Transporting livestock from Scotland’s remote and rural areas – A snapshot from the Highlands and Islands

Posted on March 18, 2019 by Freda Scott-Park

Transport of live animals is a hotly debated topic and the issue is peculiarly pertinent to remote and rural Scotland where, if animals are to be transported (to other parts of the UK) or exported, the distances for them to travel are often considerable. The best solution would of course be to slaughter livestock as close to home before transport. However, this is not always possible in our remote areas of Scotland, where agriculture plays an important role in the local economy but relies on moving animals to other farms or to abattoirs some distance away. In the old days the ‘excess’ animals were walked south along the old drove roads, the journey often taking weeks or months; perhaps using road transporters are a better way to get animals to their destination?

Supporting the local economy

Approximately 80% of Scotland is under agricultural production and contributes about £2.9 billion to the Scottish economy. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland cover some 15,000 square miles and are renowned for their spectacular scenery, attracting tourists from across the world. However, underpinning the natural beauty and contributing to the economy is agricultural production on small farms and crofts.

Local abattoirs

Vets work tirelessly to support these farmers and crofters who work in recognised Less Favoured Areas (LFA), realising only small financial gains from their efforts but contributing much to the ecology of their landscape by maintaining unimproved, species-rich grass and moorlands. Farm stock often needs to be transported before the animal has reached the right age for slaughter thus necessitating transport to farms further south so they can reach their full potential. Abattoirs are few and far between in the Highlands and Islands; many small abattoirs have become unviable and have had to close. Even the obvious improvement of installing CCTV to ensure that the animals are treated with respect during the slaughter process has been a cost too far for some of the low through-put facilities.

Transport – a focus for improvement

Thus the transport of animals has to be a focus of attention for improvement, not just the journey length, which is of necessity substantial from remote parts of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, often involving ferry journeys. The conditions in the transporter and the number of stops for feeding, watering and exercise are obviously key areas and there are strict regulations for meeting these criteria. However, having a decent driver is also considered to be a fundamental requirement; a driver who acknowledges that they are carrying live animals, drives safely and smoothly and genuinely cares for the welfare of their load.

Robust scientific evidence

Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer has instigated a substantial piece of research on the welfare of animals, specifically strong male dairy calves in transport for the export market, looking at all the factors mentioned above and assessing the condition of the animals when they reach their destination. The project will provide robust scientific evidence that the calves are transported in a humane fashion and complying with EU legislation. Although there are very few dairy farms in the Highlands and Islands, this research will provide useful guidance for transport of all animals, which is to be welcomed.

Freda Scott-Park

Written by Freda Scott-Park

Dr Freda Scott-Park is a Past President of BSAVA and BVA, and is the current Chair of The Links Group.