Lowering Stress in Transported Goats
Table of Contents
Any stress goats experience during transportation can adversely affect their welfare, immune system and carcass quality. Everyone who handles goats, from the time they are gathered for transportation until they are settled at their final destination, has a responsibility for the goats' well-being. Reducing or eliminating causes of stress related to transportation will result in a healthier animal or higher-quality product being delivered. Plan to handle goats with care, provide safe transport and ensure appropriate conditions during transportation and unloading.
Everyone involved in the decision to handle and transport animals is responsible for their care and well-being for the entire trip. The producer's responsibility does not end when the goats are loaded on the truck. Everyone who is directly or indirectly involved with the shipping/transport of animals must understand and obey the regulations for the humane transportation of animals in each jurisdiction that the animals travel through.
Lowering stress for goats and for handlers starts before any goats are selected for the trip. Having a well-designed handling system that takes the natural herding behaviour of goats into consideration will make the sorting and loading process easier and reduce the stress on the goats. Check the system for any protrusions that could cause injury before starting to gather or sort the goats. Train staff in low-stress handling techniques and being patient while moving the goats. Doing anything with animals in a hurry usually ends up taking more time than planned and stresses the handlers, as well as with the goats.
Goats that are extensively raised on pasture and have little human contact will be more stressed by gathering, penning, sorting and loading than goats more accustomed to being handled. There can be benefits to moving goats through a handling system and not stopping them for treatment or sorting. If their first time through the system is a "good" experience for them, it will be easier to move them to and through your handling system when you need to load them onto a truck.
Handling and Loading
Handlers must know how to herd, catch and restrain goats properly. High-stress handling of goats will increase dehydration, shrink and bruising incidents. An over-stressed goat's behaviour will change. It may stop and refuse to go forward, freeze, back away, run away or vocalize. A low-stress, non-bruising tool for sorting and handling goats is the rattle paddle. Electric prods do not work well with goats and should not be used. Goats can be restrained by proper use of a crook. Never grab them by the hair or fleece. Be careful catching them by the horns, as breaking horns can damage the skull; instead, place a hand under the jaw and over the head. When lifting a goat into a vehicle, grasp it around the body, being sure to support the chest and abdomen. Never lift goats by the head, horns, ears, hair or legs.
Ensure all animals are fit to be transported. Do not ship a goat to slaughter that you wouldn't eat yourself. Legally, you cannot ship a compromised goat - one that cannot handle the stress of transportation. Remember, transportation does not always end at the first destination. Goats delivered to an auction are reloaded and transported one or more times. Do not ship goats that are injured, infirm, fatigued, in poor health, distressed, soon to kid, very young or very old.
Loading ramp slopes should not be greater than 35°. The ramp should come out onto a flat dock so goats can walk straight onto the vehicle, with no gaps between the dock and the vehicle. If there is no dock, steps should not be higher than 38 cm (15 in.). If loading at night, position lights so they do not shine into the goat's eyes, but shine into the vehicle where you want them to go.
Shadows, bright spots and distractions on the ground or sides of the handling chutes may cause each goat to stop. Goat eyes require the goat to dip their heads in order to see depth. Goats need time to tell how deep a shadow is. Bright dazzling light will also cause them to balk in the handling chute. When loading goats from a barn on a bright sunny day, cover the loading area, keeping the area in uniform shade. Before moving goats through the handling facility, walk through it, looking for contrasting shadows, bright spots, paper on the ground, bags or coats hanging from the sides, and anything else that would cause the flow of animals to stop or slow down and cause back-ups in the system.
To ship goats, producers/shippers can either choose a transporter or use their own vehicle. The vehicle must be safe for goats and compliant with highway traffic regulations for the jurisdictions it will travel through. Small utility trailers without adequate sides and open tops that goats can jump, fall or be pushed out of are not suitable livestock transport vehicles. Feet, legs or horns can become trapped or broken in holes or gaps in the sides of vehicles. A roof on the vehicle keeps the goats safely in the vehicle and protects them from the sun and precipitation.
