12 May 1995

Journey time is reasonable

THE present 15-hour maximum journey time for sheep is a reasonable legal limit, according to new research from Bristol University.

But it adds that transporting animals causes them psychological and physical stress and suggests that, from a welfare point of view, transport distance and times should be minimised.

The study on the effect of various journey times on groups of sheep is reported in the Veterinary Record. The scientists conclude that loading, and the start of the journey cause the most stress. The sheep seemed to recover about nine hours into the journey, with reduced heart rates coinciding with many of the animals lying down.

Despite the longer journeys undertaken by sheep and a generally more arduous marketing system, they appear better able to cope with transport than other farm species.

"The evidence from this work suggests that given ideal conditions, slaughter weight lambs seem to cope adequately with the rigours of being transported for 24 hours," says the report.

But it warns that commercial conditions are likely to be more severe than in the study, and so concludes that the present 15-hour limit is reasonable.

However, when sheep do have to undertake journeys of up to 24 hours the findings suggest that it is best carried out as an uninterrupted journey, because of the stress associated with loading and the start of the journey.

The report also emphasises that its conclusions are based on healthy sheep transported under ideal conditions. "There is anecdotal evidence that transport conditions are sometimes less than ideal within the EU. The transport of unfit animals, or transport without adequate ventilation, or at a stocking density at which the animals would be unable to lie down comfortably, could lead to more severe animal suffering," it states.