High standards will influence future designs
Transportation of livestock is a particularly emotive subject at the present time.
Jeremy Hunt takes a look at the construction of cattle lorries and the efforts being made to increase the welfare of the stock they are designed to carry
CUTTING corners on cost when buying livestock transportation containers has never been a more unwise decision. With the Euro-spotlight firmly targeted on all welfare aspects of moving stock by road, the next few years will see only the highest standards of transport approved for use.
That means farmers should think carefully before investing in new stock transport, according to Michael Houghton, managing director of Houghtons Parkhouse Coachworks.
The Cumbrian company has been building livestock containers for 40 years at its Milnthorpe base. Its range caters for all types and numbers of stock – from the massive four-deck sheep containers with 38t capacity, through to the "Farmers Range" of containers starting at 3.65m (12ft) long, single-deck cattle trailers.
"Where farmers are concerned, buying livestock transportation represents a substantial investment. Because so much attention is now being focused on higher welfare standards associated with the movement of livestock, farmers are well advised to look very carefully at what they are buying before making that investment," Mr Houghton says.
"A secondhand container that may well do the job now could soon fail to meet tighter regulations. These older containers do not easily lend themselves to modification. At best it could mean some big spending to bring it up to standard. At worst the container may well not be worth refurbishing."
What type of animals do I want to move, how many and what size are they? Those are the first questions every farmer needs to ask, even before he starts to look at a livestock container.
And increasingly he needs to be more aware of the amount of ventilation a wagon offers to the stock being carried; he needs to check that the gating is correct – gating for pigs and sheep is NOT the same – and he must look at floor coverings and at ramp angles.
"We can guide farmers, but they must have a good idea of exactly what they want the wagon for. In that way a farmer will be able to purchase a container which we can guarantee meets current welfare standards."
One of the main areas of development has been in ventilation. Controlled ventilation is now an essential part of stock transport and apertures – the number of which have almost doubled in recent years – must be adjustable.
The company is currently involved in a three-year research project with Silsoe Agricultural College looking at ways of improving ventilation and, in particular, the problems that can arise when wagons are stationary.
Mr Houghton does not believe there is yet a need to consider air conditioning and cooling fans to maintain ventilation for stock in transit. Providing apertures are of adequate size and can be opened easily and quickly, he considers adequate air flow can be maintained even when wagons are not moving.
Using a vehicle supplied by the company, Silsoe staff are looking at ventilation and internal temperatures at different wind speeds and with varying numbers of apertures in use.
"This is information we need. No one yet knows exactly what sort of climate is best suited for travelling stock. While adequate ventilation is essential, we must not introduce too much draught, which can lead to prolonged discomfort."
Deck height to achieve clear-head height room for the stock being transported is another key area. Stock must be carried with sufficient space to prevent any rubbing of the head or back. It is important to allocate enough deck-height for the tallest type of stock likely to be handled, particularly in multi-tiered vehicles.
"We have a full range of deck heights available, but its important that the customer is aware of exactly what his requirements are. In Europe they work on the "fixed height" system, where cattle of certain weights must be carried on trailers with specific deck heights.
"In the UK we have preferred to follow a system of "natural standing positions. It isnt as rigid as the European system but it still achieves a high standard of comfort and welfare during transit."
Think too about floor coverings, says Mr Houghton. He believes tighter inspections on container floors may well be introduced.
"Floors get a lot of hammer from stock and from washing – even the best aluminium floors can split in time." Aluminium treadplate is still the most durable and efficient as far as "stock grip" is concerned. Fibreglass with added granules and even rubber floors have been tried. Rubber floors were certainly comfortable for stock, but they were found to be heavy and tended to become slippery.
In pig transportation there is a preference for stock being carried on second and third decks to be loaded by hydraulic lift, and so avoid the controversial issue of ramp angles.
The large numbers of pigs carried by road in European countries has certainly influenced this trend, and Mr Houghton "tends to agree" that such lifts are more appropriate in pig transportation.
"Unless ramp angles are 20-25í, pigs do find it difficult. Our experience with sheep indicates that they will load quickly and efficiently on ramps – a much swifter operation than with a hydraulic lift – at an angle of 30í and below."
But ramp angles are determined by deck height. A higher deck height to cater for bigger sheep will mean a steeper ramp angle and a longer length of ramp. Longer ramps are difficult to move manually, and the need to install hydraulics to lift the ramp adds further cost – possibly up to £3000 extra. *
With animal welfare in the spotlight, the next few years will see only the highest standards of transport approved for use.
Cattle truck fabrication continues at Houghtons Parkhouse coachworks.
The Cumbrian company has been building livestock containers for 40 years.
Welding together the mainframe.