Hauling livestock is nothing like hauling a truck full of potato chips or canned soup. For one thing, livestock is a living, breathing cargo. And with that comes a whole slew of challenges for the truck driver, starting from the time the animals are loaded onto the truck to the point at which they’re unloaded.
Some of those challenges include ensuring the animals are healthy and calm, that the trucks are clean, have bedding for animals and proper ventilation. Driving skills are also critical, explains Jennifer Woods, a livestock handling specialist and owner of J. Woods Livestock Services in Blackie, Alta. With sudden accelerations or stops, the animals will be thrown off balance. Livestock is also “moving freight,” adds Woods. “It’s like transporting a liquid; it’s very different from transporting freight that has no movement.”
Yet with all the challenges and considerations that go along with transporting livestock, “there’s currently no required training for livestock drivers,” says Deanna Pagnan, director of the Livestock Transporters Division (LTD) with the Toronto-based Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).
At one time, livestock truck drivers traditionally were men who grew up on family farms and knew how to handle animals. “They would be a great match for driving [trucks],” explains Pagnan. “Now there just aren’t many drivers anymore who come from the farm and have that knowledge of animal behaviour.” That’s one of the reasons the OTA has launched a campaign to increase the number of trained drivers. The association is aiming to raise industry standards and make transport training a requirement. It also wants all stakeholders in the supply chain to require training from its truck drivers.
While food manufacturers are a large part of that supply chain, many don’t see or handle live animals. But they still have a role in how they’re transported. And they’ve also got a vested interest. Just ask Temple Grandin. Grandin is a professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University and a designer of livestock handling facilities used around the world. When asked how the transport of animals affects food processors, she’s quick to point out that stress during transport affects meat quality, especially in cattle. “Animals can get bruises, cattle can push horns into each other,” she says. “Bruised meat has to be cut out and thrown away. Cattle can get dark cutting meat, which is dark firm dry meat that has a shorter shelf life. Those are good reasons right there for handling animals correctly.”
The same is true for pigs, says Grandin, but in their case it’s critical that pigs are calm and have rest during the last five minutes before slaughter. “If you handle pigs roughly, with a lot of electric prods in the last five minutes, you’re going to get more pale, soft and watery meat.” Grandin adds that food processors who run a slaughterhouse are in a good position to put pressure on those operations “to do things right.” They can enforce the rules on transport and demand that drivers be trained.
While drivers aren’t required to take training programs, many do, although the training may be a patchwork from different sources. In 2007, Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) launched the Canadian Livestock Transport (CLT) program. Lorna Baird, AFAC’s executive director, says the program is the only one of its kind in North America that offers multi-species livestock training. The program has been picked up by other provinces, and just last year it received federal funding to help create more of a national program. Baird says they’re reviewing each of the modules and will incorporate all regional differences across Canada.
Apart from the cost of dead and hurt animals there’s another incentive for training: the cost to the industry’s reputation. In 2010, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) released findings from a review of Canadian Food Inspection Agency animal transport inspection reports. The WSPA found that two to three million farm animals arrive dead at their destination each year, and concluded that animals do suffer as a result of poor driver training. More recently, mainstream media has reported on companies that have been caught and fined for the mistreatment of live animals during transport.
On a positive note, some in the industry have noticed a huge shift in awareness and changes in handling. Dave Solverson, owner of Woodwind Ranch in Camrose, Alta., says he’s seen a marked improvement over the last few years among the commercial truck drivers who haul cattle. Solverson, who is also the chairman of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Animal Care Committee, says the industry has been demanding more training from drivers, something that has been well accepted by the trucking industry. As a result, he’s noticed more drivers emphasizing animal welfare. Even the packing plant where his cattle are hauled to expects haulers to have a commitment to the animals’ wellbeing.
Woods has noticed it too. With 500 loaded livestock trucks on the roads in Alberta each day, it’s a very visible aspect of the industry and there’s a lot of interest in keeping those animals safe. “Our [haulers] do a pretty good job and they’re very professional at what they do,” says Woods. “It’s a challenging job, more than any other freight out there. Drivers load and unload their animals. They take due care during transport in their driving skills. A lot of truckers don’t take care of their own freight in that way. These drivers have that extra responsibility of having live animals on their trailer. And they take it very seriously.”