Animal Welfare: Transportation of Livestock

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 Take home message | Introduction | Animal welfare | Legislation | Transportation guidelines | Suggested reading

This is a fact sheet from the Animal Welfare section of the Alberta Feedlot Management Guide, Second Edition published September 2000. The 1200 page guide is available for purchase on CD-ROM.

Take Home Message

  • Be aware of the federal and provincial laws governing livestock transportation.
  • Do not load or transport infirm livestock.
  • Cattle comfort must be considered while en route.
  • Don’t allow manure to escape the vehicle on the roadway.

Transporting livestock is no longer a simple job performed in the country by experienced livestock handlers raised on the farm. It has become a large industry serving an expansive international market. Commercial cattle trailers have evolved into lightweight triple axle units pulled by 400 horsepower tractors on trips often as far as 1800 kilometres on a regular basis. Shippers, drivers and receivers share important responsibilities as they ensure the animals are transported safely.


The Health of Animals Act is a federal law that contains most of the reference to livestock transportation. It is a federal offence to cause suffering to any animal during loading, transport or unloading. The RCMP and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforce the Federal Livestock Products Act.

The ASPCA has the power to enforce corresponding provincial legislation including the Alberta Animal Protection Act and Livestock and Livestock Products Acts.

Transportation Guidelines

Drivers must be rested and have their units seasonally ready to undergo a journey. All decking and gates must be secure.

Shippers are to ensure that cattle to be shipped are suitable to undergo transport. The transporter should accept only healthy animals for transport. If they are unfit, (unhealthy or crippled) they should not be loaded. The driver, trucking company and/or the shipper may be prosecuted under the federal Health of Animals Act if there is a problem with suffering due to infirm animals on board, unacceptable weights or improper loading densities. Contact the CFIA for a one page Decision Tree that will help producers and transporters decide which animals are suitable for transport.

If the shipper pressures a driver into accepting an infirm animal, the driver should try to contact a regulatory inspector for advice. If it becomes apparent the driver must take the animal, it should be loaded on the back compartment with plenty of room, bedding and easy accessibility. The driver should record on the manifest that he/she loaded the specified animal under protest. In the event of a regulatory infraction, the liability will likely be transferred from the transporter back to the shipper, or whoever caused the infirm animal to be loaded.

Market ready animals, especially older cows, bruise easily when they are handled roughly. When slaughtered, costly bruises must be trimmed from the carcass and disposed of.

A dark cutter is a carcass with meat that is dry, dark and undesirable for the meat case. Rough handling and stress shortly before slaughter are among the many factors contributing to a dark cutting carcass. Each dark cutter carcass is discounted significantly.

Not all bruising and dark cutters are attributed to transport but drivers and shippers need to be aware of their own actions and how they affect the final product.

Deciding how to divide up the load may be a difficult calculation taking into consideration the industry recommended loading densities (see Figure 1), weight restrictions, class and weight of animal, distance to be travelled, weather, road bans, cattle comfort and special needs. According to the Health of Animals Act, livestock must be able to stand in their natural position without their head coming in contact with a deck or roof.

Stock prods should be used with discretion only on haired portions of the animal and never on the face. Prodding an animal that is either already moving or has no room to advance is unproductive. Whips, sorting sticks and canes must not be misused causing bruising or injury.

Figure 1. CFIA Loading Density Chart (from AFAC, Cattle Handling and Hauling Training Course).

Health of Animals regulations state that cattle within Canada cannot be on board for longer than 48 hours unless the final destination can be reached in 52 hours. If the trip is likely to take longer than 52 hours, the cattle must be off-loaded for feed, water and rest for a minimum of 5 hours. You may transport cattle within Canada for up to 52 hours but they must be watered and fed as soon as they are unloaded.

The unit must keep rolling during hot weather to ensure proper ventilation for the cattle. In cold weather bedding should be used.

Unload the cattle into a suitable receiving pen with enough room. Secure the gates and leave the paperwork where the receivers can find it.

The Health of Animals Act states that an inspector may order a driver to clean out the unit at the nearest suitable facility. Don’t leave the drain plugs open while running down the highway.

When hauling cattle destined for the US, you must be aware of legal liabilities and restrictions. Paperwork is often complex. Legal weight limits may be different for each state. US border officials will require the documented health status and individual ID of breeding animals. Loads of slaughter cattle will be sealed at the border and can only be opened by authorized personnel at the final destination.

In the event of an emergency or breakdown, call for help immediately. If the situation requires serious assistance contact the RCMP and secure the scene for the benefit of other motorists. If the unit is temporarily out of service due to mechanical problems, the cattle may need to be off-loaded onto another unit before repairs are started. The comfort of the cattle must be considered so do what you can for them. Safety must be considered in the event of a rollover or unlevel stall. If the load sits on a precarious angle, it is very dangerous to enter the trailer while the cattle are scrambling for footing. If some of the cattle on the load become injured, seek advice from a veterinarian if possible.

Suggested Reading

  • - Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD).
  • - The official web-site of the CFIA with links to regulations regarding transport.
  • - Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University has done some excellent research into livestock handling and transportation.
  • Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Quality Starts Here booklet available from the CCA office in Calgary 403-275-8558
  • Good Production Practices for Feedlots
  • Recommended Operating Procedures for Feedlot Animal Health
  • Good Production Practices Records for Feedlots
  • The CFIA Decision Tree is a one page handout with valuable tips on identifying animals that may not be fit for transport. It is included in the Recommended Operating Procedures for Feedlot Animal Health booklet available from the CCA or ARD offices.
  • The Agriculture and Agri-food Canada publication Code Of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle (#1870E) is available from ARD offices.
The following provincial and federal regulations apply to the transportation of cattle:
  1. Canada Health of Animals Regulations - Sections 136 - 151
  2. Criminal Code of Canada - Section 446
  3. Canada Meat Inspection Regulations - Section 28 & 61-66
  4. Alberta Animal Protection Act Regulations
  5. Alberta Motor Transportation Act Regulations
  6. Alberta Livestock Diseases Act Regulations
  7. Alberta Livestock and Livestock Products Act Regulations
  8. Alberta Meat Inspection Act Regulations
  9. Alberta Livestock Identification and Brand Inspection Act Regulations

Tim O’Byrne, 2000. Alberta Feedlot Management Guide.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Claude Baker.
This information published to the web on October 25, 2007.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 5, 2017.