Canadian Poultry Magazine

Fit for Loading?

By Sarah Thomson   

Features Housing Poultry Equipment Research

New educational materials will help you answer this question

The welfare of poultry in commercial livestock systems has been identified as a hot topic across North America and Europe in agriculture.  From new poultry housing legislation in California to the banning of cages in the EU, increased consumer interest is driving change within our industry. 

In Canada, a major welfare concern gaining momentum is the transportation of birds to slaughter. Our tremendous variation in climate — sub-zero temperatures, extreme windchills and snowfall in winter, cool and wet weather in spring and fall, and hot, humid summers — presents numerous transport challenges.  These transport challenges add additional stressors for the birds who are also trying to adapt to being mixed with unknown birds in a new environment without access to food or water. Loading compromised birds into a stressful environment makes transportation more difficult and increases the incidence of having a high number of “dead on arrivals” (DOAs) at the plant. 

Unlike other livestock sectors, the poultry industry is behind with respect to providing educational materials to those involved in the handling and transport of birds. The cattle, swine, sheep and goat industries have led the way by creating and utilizing transport decision trees that assist farm managers and transport crews with making decisions about which animals are fit for transport. Such decision trees have been in use for the past 20 years, and are updated as new regulations and results from research are implemented.


Representatives from the Agri-Food and Rural Link Program, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Poultry Industry Council (PIC), University of Guelph (U of G), Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC), and the Ontario Provincial Marketing Boards (Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO), Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO), Turkey Farmers of Ontario (TFO), and the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission (OBHECC))  partnered and funded the development of poultry-specific educational materials for the poultry industry in Ontario.

This project has developed a set of resources entitled “Should this bird be loaded?” that will help catching crews, transporters and farmers decide whether or not a bird is fit for transport. By identifying visual symptoms associated with DOAs and common condemnable conditions and by providing reminders regarding transport conditions, these resources should help to reduce loading of birds that are unfit for transport.

Definitions and Codes
The materials found within the “Should this bird be loaded?” documents were based on other livestock transport decision trees and were reviewed by transporters, catchers, processors, marketing boards, government, academia and poultry farmers from each of the sectors. The material was also guided by the following definitions and codes:

  • The U.K. Farm Animal Welfare Council defines animal welfare generally by stating, “The welfare of an animal includes its physical and mental state. Any animal kept by man, must at least, be protected from unnecessary suffering.”
  • The Canadian Health of Animals Act (138 (2)(a)) states, “No person shall load… or transport… an animal that by reason of infirmity, illness, injury, fatigue or any other cause cannot be transported without undue suffering during the expected journey.”
  • The Canadian Agri-Food Research Council (CARC) states within its Codes of Practice (7.1.18) that: “Loading of compromised birds such as visibly sick, injured, disabled, or wet birds (in cold weather) or birds with any other condition that further compromises them must be avoided.”


Table 1 provides a brief overview of the percentage and number of birds that are dead on arrival or condemned at the processing plant.

Table 2  lists the top four reasons broiler and turkey carcasses are condemned. The challenge lies with identifying the visual symptoms associated with these condemnable conditions and preventing the birds that are most likely to be DOA or condemned from being loaded onto the truck. The “Should this bird be loaded?” materials will provide individuals (those in charge of making loading decisions) with industry-accepted information and guidance to make the right decision to help reduce the number of birds which are condemned at the slaughter plant. The decision tree materials will in no way eliminate all of the condemns, as some conditions do not provide external visual cues; however, it should reduce the number of unfit birds being transported.

Federal Legislation and Fines
The need for a poultry loading decision tree is compounded by a number of factors. Of primary importance is the welfare of the birds – to ensure birds are handled and transported in a manner that protects bird welfare, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has increased its Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) to those who violate the Health of Animals Act.

Previously, minimum fines were set at $500, and maximum fines at $4,000; now minimum fines are set at $1,300 and maximum fines at $10,000. Not only have initial fines increased, but also the CFIA can now issue up to a $15,000 fine for repeat offenders and can reference the previous five years (instead of three) for earlier offences. Repeat offenders will also be posted on their publicly available website.

Decision Tree Materials
This project has resulted in the development of three resources that can be referenced when loading poultry. The resources are a double-sided laminated Decision Tree document; an Anteroom Poster (containing the same information as the Decision Tree); and a handbook that provides more detail on the components within the Decision Tree.  

Decision Tree
(Double-sided 8.5″ x 11″ laminated document)
The front of the “Should this bird be loaded?” decision tree has three main sections: Do Not Load Conditions, Caution Conditions and Regulations and Fines.
The “Do Not Load Conditions” include physically injured, weak, thin and emaciated birds and signs that a bird is sick, such as a discolored comb or wattle.
All of the conditions in the “Caution” category should be assessed by the farm manager before transport and catching crews arrive. This section includes cautions with respect to the environment, the entire flock and individual birds.

The “Regulations and Fines” section presents information contained in the Health of Animal Regulations and information regarding fines and actions that will be taken against violators of the act.

The back of the decision tree provides visual representations of birds that should not be loaded, such as birds with broken wings, and birds that appear weak and emaciated. It also provides a reminder regarding the “Identify – Cull – Dispose” concept, which promotes proactive attention for farm crews to cull unfit birds prior to loading.  Good husbandry will lead to good welfare for the birds and it is the responsibility of the farm staff to decide whether a bird is in condition to endure transport. This should not be the responsibility of the catching crews.   Environmental factors and loading density recommendations are also provided. 

Anteroom Poster
A poster has been created that can be hung in barn anterooms. The poster contains the same information as the decision tree, but the information has been captured on a single side of a 11″ x 17″ laminated poster.

Decision Tree Handbook
(4″ x 5″ 30-page laminated handbook)
The handbook provides an easy-to-read, in-depth description of each of the points contained within the decision tree document.

  • Welfare Definitions
  • Federal Regulations
  • “Do Not Load” Conditions
  • Identify – Cull – Dispose Information and Guidelines
  • Handling Guidelines for Catching Crews
  • Caution Conditions
  • Definitions
  • Contacts

These materials will be released through the Ontario Marketing Boards (CFO, EFO, TFO, OBHECC), the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors and the Poultry Service Association. Materials can also be ordered through the Poultry Industry Council or the Farm & Food Care Foundation.  Materials will be distributed to marketing boards across Canada.

These materials are intended to assist poultry handlers and producers in making ethical and responsible decisions regarding poultry transportation. For more information on the Decision Tree and the “Should This Bird Be Loaded?” materials, see the PIC Pick’s section in this issue (February 2012)

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