The federal government has decided to stick to its February 20, 2022 deadline for enforcing new feed, water and rest (FWR) rules around transporting cattle despite a one-year extension request by several industry organizations.
“We wanted to ensure ongoing research around the effects of rest stops for beef cattle was completed before the feed-water-rest requirements are enforced,” says Brady Stadnicki, former manager of policy and programs for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). “We wanted to ensure that any rule change is based in science. The research — reflecting Canadian conditions, our geography and commercial loads — is critical and there needed to be ample time to review it.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) had previously granted a two-year extension from February 2020, when several other transportation regulation amendments came into force. According to the CFIA, the extension for feed, water and rest (FWR) requirements was granted to provide education and awareness and to allow the industry to make adjustments, identify problems and work on them.
The industry wanted the additional extension mainly to await results of ongoing research being conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Under the new FR rules, the number of consecutive hours cattle could be transported without rest, feed and water dropped to 36 from the current 48 and the rest period was increased to eight hours from five.
In August 2021, the CCA passed a formal resolution to ask that the FWR requirements be extended to February 2023. A letter the CCA sent to the CFIA requesting the extension was endorsed by the National Cattle Feeders Association and several provincial beef cattle organizations.
The regulations were last updated in 1977. The CFIA has consulted extensively and received input over many years with industry groups, animal welfare organizations and others around the new rules.
Rest stops short on space
“The biggest problem right now is that we’re short about a third of the capacity of what we need for all the extra cattle that have to stop,” says Jack Chaffe, vice-president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario and vice-president of the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association. He also sits on the boards of the Canada Beef Marketing Committee and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. Chaffe finishes 3,000 cattle on his feedlot north of Mitchell.
He says the issue was really pronounced in the fall of 2021 because Eastern feedlots were taking many more cows from the West due to the strapped feed situation on the Prairies.
“Basically Eastern Canada has put a bottom in the calf market for the West,” he says.
Chaffe says that, as a result of the new regulations, there are feedlot producers in Ontario who are making alliances south of the border to bring cattle in from West Virginia and other US states. He says that, in all of 2020, the total number of cattle that came from the US into Ontario was 20,000 and by August 1, 2021, there had already been 27,000 head making the trip. He says a total of 330,000 to 350,000 cattle move from Western to Eastern Can- ada annually.
“With the lack of capacity of barns for rest stops, we won’t be able to get cattle from Western Canada,” he says.
The droughty year experienced in the West meant that Chaffe had to switch over to another custom background. Usually, he has calves that he’s bought in the fall fed out in Alberta until January, February or March, when he has them transported to Ontario. This year, he had to change to a different background, and even he had limited feed, meaning that Chaffe needed to get his cattle moved in early January.
Even under the previous rules, Chaffe’s cattle — which are coming from north of Medicine Hat — would have needed a rest stop. That’s another reason why he wanted to ensure that his cattle were moved early — to avoid the congestion at the available rest stops.
“One of the biggest questions around the rest stops was whether loading and unloading the calves had as much or more of an impact on them as not having a rest,” says Dr. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist in Lethbridge, Alberta.
She says that, until her team worked on it, there was no research into the effect of rest stops on beef cattle in Canadian conditions.
In 2018, the study, funded by the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), started. Dr. Derek Haley from the University of Guelph took on the Eastern Canadian side of the work at a commercial-scale rest stop in Thunder Bay, Ont. Schwartzkopf-Genswein’s group took on the study from a western perspective at the research center in Lethbridge.
Over four years, three trials were conducted. Post-doctoral fellow Dr. Daniella Melendez oversaw the research.
The first trial examined how the different lengths of rest affect calves over a 12- or 36-hour transport. The calves were then transported an additional four hours. They examined the effects of no rest, four, eight and 12 hours of rest. They looked at both physiological (dehydration, feed deprivation, fatigue, growth performance, etc.) and behavioral (lying or standing, change in gait, depression) effects.
“We were surprised that we didn’t see any significant difference among the calves that rested for no hours and those that rested 12 hours,” she says, except for a small difference in feed deprivation — because those that didn’t rest didn’ t get fed. The main differences were between those transported for 12 versus 36 hours, with the longer transports leading to lower weight gains and more shrink.
In the second trial, they had two main groups — a pre-conditioned group that was weaned, vaccinated, and had time to adjust to a backgrounding diet, and a group that was not pre-conditioned. The pre-conditioned and not pre-conditioned groups were split again into two subgroups, creating four groups total. Researchers also recorded whether they went through an auction market or were brought directly to the research station.
For this trial, the calves were transported for 36 hours — according to the new regulations — then unloaded. From there, the calf groups received either no rest or eight hours of rest. They were then reloaded and hauled for another four hours.
“In this one, we saw that the ones that were not pre-conditioned fared worse than those that were — which is what we expected,” she says, adding that the surprise was that there was no difference between the calves that went to auction and the ones that came directly to the station.
“It seemed like the provision of a rest was less important than the pre-transport management of the calves,” she says.
Both studies were published and shared with the BCRC and the CFIA, which expressed concerns about the length of the post-rest transportation of the calves, because a longer second leg of the journey could have detrimental effects.
For the third trial, they used calves that were not pre-conditioned, transported them for 20 hours and gave them either zero or eight hours of rest. They were then transported for either four or 15 hours after the rest.
“We completed this study in the fall of 2020, but the pandemic slowed our analysis and disrupted our ability to get supplies for the testing,” she says, adding that she was hoping to have results by the middle to the end of March 2022.
“The CFIA has been quite engaged in the process all along and were asking really good questions,” she says, adding that while she has no say in what the final regulations look like, she hoped her findings would be taken into account.
Both Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Stadnicki say they would also like to see rules that are adjusted to the age and condition of the cattle being transported.
“One of my recommendations to the regulators would be to not have a one-size-fits-all rule and that it should be adapted to animals being transported,” Schwartzkopf-Genswein says, adding that fat calves are fairly robust and do well whereas culls and younger calves aren’t and should be treated differently.
However, the CFIA plans to move ahead with the new regulations. In a written statement emailed to Canadian Cattlemen in late January, the CFIA writes: “The amendments to Part XII of the Health of Animals Regulations (HAR), the Transport of Animals, were published in February 2019, and came into force in February 2020 .
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recognized that the feed, water and rest (FWR) maximum prescribed intervals outlined within the amended regulations required significant adjustments by some industry sectors. A two-year compliance promotion period focusing on education and awareness was provided to allow industry time to implement adjustments, identify issues, and work on solutions.
The compliance promotion period will end as planned on February 20, 2022.
“After February 20, 2022, the CFIA will continue to use its discretionary power requirements to enforce all humane transport and to prevent and act on animal welfare situations.”
Lois Harris is an experienced Ontario freelance writer and editor working in the agriculture and food industry.