Nutritional therapy tackles livestock transport

CALGARY, ALBERTA — As new regulations and controversies swirl around the issue of long-distance livestock transport, nutritional therapy is emerging as a top solution to protect animal welfare as well as the image and profitability of livestock industries.

“Transport is often the face of livestock production to the public, because it’s what people see when they’re traveling down the highway,” says Dr. Al Schaefer, a leading researcher on transport stress for livestock. “Consumers are more interested than ever in where their food comes from and how it is produced. They want to know the animals are well cared for at all stages, including during transport.”

Face of the industry

Interest is catching on quickly as new studies pinpoint major benefits, says Ernie Kimak, representative with DeStress Nutritional Technology, which has led the charge as a pioneering company researching and developing nutritional therapy products. The DeStress feed additive formulations, available via key outlets such as Country Junction Feeds, are based on over 20 years of research and studies, including many led by Schaefer and colleagues dating back to his long career as a federal agricultural researcher. For food animals, the company offers DeStress – Ruminants, for beef and dairy cattle, as well as DeStress – Swine.

Mitigating negative effects of stress

“The early adopters are seeing a lot of value, particularly with the latest generation options,” says Kimak. “It’s something producers can feel good about from a welfare perspective that also makes a big difference in profitability.”

Nutrition components custom tailored in the bio-based DeStress formulations include energy sources, electrolytes and amino acids. Formulations are designed to support, maintain and replenish critical nutritional needs in the face of stress, while also triggering additional positive and “calming” physiological responses.

Among the latest results, new trials with beef cattle (242 finished steers) long-distance transported from a commercial operation in Lethbridge, in southern Alberta to a processing facility in Pasco, Washington, showed major advantages in live weight (21 lbs.) and hot carcass weight (8.4 lbs.), with use of DeStress – Ruminants compared to controls. Strong benefits have also been shown in recent trials using DeStress—Swine.

Reducing shrink, protecting profits

“The reality in regions such as Western Canada is that long distance livestock transport is a fact of life,” says Kimak. “There is long transport within the region. There is also a lot of transport to Eastern Canada and down into the U.S. But like the Lethbridge to Pasco trials show, nutritional therapy can help a lot.”

Stress loss has been a ‘hidden cost’ for many producers but the science shows just how big a factor it really is, says Kimak, who from his own past experience feeding cattle has used and seen the benefits of DeStress firsthand. “Bottom line – transport stress has been a big drain on the efficiency and profitability of our livestock industries. It’s time we put a plug in that drain. With nutritional therapy we now have that opportunity.”

Supporting animal welfare

Livestock transport expectations and regulations are currently in a period of transformation as countries including Canada and the U.S. strive to align with new OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) animal welfare standards. Animal welfare related to transport is also becoming an increasing focus of retailer and food brand specific animal care and sustainability programs, including those related to marketing and label claims.

“The spotlight on transport is only going to get brighter,” says Kimak. “The more progress we can make – hopefully sooner than later – the better off we will be. The transport issue is about welfare and profitability. But even more than that it’s also about the long-term sustainability of our livestock industries.”