Acta Vet. Brno 2006, 75: 449-454

Mortality in Dairy Cows Transported to Slaughter as Affected by Travel Distance and Seasonality

V. Večerek1, M. Malena, Jr.2, M. Malena2, E. Voslářová1, I. Bedáňová1

1University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences Brno, Czech Republic
2State Veterinary Administration, Czech Republic

Received November 16, 2005
Accepted May 11, 2006

A significant lapse in welfare conditions of dairy cows being shipped to slaughter may result in higher death rates of the animals in the course of transportation. The objective of this work was to quantify the rate at which dairy cows die while transported to slaughter facilities, to determine the impact of travel distance on this rate, the seasonal effect on the number of deceased cows, and to identify any developmental trends associated with these losses. In the period of 1997 - 2004, veterinary inspectors in the Czech Republic tracked the deaths of dairy cows in connection with their transportation to slaughter. Of the total number of 1,107,685 monitored dairy cows transported to slaughter in the Czech Republic in the period from 1997 to 2004, 418 dairy cows died. The death rate was determined to be 0.038%. However, the mortality varied depending on the distance travelled, from 0.013% for trips not exceeding 50 km, to 0.183% for trips longer than 300 km. Comparing Period I (1997 - 2000) with Period II (2001 - 2004), the overall death rate of dairy cows attributable to slaughterhouse-bound transportation rose from 0.023% to 0.057% (a 2.51 index) and the difference between periods was highly significant (p < 0.01). This outcome revealed an undesirable long-range trend of rising dairy cow mortality in all travel distances. The obtained results document a relatively low sensitivity of dairy cows to stresses arising from shipment to slaughter as indicated by transportation-related deaths. However, the growing trend in the number of dairy cows dying on their way to slaughter is a warning sign in relation to the welfare of cows subjected to such transportation.