Sale yards must not become a dumping ground for unhealthy livestock writes David Barbour, formerly an Animal Welfare Investigator with the Enforcement Group of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Farmers and persons in charge of animals have a legal obligation under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to ensure that livestock must only be transported when they are fit enough to withstand the entire journey without suffering unnecessary or unreasonable pain or distress.
There are also regulations that restrict the transport of livestock with certain pre-existing conditions. Animals that are lame, have eye cancer, ingrown or injured horns or antlers, or who have injured or diseased udders or lesions on their udder, should be treated on farm and fully recovered before being transported. The only time you can transport animals with these conditions, is over a short distance for treatment. You can be fined if you transport animals with these conditions without a veterinary certificate. Another transport restriction relates to the transport of animals in late pregnancy. It is recommended best practice to avoid transporting stock in the five weeks prior to giving birth and you can be fined if the animal gives birth on the truck or within 24 hours of arrival at the meat processors or sale yards.
Animals must not be processed through sale yards unless they are fit, healthy, free of injury and disease and not recently castrated or dehorned.
Animals are also not considered fit for transport when they are in poor body condition (thin or very thin), unless they are being transported to another farm for the purpose of weight gain. Emaciated stock must not be transported. It is important to seek veterinary advice, as your transporter will need evidence the animal is considered fit for transport. You should not transport animals with: injuries, lameness, blindness in both eyes, retained uterine membranes or a prolapse, facial eczema lesions that are extensive, bleeding or infected, woody tongue, unhealed dog bites or shearing cuts, flystrike, footrot or scald, or excessive wool length. You should also not transport animals recently after giving birth.
The farmer or the agent may consider the animal robust at loading, but he or she must make allowances for transporting; withholding from feed and water, holding in sale yards and a further journey, all of which may weaken an animal in marginal condition to the point where it will suffer.
The responsibility for the welfare of animals going through sale yards is shared between farmers, stock agents and transporters. The farmer or person in charge of the animals is responsible for selecting animals that are healthy and in good condition, and free of injury and disease that are fit for the intended journey. If a stock agent or buyer is involved, he or she shares responsibility for selection of stock with the farmer. The transport operator is responsible for the welfare of the stock during transit and can and should refuse to carry animals that are not fit. The sale yard operator should accept only fit and healthy animals for sale, and he or she is responsible for their welfare while they are in the sale yards.
It is unacceptable for an agent or a sale yard operator to find an unfit animal in the sale yard and then 'toss the animal in" at auction at no cost to the buyer and allow the animal to be transported again, this time away from the sale yards. You can be fined or face criminal prosecution if you allow animals to be transported when they are not fit for transport the unfit animal must be euthanased on the sale yard premises or a veterinary examination sought as to whether it can be transported.
Emaciated dairy cows and sheep are all too common in NZ sale yards.
Farmers who have dairy cows that fall below a Body Condition Score of 3 [on a scale of 1 - 10] must take urgent remedial action to improve their condition, or euthanise the animal.
Dairy cattle with a body score 2 or lower; sheep with a score between 0 and 5, deer with a score between 1 and 5, and pigs and horses with a score of 1 or lower are likely to be considered unfit for transport.
Where any doubt exists about an animals' fitness for transport, whatever their intended destination, owners or persons in charge should consider either not transporting the animal, or seek a veterinary inspection and a Fitness for Transport - Declaration Certificate.
Unfit animals remaining on the farm should be either treated, euthanased humanely or they can be salvaged on farm by MPI approved Pet Food Dealers.
Farmers must take responsibility for resolving this animal welfare issue.
If the owner or person in charge of the animal can get the selection of animal's right prior to transport then no one else has to deal with the issue further down the line or have their legal obligation compromised.
Sale yards are a "window to the public and the world" and apart from the legal aspects involved, unfit or unhealthy animals in sale yards create a bad image of farming in NZ. It has real potential to threaten market access.
Let's also not forget the pain and suffering these unfit animals have to experience because of poor farming practices and poor decision making.