With so much on their minds, it's easy for farmers to think that once cows are loaded and heading to their destination, that's the job done. However, we have a responsibility to protect our cows’ welfare past the farm gate.
Taupo to Te Aroha
I join Mike Shaw, driving for Midlands Rural Transport, in Taupo at 8.00 a.m. It’s usually a two-hour trip in a car, but we're picking up cattle from 10 locations, so today’s journey will take 10 hours.
When planning his route, Mike considers animal size and breed, which farms are ‘truck only’ (where the trailer is dropped off outside the farm, then collected) and which farms’ cattle have vet certificates.
Dealing with delays
Drivers carting livestock take a serious approach to truck breakdowns and traffic delays, although Mike says drivers and farmers are understanding if there’s a good reason.
We’re delayed by 30 minutes at the first farm because someone slept in. In these cases, “offering a cup of tea makes waiting easier”, remarks Mike.
Further on, we’re slowed down and redirected by roadworks in several places.
“Freight guys can sit for hours, but we want to keep stock transport as short as possible,” says Mike. “So, when I see a blocked road, my first thought is, ‘can I turn around?’”
If a plant breaks down, the animals are cooled in the trucks with water until the plant starts up again. But if the breakdown is serious, the truck might be diverted to a different plant, or asked to unload at sale yards overnight. For this reason, Mike recommends preparing cows for a much longer journey than you’d expect.
Prep from the inside
Getting cows off green feed at least four hours before the truck arrives gives them a chance to empty out, prevents effluent spills and is better for animal comfort.
“They don’t travel well if they aren’t stood off grass. It takes them far longer to settle and, with a belly full of grass, they’re top heavy, less stable. And more effluent makes it slippery for them to stand.”
Before transport, most farmers give cows extra magnesium and dry feed such as hay. Mike says it can be noticeable when cows are short of magnesium.
“They’re less settled; there’s more bumping and banging.”
Giving lactating cows calcium as well stops them becoming unstable on their feet after so long off feed.
I left Mike as he was loading up the last cows at 5 p.m. Te Aroha was still half an hour away and the first cows had been on the truck since 8:30 a.m., which reinforced the importance of selecting and preparing our cull cows well.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy March 2020