Transport of cattle to slaughter is a common practice in modern agriculture. Cattle are predominantly shipped via road transport, although rail transport is used when distances exceed 800 km. Transportation is generally considered stressful to animals, as indicated by studies employing physiological and behavioral techniques. Reducing transport stress is of great interest to producers, government, and consumers, because transport can result in reduced meat quality, bruised carcasses which must be trimmed, and potential suffering that compromises well-being. Stressors from transport include irregular social interactions and physical fatigue from loading and maintaining balance. The interaction between animals and the individuals' response to transport can greatly affect how cattle cope with transport stress, thus necessitating attention to behavior.
Cattle have definitive social hierarchies placing individual cows above or below their herd mates. When cows within this social order are confined in a trailer and unable to distance themselves from each other, aggression often results in the form of increased head-butting, pushes, and fights. Similarly, unfamiliar animals that have not established a social order will often interact aggressively. Kenny and Tarrant demonstrated that transporting a higher density of cattle resulted in a reduced appearance of such interactions. Such a strategy offers obvious financial benefits (i.e., fewer trips for more animals). Higher stocking densities result in reduced aggressive behaviors, most likely because the animals are less able to move. Despite this benefit, particularly in high-density groups where cows are unlikely to lie, the inability to move is likely to induce physical fatigue, often causing the animal to fall. Once the animal is down, it is nearly impossible to regain a standing posture as other animals ''close over'' it. Fallen animals can be severely bruised or trampled, and can cause other animals to fall, which makes loss of balance the major hazard during transport. Despite these problems, critics of low stocking density argue that more space per animal impairs animals from providing physical support to each other during transport.
Cattle's response to transport suggests that transportation is stressful. Such responses include increases in cortisol, heart rate, and urination. Interestingly, once cattle appear to adapt to the rigors of transport, associated stress responses are reduced as well, suggesting that the initial novelty of the experience is the major stressor for this typically flighty animal. Trunkfield and Broom concluded that appropriate social contact and positive previous experiences with transportation and related events could exploit this adaptive quality and reduce transport-associated stress.
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