Inspect the vehicle's interior, checking for projections that could injure goats during loading or travel. Put padding over hinges, latches and other supports to prevent bruising if a goat falls or is pushed against them.
The noise level in livestock trailers is often high and varies little with speed or type of road travelled. Noise has a greater effect on releasing stress-related hormones in goats than motion does. Tighten loose metal fittings and flooring in the trailer to reduce rattling noise. Wrap rubber (e.g., rubber hose) around portable loading chutes and partitions to reduce banging noises.
Supply adequate bedding over a non-skid floor in the vehicle or spread sand over the floor before putting in the bedding, to give the goats sure footing. Goats without sure footing are more likely to get injured. Partition large vehicles into smaller areas no longer than 3.1 m (10 ft). Partitioning improves stability for the goats.
Air Flow in Vehicles
The movement of air over goats in a livestock truck removes excess heat, moisture, dust and gases. With high temperature and high humidity within a truck, lack of air flow will cause severe heat stress. Adequate air flow is critical for maintaining goat health during transport and afterwards. The outside of vehicles must have adjustable or removable weather boards. The driver must plan ahead and adjust the weather boards according to the temperature and precipitation conditions anticipated during the trip. As conditions change during the trip, the driver can stop and remove or add weather boards easily and safely.
Multi-decked vehicles may have the ventilation openings covered at road level to prevent road spray from entering the lower levels. Strong crosswinds in winter can be adjusted for by covering most of the openings on the windward side of the vehicle. Loading goats in a vehicle raises the temperature and humidity inside the stationary vehicle. With the exception of cold windy days, leave all openings in large trailers open during loading to prevent heat stress to the goats loaded first. The driver can then adjust the weather boards quickly, if necessary, just before pulling out of the yard.
Research has found that air does not flow through a moving livestock truck or trailer from front to back but instead from the back to the front. Installing vents in the truck or trailer headboard does not help improve air flow. The driving force of the air as the vehicle travels down the road is not enough to reverse the back-to-front air flow pattern. A lot of air power is lost coming through punch holes or vents. Rearward air movement through the headboard is stalled near the front of the vehicle and may even reduce overall ventilation efficiency. Air entering the headboard openings tends to be drawn out through the front side ventilation openings. Additionally, wind resistance deflectors on truck cabs encourage air to move over the vehicle, passing over or past the headboard vents.
When a livestock vehicle is moving, air flow over the goats is created by the difference in air pressure along the length of the open sides of the trailer (or box on a straight truck). As the vehicle moves down the road, air passing over the front of the vehicle separates and creates an area of low pressure that sucks the air out of the front side vents. Further down the trailer, the air flow attaches again. By the time the air flow reaches the end of the trailer, the suction is much less than that created at the front vents. Air enters the rear ventilation openings and moves forward in the trailer over the goats and flows out through the front ventilation openings. This principle is not affected by the size or length of the vehicle.
Do not use solid partitions between compartments. Do not transport goats in the solid-sided front of a goose neck trailer. Check that the exhaust from the power unit or pick-up truck is not drawn into the trailer. Turn off engines while loading the vehicle.
To prevent injury and bruising, separate larger goats or other species of livestock on the vehicle from smaller goats. The strongest goats, males in particular, try to get the best places in the vehicle and establish a new order when in a new environment. In close confinement, any aggressive behaviour of dominant goats can increase and result in more attacks and possible injuries. Heavier goats may more than double their attacks when placed with lighter goats. Horn hooking and bunting are the most frequently observed behaviours during clashes. Bruising increases when horned goats are placed in crowded conditions.
Plan your route and time of departure carefully. Take into consideration the weather conditions you will meet later in a medium or long haul. Timing at border crossings, traffic congestion in urban centres or road construction sites are all things that can increase the time the goats stay on the vehicle. Stopping and starting is harder on the goats than steady travelling. The micro-climate in the vehicle is controlled by the air flowing through the vehicle, and during hot weather, a stopped or slow-moving vehicle cannot lower the heat and humidity that builds in a stationary vehicle. When expecting hot or hot and humid weather, plan on loading and travelling at night or during the cooler parts of the day.
