Farm animals are transported within Australia to other properties, saleyards, feedlots, abattoirs and export ports. Some of these journeys may involve distances of thousands of kilometres over several days. Most land transport uses purpose-built trucks, although some rail transport also occurs.
Transport is stressful for farm animals and can cause suffering and deaths. Aspects of transport that can affect animal welfare include separation of the animals from their familiar environments and social groups, forced interaction with unfamiliar animals, unfamiliar handling by people, overcrowding, water and food deprivation, exposure to extremes of temperature and humidity, and novel experiences and situations.
The RSPCA believes that animals should be transported in a way that avoids injury and minimises suffering or distress. Journey times should be as short as possible, and slaughter of food animals should occur as near to the farm as possible. Particular care is needed during transport of animals who are in poor condition because of drought, and transport of bobby calves. Bobby calves are often transported for slaughter at less than 5 days of age. They are particularly susceptible to stress and injury during transport because of their young age.
The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines – Land Transport of Livestock have been developed and aim to ensure that basic animal welfare requirements are met during the transport process. They apply to the major commercial livestock industries in Australia, including cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry, and cover all stages of the transport process: mustering, assembling, handling and preparation, loading, transport and unloading of livestock.
A key component of the standards is the requirement that animals are fit to load and able to travel the intended journey. Guidance for consignors and transporters is available here.
The RSPCA was one of two animal welfare organisations involved in the development of the standards. As a contributor to the transport standards, the RSPCA pressed for improvements in the transport process for farm animals, especially the way animals are handled, the conditions on board the vehicles, and the extent to which animals are provided with water and rest during the process.
The RSPCA would also like to see the standards incorporated into quality assurance programs by the livestock and transport industries. These programs should be independently audited to ensure that they are being complied with.