Getting Ready for the Heat
By Poultry Industry Council Staff
By Poultry Industry Council Staff
Good communication with the catching crew, transport company and processor can ease the challenges of transporting live birds during extreme weather events
The birds are ready to be shipped, the catching crew is onsite, the hauler is pulling in the driveway, and the processor has tomorrow morning’s shift fully scheduled. Everyone wants the birds to travel comfortably and arrive alive.
Canada’s Health of Animals Act prohibits the transportation of any animal that cannot be moved without undue suffering during the expected journey. Just as everyone has a vested interest in the outcome of that journey, everyone has a role to play in complying with the regulation – from the producer to the processor, and including the catchers, loaders, and haulers.
“Good bird welfare is everyone’s responsibility,” says Al Dam, provincial poultry specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “It’s the right thing to do – and it’s the law.”
Working with the catching crew
Ontario’s guidelines for transporting poultry – popularly communicated via the “Should this bird be loaded?” poultry loading decision tree – provide catchers (and others) with direction for the identification of sick or injured birds, as well as environmental considerations for loading and transportation.
To improve load-out efficiency and ensure your birds can be loaded, producers are encouraged to identify compromised birds during routine flock monitoring and cull sick birds on a daily basis. Deadstock should be properly disposed of in accordance with provincial legislation.
The catching crew’s on-site supervisor will confirm the producer’s assessment of bird health and environmental conditions at the farm. Since shipping densities will vary with bird type, expected weather conditions, and estimated travel time, it is critical that accurate bird weights and counts are provided before loading begins.
Take particular caution if you are loading birds during periods of extremely high temperatures and humidity. Stocking density in containers may need to be adjusted, and discussions should occur among all stakeholders to assess whether or not birds should be loaded and if the truck can be delayed until better conditions are available. There are tools associated with the poultry loading decision tree that can help with these decisions.
Working with the transport company
Although policies and standard operating procedures shape on-site decision making, the live trucking industry relies heavily on producers to communicate information about local weather conditions, their barn and loading area, and their birds.
“It’s hard to write specifics on transportation,” says Richard Mack, President of Riverdale Poultry Express Inc. in Elmira, Ontario. “Many factors other than weather impact the loading of birds, including flock health, loading area conditions, travel distance, and lairage.”
At Riverdale, newly hired drivers train with their more experienced colleagues until they can go solo – even after completing Canadian Livestock Transportation training.
“It’s not just about driving a truck,” says Mack. “Our drivers are also called upon to be animal welfare specialists, truck mechanics, computer users, and politicians. They must work in all weather conditions, be good at administration and paperwork, and understand the dynamics – and legal ramifications – of how they load their trucks.”
Although there are some promising advances in new equipment and loading techniques, the industry depends on prompt, qualitative feedback from processors on issues that happen during transportation and lairage. “The sooner we know, the sooner we can take corrective action,” says Riverdale’s Mack. “It’s hard to fix what we don’t know about.”
Working with the processor
As a producer, you are responsible for understanding the processor’s expectations for feed withdrawal, evaluation of bird fitness to travel, and any specialized loading protocols that can reduce bird stress. You should also ensure that barn conditions and facilities promote safe, humane catching with minimal stress.
“Work with your processor to schedule loading at times that will help minimize stress on the birds,” recommends Paul Bulman, Live Planning and Procurement Manager at Pinty’s Delicious Foods in Port Colborne.
“We are all in this together and we all share in the implications of decisions made to ensure humane transportation during extreme weather.”
What is industry leadership doing?
Over the past year, industry leaders in Ontario have been working to address the challenges associated with the safe and humane transportation of poultry during extreme weather.
Ontario has formed an Extreme Weather Transport Committee representing the interests of producers, processors, handlers, haulers, and government. Standard operating procedures developed for hot and cold weather transport for broiler chickens have been adopted by industry associations and shared with producers at a series of regional poultry producer updates in February and through the Chicken Farmers of Ontario. Although the committee is currently focused on broilers, it intends to include other poultry commodities.
“Our next step is to look at the existing work on poultry transport and identify areas where more research could help with the Canadian and Ontario situations when it comes to extreme weather,” says committee member Al Dam.
As Ontario’s poultry industry braces for the heat and humidity challenges of the summer, that information can’t come too soon.