The way the vehicle is driven greatly affects a goat's stability and balance while being transported. Goats become fearful when their standing position is disturbed or if they have unstable footing on the floor of a moving vehicle. Use a loading dock that allows vehicles to drive away from it with minimal turns, stops and starts. A rough start causes hormones and blood components to fluctuate and may increase heart rates up to twice the normal rate.
Goats prefer to stand parallel to the direction of travel, although body positions do frequently change. Studies found that, in the first 10 min of being transported, goats exhibited various behaviours, primarily jumping and bleating. In situations of high stocking density, goats that fell caused others to lose their footing, and downed goats were trampled on.
Drive cautiously when transporting goats to reduce the chance that goats will fall. Braking and cornering cause 75% of falls; crossing bumps and accelerating account for the other 25%. Always accelerate slowly and smoothly. Plan your braking and slow down gradually. Drive slowly when going around corners or crossing bumps.
Check on the goats early in the trip. Overcrowding in any weather conditions, or on long trips, can be harmful to goats. Signs of overcrowding and animal discomfort during transportation include:
Use the graphs found in Figures 1 and 2 to determine the best stocking density for your vehicle. For trips longer than 24 hr, reduce the load density by 15% of the maximum to allow room for goats to lie down. If the load will not "settle," or there are signs of overheating or chilling, readjust the load as soon as possible. Adjust the weather boards if necessary. Check longer hauls at least every 3 hr. Drivers should check the load anytime the vehicle is stopped and they can get out.
Figure 1. Loading densities for transporting goats (metric)
Example 1: Using minimum floor area per animal
According to the bottom and right axeis of the graph, a 45-kg goat needs a minimum floor area of 0.25m2. A standard 2.61-m wide trailer (2.55-m internal width) that is 6 m long has a 15.3 m2 of floor area. The maximum number of 45-kg goats for this trailer would be 61. In hot, humid weather or on long trips, the maximum number of goats for this trailer would be 52.
2.55 m of trailer width x 6 m
15.3 m2 of floor area/0.25 m2 per 45-kg goat
15.3 m2 of floor area/0.25 m2 per 45-kg goat x 85% = 52.0 goats
Example 2: Using maximum carrying capacity
According to the top line and the left axis of the graph, the maximum trailer capacity for 45-kg goats is 181.5 kg/m2. A standard 2.61-m wide trailer (2.55-m internal width) would carry 462.8 kg of these goats per running metre of deck. A 6-m trailer would carry a maximum of 2,777 kg of these goats. In hot, humid weather or on long trips, the maximum trailer capacity would be 52 goats.
2.55 m of trailer width x maximum trailer capacity of 181.5 kg/m2
for 45-kg goats
6 m of deck x 462.8 kg of goats/m
2,777 kg of goats/45 kg per goat
2,777 kg of goats/45 kg per goat x 85%
Figure 2. Loading densities for transporting goats (imperial)
Example 3: using minimum floor area per animal
According to the bottom and right axes of the graph, a 90-lb goat needs a minimum floor area of 2.5 ft2. A standard 102-in. wide trailer (8.3-ft internal width) that is 20 ft long has 166 ft2 of floor area. The maximum number of 90-lb goats for this trailer would be 66. In hot, humid weather or on long trips, the maximum number of goats for this trailer would be 56.
8.3 ft of trailer width x 20 ft
166 ft2 of floor area/2.5 ft2 per 90-lb goat
166 ft2 of floor area/2.5 ft2 per 90-lb goat
Example 4: Using maximum carrying capacity
According to the top line and the left axis of the graph, the maximum trailer capacity for 90-lb goats is 36 lb/ft2. A standard 102-in. wide trailer (8.3-ft internal width) would carry 299 lb of these goats per running foot of deck. A 20-ft trailer would carry a maximum of 5,980 lb of these goats, or 66 goats. In hot, humid weather or on long trips, the maximum trailer capacity would be 56 goats.
