If you’re hauling steel or vegetables or the myriad of other products that travel by truck on the highway, then you need to be a good driver. If you’re hauling live animals, you need another skill – animal welfare specialist.
That’s where Dave Heaslip and Heather Willis come in. Heaslip, a livestock investigator with the RCMP and Willis, an animal health inspector with CFIA, described their roles at the Alberta Farm Animal Care conference held here in March.
The two met at Vold Jones Vold auction mart in Ponoka, and have since developed recommendations for responsible livestock transportation. Heaslip said the priority is first to educate and enforce, with prosecution for noncompliance way down the list.
“We strive for compliance,” said Heaslip. “It’s so easy to write a ticket to someone and then be out of their face, but we just can’t do that.”
Willis teaches the Certified Livestock Transport Course (CLT course) at auction markets in Rimbey and Ponoka. The course was developed by Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC), which recognized that livestock transporters are an important part of the industry.
The course was developed to promote animal welfare and humane transportation and to help farmers and transporters meet increased expectations from consumers at home and abroad.
“If you trust your carefully raised animals to a poor transporter, you’ve taken a major step backwards,” said Willis. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing on the farm or how well you’re doing it, if you have a transporter that comes in and stresses those animals or overloads those animals, you’ve just impacted the quality of your product that you’re sending to market.”
Animals out on the road are highly visible to the public and the consumer, which enhances the pressure to improve livestock transport.
Not yet mandatory
The course helps truckers improve their skills as livestock handlers, transporters and communicators. Several courses have been held in Ponoka and in Grande Prairie, and more than 150 transporters throughout the province have been certified. The training is not yet mandatory, but market forces are currently influencing transporters to take the training. Willis believes that this training will eventually become mandatory due to pressure from the auction marts.
Willis said those who have taken the program now have the strength, confidence and ability to refuse to transport or handle unfit animals. She says her involvement in the CLT program has allowed her the opportunity to get to know truckers.
“I’m not the scary regulatory body any more. I get to work with them and educate them and hear their side of the story and they can see why it makes sense from my side,” she said.
Marketplaces such as auction marts and feedlots have some common concerns about animal welfare that Willis has been able to address through the CLT course. Some animals arriving at auction marts have been shown poor feet, lameness, cancer eye, lump jaws and emaciation. Dairy cattle with slick coats coming out of barns in extreme cold and hogs transported without heated trailers in cold conditions are also causes for concern.
Overcrowding and load density are also things that need to be regulated and monitored. “We don’t want to cram as many animals into the trailer as we possibly can,” said Willis.