Take care when transporting dairy cows, says MAF

18 August 1999

With large numbers of cows being transported at this time of the year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reminding farmers that a large part of the responsibility for the welfare of the animals during travel lies with them.

It is the farmer's responsibility to select cows for loading that are fit for the journey, says Ross Burnell, MAF Enforcement Unit Animal Welfare senior adviser.

"At this time of the year there are a lot of cows being transported on the road, and it's important to safeguard their welfare, particularly those cows in the last third of pregnancy, cows in early lactation and cows with calves at foot."

Mr Burnell says the risk of metabolic disease such as hypomagnesaemia in cows increases during and immediately after transportation, because of unavoidable interruptions to the animal's feed and water intake.

"The risks are particularly high in spring when the cow's magnesium intake on pasture tends to be lower. The risk of hypomagnesaemia can be reduced by providing extra magnesium supplements and perhaps a hay diet in the days prior to the journey."

Mr Burnell says it pays to plan the journey's timing so that milking is not disrupted. If interruption is unavoidable, veterinary advice should be obtained. If lactating cows are not milked at regular intervals at the time of transportation, the risk of mastitis increases. Lactating cows should be milked immediately before loading, then at regular intervals not exceeding 24 hours.

Cows in the first two months of lactation, or pregnant cows must not be transported on long haul journeys or across the Cook Strait unless accompanied by a veterinary certificate stating that they are fit to travel.

A long haul journey is defined as a journey that will not be completed within ten hours including loading and unloading, or a journey that will extend over more than one day of travel including rest stops. On long haul journeys, there must be rest periods of 12 hours after each 10 hours of

travel, and during the rest stop, appropriate food and water should be available.

It is also essential to obtain veterinary advice when planning long journeys for pregnant cows. Pregnant cows must not be transported even on short journeys when calving is imminent, nor should they be transported on the top deck of a double decker unless they can be unloaded down a ramp with a slope of less than 20 degrees.

To prepare stock for travelling, unlimited access to clean water up to the time of loading should be provided. Stock should be conditioned to a hay diet for up to six says before travelling. They should be kept off green feed for six hours before loading.

Cull cows can be particularly vulnerable to stress, injury and disease during travel, and they must not be transported unless they are sufficiently robust to withstand the journey without suffering unnecessary pain or distress.

Cows that are weak or lame must not be transported, and if there is doubt about their fitness for travel, a veterinary opinion should be obtained. A veterinary certificate can be provided to accompany the cow if she is fit enough for the journey. In the event the cow is unfit to travel, arrangements can be made for on-farm slaughter by an approved operator or by the veterinarian immediately before loading so that the carcass can be salvaged for processing into pet food at appropriate licensed premises.

Details of the provisions for the transport of stock are contained in the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee's Code of Recommendations and Minimum Standards for the Welfare of Animals Transported within New Zealand. This is an invaluable document for anyone transporting livestock. Most transport operators have a copy for reference.


Ross Burnell, MAF Enforcement Unit Animal Welfare. Phone 09 256 6423. Fax 09 256 6424



Last Updated: 20 September 2010

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33