Effect of Rest Stop Duration and Quality During Transport on Cattle Welfare

Project Title

Effect of Rest Stop Duration and Quality on the Behaviour and Welfare of Cattle Transported by Road


Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein Ph.D. and Derek Haley Ph.D. karen.genswein@agr.gc.ca

Daniela M. Melendez (AAFC Lethbridge), Sonia Marti (IRTA, Barcelona, Spain), Derek Haley (University of Guelph), Timothy D. Schwinghamer (AAFC Lethbridge)

Scientific Journals

Status Project Code
Completed April, 2023 ANH.06.17


Canadian law used to allow truckers to haul cattle for up to 48 hours before requiring a 5-hour feed, water, and rest break. A 4-hour grace period extended this to 52 hours if they could reach the final destination before then. In 2017, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency updated the livestock transport regulations to require a minimum 8-hour feed, water, and rest break after a maximum 12 hours (very young calves) or 36 hours (older cattle) in transit. They also eliminated the 4-hour grace period.  

These regulatory changes were made despite never testing whether cattle benefit from feed, water, and rest breaks. Besides the fact that loading and unloading are stressful and pose the greatest risk for injury, the beef industry was concerned that freshly-weaned calves might not know enough to rest and eat and drink during those breaks. If not, the new regulations might just delay their arrival at the feedlot, keep them tired, hungry, and thirsty longer, stress them more, and increase the likelihood that they will get sick. Not to mention the biosecurity concerns of mixing cattle of many sources and ages at these designated rest locations or the potential for injury during loading and unloading.  

To address the potential benefit or concerns of these new regulations, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Beef Cattle Research Council funded three research trials under the Beef Science Cluster to determine whether feed, water and rest stops during long distance transport benefit calf health and welfare. This research was done at AAFC Lethbridge by Drs. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Daniela Meléndez Suárez, together with Boone Transport and Alberta Prime Transport. All three trials have been published.


  • Determine the effects of rest stop duration (0, 4, 8 or 12 h) after 12 and 36 h of transport, on indicators of welfare in weaned, preconditioned beef calves. 
  • Determine the effects of conditioning, source (auction vs ranch direct), and rest (0 vs 8 h), after 36 hours of transport on welfare indicators in weaned beef calves. 
  • Determine the effects of conditioning, rest (0 vs 8 h) after 20 h of transport and the duration (4 vs 15 h) of transport following the rest on welfare indicators in weaned beef calves. 
  • To provide science-informed recommendations for best management practices regarding the transport of beef calves.   

What They Did

Each study used a commercial trucker to haul at least 320 calves from the same farm. In Trial One, preconditioned calves were hauled for either 12 or 36 hours, unloaded and rested for 0, 4, 8, or 12 hours, then reloaded and hauled another 4 hours to the feedlot. In Trial Two, both freshly-weaned and preconditioned calves were either sent directly through the research facility (ranch direct) or held overnight at an auction mart with feed and water and run through the ring. All calves were then loaded and hauled for 36 hours, unloaded, and rested for 0 or 8 hours, then reloaded, and hauled another 4 hours to the feedlot. In Trial Three, both freshly-weaned and preconditioned calves were hauled for 20 hours, unloaded, and rested for 0 or 8h, then reloaded and hauled for another 4 or 15 hours to the feedlot.  

The research team left no stone unturned looking for impacts of weaning management, marketing practices, transport time and rest stops on calf health and welfare. In each trial, a huge number of measurements (weight, shrink, lameness, behavior, body temperature, and blood samples to assess stress, muscle damage and fatigue, dehydration, energy deficit, inflammation, trauma, infection, and immune function) were collected before each loading, after each unloading, and over the first four weeks in the feedlot (along with average daily gain, feed intake, feed:gain and health treatments). 

What They Learned

The results were extremely complicated, due to the amount of information gathered, and how calves responded depended on trip length and management. Most importantly however, is that the team found that rest stops in all three trials did not provide any clear benefit to the health or welfare of the calves during the trip and did not improve health or growth performance during the first month in the feedlot. It is unusual for researchers to find such consistent results in repeated experiments. 

A few other key things shone through. First, no calves were injured in any of the studies. Second, calves prefer shorter trips to longer trips. Third, preconditioned calves travel better than freshly weaned calves. There were no clear differences between the ranch-direct calves and those that had spent the night with feed and water in an auction mart.  

What It Means

With this science in hand, the Canadian Cattle Association (CCA) has been working with the CFIA to try to find a way to focus regulatory enforcement on the spirit of the law (i.e., did the cattle reach their destination in good condition) rather than the letter of the law (i.e., did the driver obey the clock precisely?). In the meantime, Transport Canada’s driver’s hours of service rules have changed, leaving livestock transit times and driver service times even further uncoordinated. The CCA will continue to advocate for regulatory guidance aimed at ensuring the health and safety of drivers, the public and cattle that avoids competitive disadvantages with other sectors and facilitates harmonization with regulations in the United States. This research shows the importance of science-based regulations and will continue to enable CCA and other organizations to inform policy in the future.