Health and welfare of cattle transported in late pregnancy
There are significant risks to the health and welfare of heifers and cows transported over long distances in late pregnancy.
With an increase in the number of pregnant cattle being transported long distances, cases of metabolic disease, some of which have been fatal, have been diagnosed following inappropriate or illegal transportation. The risk may be greater in heifers because they tend to have a shorter pregnancy and because more of them are transported when pregnant (the number of imported dairy heifers has increased in the past two years).
Additionally, since most pregnant heifers are physically immature during pregnancy they may be more susceptible to the stress of long distance transport.
Since July 2009 Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has investigated the deaths of dairy heifers in late pregnancy that had been transported from Europe. They died from severe metabolic disease within six weeks of transport, with fatty liver being the most common feature. AHVLA has also reported a number of incidents of cattle calving during or just after transportation, contrary to current EU regulations.
Vendors, hauliers and purchasers must be aware of these risks, take action to mitigate them, and be aware of their legal obligations not to permit suffering of animals in transport.
Council Regulation EC/1/2005 lays down the provisions on the protection of animals during transport. This is enforced in Wales under the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Wales Order 2007, and states that pregnant females should not be transported when 90% or more of the expected pregnancy period has passed, or in the week after calving.
Best practice and recommended actions
- Check exact insemination or service date and expected calving date for each animal in the batch.
- Avoid negative energy balance in late pregnancy by ensuring appropriate feeding before, during and after transport.
- Avoid sudden changes of management and diet for pregnant animals. On arrival at destination, heifers should initially remain on the same diet as before transportation with new foods introduced gradually.
- Avoid transporting pregnant cattle over long distances in the last two months of pregnancy, allowing animals to adapt to new rearing conditions before calving.
- Always consider the disease status of new animals introduced in any herd, In particular those originating from abroad as they may carry diseases that are not already present in GB. The bio-security of the herd of destination should be managed through a herd health plan. For further information on bio-security and health schemes visit the Animal Health pages on the Welsh Government website.