 5-30 days old travelling without mothers



Cattle knowns to be more than 6 months pregnant, excluding the last 4 weeks



Livestock should be handled in a manner that minimises stress on the animal.  Weak, sick or injured livestock should be managed to minimise risk to their welfare.  But if you have concerns about the assessment of fitness for the intended journey, North Coast Local Services district veterinarians are here to help.  Contact your nearest office for assistance.

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