EFSA has provided a scientific opinion on the welfare of small ruminants (sheep and goats) during transport, to assist with the EU Commission’s evaluation of animal welfare legislation, as part of the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy. The Opinion mainly focuses on the welfare of sheep during transport.
Based on severity, duration and frequency of occurrence, eleven negative welfare consequences, linked to sheep experiencing distress, fear, fatigue, pain, and discomfort were found to be relevant to the transport of sheep:
- Group stress
- Handling stress
- Heat stress
- Motion stress
- Predation stress
- Prolonged hunger
- Prolonged thirst
- Restriction of movement
- Resting problems
- Sensory overstimulation
These welfare consequences were found to be mainly associated with:
- Inappropriate or aggressive handling of animals
- Structural deficiencies of vehicles and facilities
- Unfavourable microclimatic and environmental conditions
- Poor husbandry practices
Implications and recommendations for Public Health Authorities in the Opinion include the following:
- Current rules and practices need to be revised to include requirements for more space, lower temperatures, and reduced journey times.
- The term fitness for transport requires a proper definition.
- Professionals involved in the transport of small ruminants should be well educated and trained.
- Research should be carried out on the development of systems to maintain the microclimatic conditions in stationary as well as moving vehicles.
- The temperature inside vehicles transporting sheep should not exceed the Upper Critical Temperature (UCT), which is estimated to be 28°C for fleeced sheep and 32°C for shorn sheep.
- Future research should be conducted in relation to the development of systems to maintain the microclimatic conditions in stationary as well as moving vehicles across different compartments and deck heights by e.g., air conditioning.
- Adequate space should be provided for animals during transport to permit them to adjust posture and balance. Minimum space allowance should be calculated using a validated scientific method.
- Maximum journey time should take into account the stress (and sometimes fear) that the animals will experience continuously or semi-continuously.
- During transport the animals will experience thirst and hunger after 12 hours, which should be taken into account when selecting the maximum journey time.
- In order to allow the animals to eat, drink and recover, they need to be unloaded from the transport vehicle to suitable premises.
Source: EFSA Journal 2022;20(9):7404