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Evaluation of Long-Haul Shipping Stress for Beef Calves Transported from Hawai‘i to Washington or California and their Ability to Recover

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Item Summary

Title: Evaluation of Long-Haul Shipping Stress for Beef Calves Transported from Hawai‘i to Washington or California and their Ability to Recover
Authors: Sy, Tracy
Keywords: beef cattle
Issue Date: May 2015
Publisher: [Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2015]
Abstract: Success of the Hawaii Beef Industry relies heavily on accessing mainland markets for finishing of cattle. Stocker calves are shipped to the mainland, usually Washington (WA) or California (CA), for finishing instead of being kept locally due to limited land, shipping costs of grain, and limited holding capacity within processing facilities located on the islands. Transportation via cowtainers is the most widely used mode due to availability, consistency, and efficacy. Cowtainers are custom modified freight containers equipped with water bins, feeders, and windows to allow for adequate airflow throughout the cowtainer.
Objectives of this study were to examine environmental conditions within the cowtainer and to evaluate physiological parameters of weaned calves being shipped to determine response to long-haul shipping. An additional objective was to determine the animals’ ability to recover post-shipment. Two shipments of weaned, Angus and Charolaise, female calves (n=48) were transported to WA or CA. Each shipment, the calves were divided by weight class and placed into custom cowtainers. Cowtainers were equipped with instruments measuring temperature (°C) and relative humidity (%) once every minute. Vaginal temperatures (T°) were taken every minute by an inserted temperature instrument. Blood was collected prior to shipment (P), upon arrival (A), and 6 days post-arrival (PA). Blood work was sent to Antech Diagnostics for blood profile analysis used to determine physiological status of the animals. Blood was analyzed for substance P, a neuropeptide involved with pain and stress response, quantities. Cowtainer temperature and humidity were used to calculate the temperature humidity index (THI) of the microclimate within the cowtainer.
Events with THI in a potential mild heat stress risk included trucking to Kawaihae, Kawaihae, and on the barge. Events with THI in a potential moderate heat stress risk included barge, Sand Island, Matson, and Oakland. Cowtainer THI ranged from “no-stress” to “moderate stress” stage, never reaching a THI value within the “severe” stage or above following the THI table from the Armstrong (1994) study. It should be noted that investigators in this field are incorporating wind speed and solar radiation into their calculations. Cattle shrink was 6.4% and 7.5% for the WA and CA shipments from P to A, respectively. From A to PA, weight gain was 9.9% for the WA shipment. Cattle body (vaginal) temperature above normal body temperature range (39.44 °C) occurred at handling and processing, loading onto the cowtainers, and unloading from the cowtainers, particularly, events that were novel to the animals. Temperature returned to normal at times when animals were allowed to rest and adapt to the new environment. The times at which temperature was above normal body temperature range were short-term and return to normal values. Cattle in the top level had significantly higher body temperatures than cattle located in the bottom level in the WA shipment while on the barge (P = 0.04). On the Matson ship in the WA shipment, cattle located in the outboard-located cowtainer had higher body temperatures compared to animals located in the center-located cowtainer (P = 0.01). In the serum chemistry and complete blood cell count profiles, results for combined shipments showed stage had a significant effect on many parameters (P < 0.001). Magnesium values below reference interval for P, A, PA indicating a possible magnesium deficiency throughout the study. Creatine Kinase (CPK or CK) was above reference interval at P due to increased exercise during movement from pasture to loading facility. Glucose was above reference interval at A indicating a likely endogenous glucocorticoid release as a stress response. Mean corpuscle volume (MCV) values were below reference interval at A and PA indicating microcytosis, or reduction in red blood cell size. Mean corpuscle hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) above reference interval occurred at A and PA indicating hemolysis or denatured hemoglobin, which is very likely due to processing of the samples leading to false hyperchromasia. Neutrophil values were above reference interval at P and A indicating presence of infection or inflammation; however, PA values were within reference value indicating the problem was resolved. Bands, or immature neutrophils, were above reference interval at A due to two calves having elevated band neutrophils. WA shipment had elevated leukocytes due to the two calves having high neutrophil and band neutrophils. CA shipment had neutrophil values within reference interval. The two WA-bound calves showed signs of pneumonia. One calf, died after shipment – it is important to mention the calf was the lightest calf shipped during the WA shipment. The other calf showed decreased neutrophil, immature and mature, values at PA indicating the process of resolution of likely respiratory infection. Although band mean values were elevated at A, compared to P and PA, values were not significantly different (P > 0.05). Substance P values showed a significant increase from P to A (p < 0.001) and decrease back to normal from A to PA (p < 0.001). Substance P values had no significant change from P to PA (p = 0.45). The increase in SP at A was contributed from the CA shipment. Substance P results indicate during the CA shipment, upon arrival, cattle were likely stressed. Substance P values at PA indicate that once cattle were given time to rest at the destination, stress was likely halted. Cattle body temperature data was analyzed to determine potential coat color impact. In the WA shipment, cattle with a dark-coat color had higher body temperatures than cattle with a light-coat color at Kawaihae, Hawaii Island (P = 0.05). In the CA shipment, cattle with a lightcoat color had higher body temperatures than cattle with a dark-coat color on the Matson ship going from Hawaii to Oakland, CA (P = 0.02). Events at which differences were observed were not consistent between shipments.
Cattle body temperature data was analyzed to evaluate differences between lightweight cattle and heavyweight cattle. In the WA shipment, lightweight cattle had higher mean body temperatures (P < 0.05) at loading, trucking to Kawaihae, on the barge, on the Matson ship, at trucking to destination, and at unloading. There was no level effect on weight group (P > 0.05). In the CA shipment, no difference was observed between weight groups (P > 0.05). Additionally, there was no overall effect of level on body temperature response (P > 0.05).
Cowtainer microclimate data may be useful in determining events, particularly in relation with season as shown by differences in shipments, within the transportation process that are potentially high-risk areas for heat stress and therefore factors for eliciting a stress response. By identifying these areas, recommendations on methods to reduce the risk of heat stress may be provided to minimize heat stress risk for future shipments. The results obtained from the calves in this study showed minor, short-lived changes in indicators of stress, such as temperature and hematological parameters with shipping, however, animals quickly returned to a homeostatic physiological state. Characteristics of the cattle such as coat-color and body weight could be used to determine placements of animal in the cowtainer, specifically for summer months when ambient solar radiation, humidity, and temperatures are higher. Although the cattle appear to be able to make a full recovery after shipment based on the indicators of stress measured, the data collected provides information on the higher areas of risk and provides explanations for the importance of placement of cattle within the cowtainer that may be used to further improve the process of shipping and therefore, further improve the welfare of the animals during transportation. Decrease in the amount of stress animals experience in their lifetime would allow optimal growth, development, and performance, thereby increasing the economic value of each animal and improving welfare.
It is recommended for cowtainer placement on the Matson ship to be placed closer to the center of the ship as cattle temperatures were significantly (P = 0.01) lower compared to those located in the outboard-located cowtainer in the WA shipment. Placement of cattle based on weight groups should be made based on balancing of the cowtainer to ensure even distribution of weight in the cowatiner. Coat color impact on body temperature needs to be further investigated due to the inconsistent results across shipments.
Description: M.S. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections:M.S. - Animal Sciences

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