Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Behavioral, physiological changes can be used to assess transportation stress

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“Safety and transport safety are really linked to animal welfare and utilizing best management practices,” said Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, a research at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 

Schwartzkopf-Genswein emphasized that transportation is probably one of the most stressful events in an animal’s life, with stress coming from handling, a novel environment, mixing with unfamiliar cattle, restrictions of feed and water, environmental conditions in the trailer and more all contributing to stress.

“I am often asked how we assess transport stress,” said Schwartzkopf-Genswein. “It comes down to one thing. We’re looking for change from normal.”

In assessing livestock, Schwartzkopf-Genswein suggested looking at changes in behavior or physiology, and the best way to measure stress is visually to avoid additional stress. 

“We make comparisons before, during and after transport to assess stress,” Schwartzkopf-Genswein commented. “Things like respiration rate, panting or drooling, feeding or drinking, lying or standing behavior and slipping or falling are some behavior changes we may see.” 

If animals are lying down or standing still, fatigue is likely. Additionally, it might be an indicator that they have been injured. 

“We can do things like look at locomotion and rumination,” she said. “Usually, when animals are stressed, they often stop ruminating.”

Schwartzkopf-Genswein commented, “Overall, if animals are hungry, they’ll go to the feed bunk right away, but if fatigue is more of an issue, they’ll go lie down right away.” 

On the physiological side of the animal, Schwartzkopf-Gensweinnoted cortisol can be measured in the blood, saliva and hair, and substance P, a biomarker of pain, works well.

“We also look at things like white blood cell and neutrophil count to look at immune function,” she explained. “Acute phase proteins are another phase of inflammation we can look at in cattle coming off the trunk.”

Producers already commonly measure weight loss or shrink to assess stress levels.

Schwartzkopf-Genswein said infrared thermography can also provide an indication as to the body, and heart rate can also be used to indicate stress.

Because the inside of the trailer can dramatically impact cattle stress, particularly, if the weather is hot, Schwartzkopf-Genswein noted that data loggers can be used to monitor the interior of the trailer. 

“With these, we can compare the ambient temperature to what’s happening on the inside of the trailer,” she commented, noting that for every degree in temperature increase, shrink also increased by 0.04 percent.

Overall, Schwartzkopf-Genswein recognized the importance of the expertise from truck drivers and ranchers, but she said, “I think we have to realize that although truck drivers and long-term ranchers are skilled and know a lot about what they do, there are still a lot of things that they can’t tell us about what happens with these cattle. Science helps to provide us with that information.”

The Beef Cattle Research Council co-hosted this webinar with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

  • Posted in Animal Health
  • Comments Off on Behavioral, physiological changes can be used to assess transportation stress
Back to top