8.3 ft of trailer width x maximum trailer capacity of 36 lb/ft2
for 90-lb goats
20 ft of deck x 299 lb of goats/ft
5,980 lb of goats/90 lb per goat
5,980 lb of goats/90 lb per goat x 85%
It is critical to have good ventilation available at all times when goats are in the vehicle. In hot and, particularly, in humid weather, take extra precautions to avoid heat stress in goats.
Ensure there is no restriction on airflow through the vehicle. Avoid using internal barriers that will restrict air movement. Air flowing through the vehicle removes heat and moisture, and goats experience direct convective cooling. The moving air makes for a better temperature gradient between the goat and its immediate surroundings for heat exchange. Removing moisture from around the goat creates an improved water vapour density gradient, improving evaporative loss, allowing the goat to tolerate higher temperatures.
Avoid overcrowding that can cause a severe heat and humidity build-up. Reduce the loading density by 15% from normal on hot/humid days (Figures 1 and 2). Keep the frequency and length of stops to a minimum to prevent rapid build-up of heat inside the vehicle. If the goats are on a long haul and have to travel through the heat of the day, plan ahead to keep the vehicle moving at highway speed during this period.
Stop and check on goats after the first hour of the trip and every 2-3 hr afterward. Never park a loaded vehicle in direct sunlight. If stopping for a rest or meal break, find a parking spot that shades the vehicle. Park at right angles to the wind direction. Take breaks outside of the hottest parts of the day.
Heat stress is the most common problem in transported livestock. The thermoneutral zone for goats is between 12°C and 24°C (54°F to 76°F) in temperate regions.
The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range in which goats do not have to do any of the following to maintain their body temperature in the normal range:
Figure 3. Livestock temperature humidity index (THI)*
at specific temperatures and relative humidity levels.
Goats use rapid breathing or panting as their form of cooling. Panting gives them eight times more relief from the heat than sweating does. Watch for goats standing with their necks extended and breathing with open mouths as signs of severe heat stress. Revive a severely overheated goat by gently running cold water over the back of its head. Never pour cold water all over an overheated goat as it may not handle the temperature shock. Goats held in pens can be misted to cool them off.
Be aware of the humidex (Canada) or heat index (U.S.) rating for the travel period. Check the rating from the weather service against the heat index chart in Figure 3. Drivers can check the chart to see if the rating for how the heat feels is going to be in the extreme caution, danger or extreme danger rating and adjust their plans accordingly.
During hot-humid weather, if the vehicle is stopped during an emergency and the load cannot be moved or shaded, seek help. Fire departments have large fans that can be placed along one side of the vehicle to draw air out of the vehicle. It is far more effective to try and draw air out than blow air into the vehicle. Use hoses to run water on the roof of the vehicle to cool the inside. Do not hose the loaded goats, particularly on a humid day, since this will raise the humidity in the vehicle. Run water on the roof. Start slowly - any sudden noise of water hitting the roof will panic the goats.
Table 1. Wind chill factor
Courtesy of the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council.
Goats, kids in particular, are susceptible to loss of body heat and frostbite. Avoid cold stress during transportation in cool wet weather, as well as in cold weather. Check for signs of animal discomfort (cold stress) during transportation. Look for wet goats, goats eating available bedding or fluids frozen to the face or nostrils.
Wet goats in cool/cold weather lose body heat much faster, because the wet hair cannot trap the air that helps keep them warm. Increase the bedding during the cool times of the year. Cover more openings in the vehicle to protect goats from cold winds, freezing rain and road spray.
Wind chill lowers the environmental temperature. Weather reports provide the wind chill factor (how much colder it feels than the actual air temperature, based on how hard the wind is blowing.)
The wind chill factor table (Table 1) combines the actual air temperature with the speed the vehicle is travelling. This gives an idea of how cold it will feel to the goats riding in back. Adjustable weather boards on the outside of a vehicle allow for adjustments without having to enter the vehicle.
Avoid overcrowding. Goats packed too tightly are predisposed to frostbite because individual animals cannot change position in the vehicle and move away from the wind. Stop and check on the goats after the first hour of the trip and every 2-3 hr after in cold weather.
