A growing number of calves are being hauled long distances at a young age to get to the calf raiser. On these long trips, calves typically don’t have access to milk or water and can be exposed to other stressors such as hot or cold conditions. The impact of transport on calves is “a bit of a black box,” though, according to David Renaud, D.V.M., an assistant professor at the University of Guelph.

At the Dairy Cattle Welfare Council’s annual symposium held in Kansas City, Mo., Renaud shared research his team has done over the last few years to analyze the effects of long road trips on dairy calves. They looked at clinical health scores, blood parameters, and behavior before and after extended trailer rides and found that calves were negatively impacted.

To reduce the stress associated with transportation, Renaud shared five considerations when hauling calves long distances. The first is time in transit. In the United States, calves can be transported for up to 28 consecutive hours, but newer regulations in Canada limit long distance travel to 12 hours. Reducing the time calves are in transit is an important way to mitigate travel stress, Renaud noted.

Age of the calf also affects outcomes after a long trip. For example, Renaud shared two studies where calves transported over 13 days of age had shorter bouts of diarrhea after the trip than those transported at a younger age. He recommended waiting to haul calves until they are a little older, at least 8 days of age, because those calves have better energy and fat reserves to handle the stress.

One practice that is still up for debate is providing a rest period during a long trip. In one study, Renaud found that calves transported for eight hours, given a rest period for eight hours, and then transported another eight hours had better blood parameters than calves transported for 16 hours straight. However, the calves with the rest period spent more time lying down in the days following the trip, which might suggest the unloading and loading process was stressful. In the study, there were very few differences in health or growth parameters between the two groups. So, Renaud said the value of a rest period is still under consideration.

Without question, calves should be fed a milk or milk replacer meal before being put on the truck, advised Renaud. This gives them energy for the transportation journey.

The final consideration is to ship calves that are fit for transport. Calves that had signs of sickness prior to a long trip were more likely to be treated upon arrival at the calf raiser. Renaud said it is important to set calves up for success, and one way to do that is to ensure calves are fed quality colostrum and achieve a high level of passive immunity.

Long-distance transport of calves is becoming more common, but Renaud said we are learning that it has profound and prolonged impacts on the animals. If your farm transports calves long distances, consider the recommendations above to help calves handle these extended trips.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
June 10, 2024
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