Effects of conditioning, source, and rest on indicators of stress in beef cattle transported by road


Meléndez, D.M., Marti, S., Haley, D.B., Schwinghamer, T.D., Schwartzkopf-Genswein, K.S. (2021). Effects of conditioning, source, and rest on indicators of stress in beef cattle transported by road. PLoS ONE, [online] 16(1 January 2021), http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244854

Plain language summary

Given the visibility of cattle transport and the growing public scrutiny around animal welfare, research was conducted so that science-based recommendations could be made to identify the optimal conditioning, source, and rest period for beef calves being transported within Canada. Consequently, a study using 7-8 month old beef calves was conducted in which half the calves were conditioned (weaned, vaccinated, feeding/drinking from troughs 3 weeks prior to marketing and transport off the ranch) or not (newly weaned) and then further split into groups that were obtained from an auction or a ranch. Each one of the conditioning/source groups were transported for 36 h and rested for 0 or 8 hours before being transported an additional 4 h to their final destination. Blood indicators of inflammation, muscle damage, feed deprivation and stress were assessed before and after the 36 hour and the additional 4 hour trip and on days 1-5, 14 and 28 after the 4 hour trip. Calf behaviour indicative of fatigue and performance were also evaluated. Newly weaned calves had greater indicators of inflammation, muscle damage, feed deprivation and acute stress than conditioned calves. Overall this study provides some evidence that conditioning calves prior to marketing improved calf welfare while calf source and provision of a rest had minor effects on indicators of welfare.


Consumers are increasingly concerned about the welfare of farm animals, especially during transportation. The Canadian transport regulations state that weaned cattle require an 8 h rest after 36 h of transport. There are, however, only a few studies that assess the effect of rest on the welfare of beef cattle. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of conditioning, source and rest on indicators of welfare in 7-8-month-old beef calves during long-distance transport. Treatments consisted of a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial design where the main factors were conditioning: conditioned (C; n = 160) or non-conditioned (N; n = 160); source: auction market (A; n = 160) or ranch direct (R; n = 160); and rest: 0 h (0 h; n = 160) or 8 h (8 h; n = 160). Means of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), serum amyloid-A, haptoglobin, creatine kinase (CK), and percentage of time standing from N calves were greater than C calves (all p ≤ 0.05). Means of percentage of time standing and CK of R calves were greater than A calves (both p ≤ 0.05). The mean of NEFA of 0 h calves was greater than the 8 h calves (p < 0.01), while the percentage of time standing of 0 h calves was less than 8 h calves (p < 0.01). Statistically significant differences between means of NEFA and standing percentage, were observed between 0 h and 8h calves. Few and inconsistent indicators of reduced welfare were observed between auction market and ranch direct calves, while non-conditioning was associated with greater physiological and behavioural indicators of reduced welfare. Based on these results, conditioning should be implemented as a management practice to improve the welfare of transported calves.