Goats transported for any length of time will come off the vehicle fatigued and have less energy for muscular activities such as running far, jumping or aggression. Do not chase them off the vehicle. Have them unload on to a flat loading dock if possible. Let the goats travel at their own speed. Chasing animals causes more stress, falls and bruises, and burns up already depleted energy stores. Have the handling facilities prepared to accept the goats before letting them out. Walk the route first to remove any obstacles that would make goats balk and turn back, impeding the flow. Driving goats hard from the back of the group makes the ones at the back ride up on the ones ahead of them causing back and shoulder bruising. The goats at the front of the group are not affected by the goats at the back being driven up on others by handlers walking or running too deeply into their flight zone. Yelling and loud noises just add to the stress level and seldom speed up the handling process. Walk toward the group of goats alongside them and they will go past you as you pass their shoulder or point of balance. Natural following instincts will draw the goats forward with fewer falls, bruising or turn-backs.
Handling Goats at the Abattoir
Transported goats will have lost weight because of shrink. Shrink percentage will vary due to many factors. How roughly the goats are handled at loading and unloading, length of the holding period before loading, time of year and length of time transported all affect shrink. Shrink can be in the range of 10% or more and represent a significant loss to the producer or processor.
Fill and tissue are two kinds of shrink. Fill shrink is the loss of digestive system contents, manure and urine. This can be caused by holding goats without water before or during transportation. Tissue shrink is the loss of fluid from body tissues. This can be caused by stressful events such as rough handling and transportation. Studies on cattle show it can take a day or two for an animal to recover from fill shrink and 10-36 days to recover from tissue shrink. Excessive shrink can increase the number of dark cutters at the abattoir. Stressful loading, transporting and unloading have been shown to increase the metabolic changes in goats that affect meat quality due to muscle damage. Some of these changes begin decreasing 3 hr after the goats arrive at their final destination.
Stress in goats just before processing at the abattoir greatly affects muscle metabolism and may reduce meat quality. All the benefits of low-stress loading and transport will be lost if goats are exposed to stressors before being processed. Stress burns up additional energy in muscles. Processing when muscle energy is low or being replenished can cause dark cutting meat.
Fasting does help reduce carcass contamination by gut contents during processing; however, depriving goats of feed and water can also increase stress. Give goats water up to the time of loading for transport. They very rarely drink during the holding period prior to processing. Provide feed during the holding period at the abattoir. Extended fasting due to prolonged holding of goats, especially during hot weather, increases stress in goats and can produce muscle damage that affects the meat quality.
Unfamiliar surroundings and isolation from other goats can make goats nervous. The new environment at the abattoir may be a stronger stressor than feed deprivation for goats. The longer an individual goat remains in isolation, the greater the emotional stress it will experience. Allow goats to have constant visual contact with the goat in front of them to make handling easier and to reduce the animals' stress prior to processing.
Goats Transported to Farms
Handling, loading and lengthy transportation times are stressful to goats. Research has found this transportation stress can suppress the goat's immune system. It was shown that, 3 days after a 12-hr trip in hot dry conditions, rectal temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate were at the upper limit of critical values. Necropsy examinations have indicated that goats become susceptible to respiratory infections after prolonged trips during adverse weather conditions.
Research has been done on feeding livestock certain electrolyte products after transportation in order to more quickly counter the effects of transportation stress. Research done in Nigeria during the hot-dry period had goats receiving ascorbic acid (vitamin C) orally before loading for a 12-hr trip. Results were favourable for greatly reducing the effects of the stress on the goats.
Low-stress transportation can improve the health and carcass quality of goats. Everyone involved in transporting goats has a responsibility to reduce or eliminate potential stress factors. Use animal-friendly, low-stress loading and holding facilities. Ensure driving habits provide goats with a safe ride. Be sure vehicles are appropriate and comfortable for transporting goats. Additionally, provide goats with some water and feed and keep them from being isolated before processing to maintain meat quality.
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This Factsheet was written by Craig Richardson, Animal Care Specialist, OMAFRA, Kemptville.
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