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The Immune Stress of Transportation and Poor Husbandry

Calf | Pro Earth Animal Health

It is likely that the most stressful event a cow will face in its lifetime is transportation. There are many factors that play into the toll shipping has on cattle. First, the trauma caused by loading can be fairly significant. If rough handling or poor conditions inside and outside of the trailer exist, this heightens that stress even more.

The inner environment of the trailer itself can also have a major impact on the herd’s well-being. Crowded compartments and unfamiliar animals contribute drastically to raising stress levels in cattle. Temperatures within transports can soar to almost unbearable levels during the summer and plummet to below freezing in the colder months.

Once on the road, an animal can remain in transport for more than 24 hours in some instances. During this time, access to water and adequate feed is limited. Fat cattle tend to fair the best, but they can still experience a fairly large amount of shrink. After 30 hours, the body cannot shed more water, so the weight being lost is tissue itself. Calves, cull cattle, and feeders tend to fare the worst in this scenario, consistently showing the largest amount of shrink. It’s important to ensure that cattle are well-prepared for a long trek prior to transport to ensure the least amount of stress and physical damage as they are conveyed to their destination.


There is a direct correlation between poor husbandry and increased stress levels in both dairy and beef cattle. Every vaccination available can be administered, but with the wrong living conditions and lack of attention to care, there will be no marked benefit. This is due to the overwhelming stress put on the immune system while it attempts to cope with the influx of harmful microorganisms present in the environment.

In the case of dairy cattle, unsanitary living conditions can lead to mastitis, internal systemic infections, skin infections and hoof conditions, severely limiting their production potential. Most of these conditions require antibiotic intervention, during the course of which the cow’s milk cannot be included in the production stream. Mastitis treatment can be particularly painful for the cow, increasing stress levels regardless of how frequently she is handled.

Sub-par living conditions can wreak havoc on not only an animal’s physical well-being but also that of their psychological health. Waterborne and airborne diseases are common in poorly kept barns and stockyards. Dim lighting and cramped quarters lead to fighting, injuries, and distress. They’re also the perfect breeding ground for highly contagious diseases such as Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC), Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), scours, foot rot, conjunctivitis, ringworm and a large number of other aggressive pathogens. Additionally, bedding or footing saturated with water, feces or urine have the potential to create serious problems in the dermis and respiratory systems from exposure to fungus, bacteria, aerosolized fecal matter, and ammonia. Young calves are especially susceptible to poor air quality and easily develop calf pneumonia.

Sanitary conditions and adequate room, along with proper ventilation, is vital for maintaining health and reducing stress levels in cattle. Clean water and feed that is free of mold allow the animal’s body to better derive and utilize nutrients; supplements that support the immune system and fill in nutritional gaps allow the rumen to properly function.

Check back in on  Friday for more on the topic of vaccines and the role the existing immune systems plays in their efficacy. Missed the last installment? Check it out here

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  • Myron says:

    Hey I’d like to try out your supplement for dairy cows how can I get a couple bags shipped to Ohio?

    • Jennie Eilerts says:

      Hi! Thanks for your inquiry! I have forwarded your information to Shelly and she’ll get you all taken care of.

  • […] lives. Moving them takes a toll on their health. It can lower immunity, cause severe stress and result in dehydration for the animals.  Even when not transporting live animals, there are still numerous issues. […]

  • Len says:

    If I have a cull cow going to market tell me why it’s important to treat it or feed it. Do the steaks taste better after the cow has been slaughtered?

    • Jennie Eilerts says:

      Hi Len! Great question! Obviously, feed consumption and water consumption are two of the most important things to consider when discussing the production of high-quality beef. It’s not uncommon for stressed cattle to decrease their feed and water intake. This can lead to acidosis. When the pH is low and the cow becomes dehydrated, it’s the perfect recipe for “dark cutting” (here’s a great article that explains dark cutting: That produces that purplish-red, dry meat that tends to be passed over on the supermarket shelves. CattlActive not only raises the pH but also encourages feed and water consumption. Basically, the only thing that makes beef taste better is when it comes from a healthy, well-nourished and hydrated animal. If you’d like to talk with us more in-depth about this, please give our preconditioning/feeder specialist James a call at 210-218-2048.

  • […] that contributes greenhouse gases through cattle and other animal transportation, which can cause severe stress to the cattle. The money saving benefits of electric vehicles in the long run may encourage more humane […]

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