As farmers, vets, stock agents and processors we all want to ensure that the animals we care for are well looked after right up to their final moments (not just because it is our legal obligation to make sure this happens). Our dairy cows have worked hard for us, and we have worked hard for them to give them a good life while on farm. Let’s make sure we do the best we can to give them the smoothest, problem-free sendoff they deserve.
Preparation is key when it comes to transporting cull cows. Although the numbers of animals experiencing issues during transport is reducing, there are still a significant number of animals ‘down on arrival’ when they get to the processing plant; when these animals are examined by the vet at the works, the most common cause is low blood calcium. Lactating cows are particularly at risk of metabolic disease (e.g., milk fever) while being trucked; this is due to the length of time they are unable to access fresh feed – this includes standoff time on farm before trucking, waiting for transport, time on the truck (including any delays they may encounter while collecting other stock) and of course wait time at the freezing works before going down the line. It is impossible to predict how long a cow may end up having to wait since her last feed, so we need to prepare for the worst (24h) while hoping for the best (a few hours). Remember dairy cows rely completely on the minerals in their daily diet to keep metabolic issues at bay.
All in-milk cows need to be supplemented with calcium and magnesium prior to getting on the truck.
Preparing cows for transport
Cull cows can only be transported if you can answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions:
- Are they all ‘Fit for Transport’?
- Cows must be in good body condition, be healthy with no wounds or infection, and be able to bear weight evenly on all four limbs. Check MPIs Fit for Transport app and/or have your vet examine the animal(s) if you are not sure.
- Have they been stood off green feed for at least 4 hours (but not more than 6 hours if lactating)?
- Have they had continuous access to water?
- Have they had continuous access to roughage (e.g. hay, silage or straw)?
- Have lactating cows been given extra calcium and magnesium?
- Calcium and magnesium should be given at the same rates as for colostrum cow supplementation to reduce the risk of milk fever during transport and lairage (which could be up to 24 hours). Talk to your vet if you need any advice on the most suitable supplementation options for your cull cows.
There is plenty of more-detailed information on both the DairyNZ and MPI websites, including posters for your shed to help you and your staff know which animals should be trucked as well as videos, podcasts and links to MPIs free Fit for Transport app.
If you have any questions about how to best prepare your animals for transport or culling, please get in touch with your Anexa vet, we’re here to help.