Transport - even if it is only of short duration - means stress for the transported animals. Stress increases the susceptibility to disease, and this problem is particularly great in calves whose immune systems are still fully developing. In order to cope with the situation as well as possible, the handling of the animals must be particularly gentle and the animals must be adequately prepared for the transport.
A review on the subject of calf transport (Goetz, H.M. et al. 2022) shows that the most frequently studied risk factor, in relation to the transport of calves, is the duration (both in terms of time and distance) of the transport. The age of the animals and feeding have also been considered more frequently as risk factors for the health of the transported animals.
Marcato, F. et al. (2020) studied pre-transport feeding, duration of transport, and vehicle used for transport as risk factors for animal health in veal farms. Male calves in this study were approximately 18 days of age and were fed electrolytes or milk replacer prior to transport using either an air-conditioned or not air-conditioned vehicle.
It was found that electrolyte-fed calves transported on an air-conditioned vehicle showed fewer digestive problems until three weeks after transport. Animals that received milk replacer regardless of the transport vehicle or electrolytes prior to transport on a not air-conditioned vehicle showed increased loose or liquid feces during the first three weeks after transport. Also, animals transported in an air-conditioned vehicle showed less umbilical inflammation in the first three weeks after transport. However, no long-term effect was found for either impact of transport on animal health.
In a recent study (Marcato, F. et al. 2022), the age of animals during transport was investigated as a risk factor for animal health. Calves transported at 14 or 28 days of age were compared. Here, transport at older age showed positive effects on animal health because these animals were heavier at both housing and slaughter, and there were fewer losses and fewer treatments in this group. Therefore, it is assumed that the animals are more robust at an older age and thus better able to withstand the demands of transport.
- Teagasc, Transporting the Calf From the farm of Origin: https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/animals/beef/dairy-beef/Segment-002-of-Section2-Calf-procurement-and-transfer.pdf (retrieved 15.08.2022)
- Socio-economic resilience: Transport in air-conditioned vehicles seems more expensive at first glance, but healthier calves that may reach their slaughter weight more rapidly offset these costs.
- Animal health and welfare: As mentioned in the text, animals transported in air-conditioned vehicles seem to have a healthier start into the fattening phase. Feeding electrolytes instead of milk replacer seems also to have an effect.
- Production efficiency and meat quality: Fewer treatments also mean fewer personnel costs and hours, so a well-organized transport has a positive effect on the production efficiency.
- Goetz, H. M. (2022): Characterizing the literature surrounding transportation of young dairy calves: A scoping review. Journal of Dairy Science, 105 (2), 1555-1572. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030221010456?via%3Dihub
- Marcato, F. et al. (2020): Transport of Young Veal Calves: Effects of Pre-transport Diet, Transport Duration and Type of Vehicle on Health, Behavior, Use of Medicines, and Slaughter Characteristics. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.576469/full
- Marcato, F. et al. (2022): Effects of transport age and calf and maternal characteristics on health and performance of veal calves. Journal of Dairy Science 105 (2), 1452-1468 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030221010559?via%3Dihub