What’s the most commonly raised topic in the letters that land on federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s desk?
If you guessed the Canadian Wheat Board, you’d be wrong.
“Animal transport is the issue that he gets the most letters on from constituents,” said Canadian Cattlemen’s Association vice-president Martin Unrau at a recent town hall meeting here
That’s because the only time the average urban consumer actually catches a glimpse of live farm animals is when they are on a truck.
“It’s amazing the amount of letters that he gets from consumers across Canada that talk about the transport of animals,” said Unrau, as part of a discussion on the CCA’s bid to renew and update the beef industry’s code of practice.
The dairy industry finished its code about two years ago, but progress for the beef industry has been much slower, he said, mainly because stakeholders are demanding that the guidelines be realistically achievable by ranches and feedlots.
Unrau, who once operated a trucking business and sits on the CCA committee working on the code, said revisions to the current transportation regulations have been in the works for about a decade.
Discussions on the subject are generally based on the number of hours cattle spend on trucks and the number of animals per square foot.
Restrictions on the length of time cattle can spend aboard trucks will inevitably increase cost. For example, unloading cattle once per trip adds one cent per pound to the load. Twice, and it adds two cents per pound.
When Unrau hauled cattle, rest stops were based on weather. If it was hot, they’d unload twice. If it was -10, they wouldn’t unload at all.
In his opinion, restrictions on trucking cattle should be based on type. Wet-nosed calves should have more frequent rest stops than feeder cattle, for example.
Slapping a strict limit on loads might backfire, too, if it gives truckers an incentive to try to beat the clock by “hammering through.”
“In Europe, they are talking about an eight-hour limit, which would mean unloading the animals every eight hours,” he added.
To Unrau, that doesn’t make any sense, because in his experience, it takes at least four hours again for the animal “to get his legs.”
On a 40-hour run, if the driver stops for a rest after 14 hours, he’ll often find the cattle are laying down to rest. But if they are run off the truck for feed and water, they fill up their bellies, which adds to their discomfort for the next two to three hours.
“It doesn’t hurt them to stay on the truck,” said Unrau. “Bureaucrats don’t always understand that, but we have to make sure that the message gets through.”
A CCA study of 10,000 loads between Ontario and Alberta found that 99.9 per cent of the cattle arrived with no problems such as deads, downers or sweaters, but weaned calves and old cull cows were at the highest risk.
“The greatest risk, even more than weaned calves, was skinny dairy cows,” he said, adding that in his opinion, future regulations should reflect this reality.