Welfare in transport – cattle

Cows being unloaded

We all have a responsibility to ensure animals are fit for their intended journey and that the transport conditions are also not likely to cause injury or undue suffering.

In UK law, this means that before transporting, you must check the following:

  • your animals, for physical conditions which could cause suffering;
  • that the vehicle is in good working order and not an injury risk;
  • road and weather conditions will not delay your journey or cause suffering due to extremes of temperature.

Extreme weather

Recent government guidance, issued in summer of 2022, now clearly instructs transporters not to transport animals when external temperatures are more than 30°C, unless in temperature-controlled vehicles.

Where humidity is also high, the ‘feels like’ temperature on phone/web-based weather tools should be used as an indicator. This means that you should not transport animals above this temperature to avoid the potential suffering because of heat stress.

Whilst this temperature limit is not yet directly written in law, should poor welfare and suffering following transport be identified by a government officer (e.g. at a slaughterhouse), weather conditions and compliance with the guidance will be recorded as part of any non-compliance referral to the authorities. 

Transporters who do not transport in accordance with the guidance, therefore have significant risk of potential referral for prosecution under Welfare in Transport Law.

NFU position

The NFU is still working closely with the wider industry and Defra to ensure proposals for reform to Welfare in Transport law are workable and proportionate to the welfare risk. Nonetheless, it recognises the risk of heat stress in poorly managed journeys during hot weather, and seeks to help members avoid the potential for suffering and risks of non-compliance.

Fitness to travel

By law, in cases of doubt regarding physical conditions and fitness, you must seek advice from your veterinary surgeon and consider alternatives including treatment or on-farm slaughter.

When preparing cattle for transport, have you checked for the following?

Wounds, abscesses and prolapses

If the wound is serious and open, penetrating a body cavity or infected, the animal is not fit for transport.

The test is whether the animal is likely to experience additional pain or suffering during transport.

For other wounds you must consider the potential of the wounds to cause pain and blood loss during transport.

Any wound that is actively bleeding and involving the full skin thickness is ‘severe’ at the time and therefore not fit.

Abrasions that don’t involve the full thickness of skin, which have probably occurred during handling prior to transport, are acceptable.

Historic surgery and healing large wounds are acceptable, providing that all reasonable measures have been taken to prevent the site from being traumatised during transport.


  • How extensive or/and severe the wound is
  • Whether there are multiple wounds
  • Whether the wound is healed or not healed (open)
  • Whether the wound is actively bleeding or infected.


An animal suffering from a prolapse can only be transported in limited circumstances – usually for treatment or slaughter.

Before transporting you should seek veterinary advice, and for slaughter make contact and notify the abattoir procurement team and official vet (OV).

Additional care may need to be taken to protect the animal during transport, for example by single penning and deep bedding the animal.

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Animals should not be transported with signs of active disease processes – they will be at greater risk of poor welfare during transport due to the additional stresses placed upon them and they will also present a biosecurity risk to other animals in the vehicle or at locations en route.

The following signs indicate animals that are unfit for transport with any condition: 

  • causing weight loss (particularly chronic weight loss)
  • of the digestive system causing repeated vomiting or diarrhoea
  • causing breathing difficulties
  • obviously affecting the normal walking of the animal
  • that prevents an animal from eating or drinking
  • making the animal depressed, nervous or aggressive
  • causing wasting (emaciation) or a temperature (fever).

Animals suffering from any infectious disease should not be transported.

Veterinary guidance should be sought to determine the appropriate course of action (there are on-farm emergency slaughter provisions for nervous or aggressive bovines).

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Physical abnormalities

More care may need to be taken with any animal with a physical abnormality.

They may need additional support such as extra bedding or for their space allowance to be altered. It must be considered whether the abnormality causes additional pain and suffering when the animal is not in its usual environment (eg abnormal gait or lameness) or is likely to be at greater risk of injury during transport (eg large swelling, hernia or deformity).

Animals with long-standing deformities from birth or a young age are also not necessarily fit for transport, simply because it has become accustomed to living with the condition.

In all such cases veterinary advice should be sought to determine whether the animal is fit to transport and can be done so safely.

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Visual impairment

Blind animals are at risk of being injured during transport due to disorientation, fear, and stress. Therefore, blind animals and those with advanced ocular disturbances (ongoing eye conditions eg silage eye, or heavily scarred or clouded eyes) should not be transported.

Animals with a partial visual impairment can also easily become disorientated, scared or stressed and should be transported within their social group.

Eye conditions

Lesions in and around the eye are very painful and can also cause temporary blindness with affected animals wandering about aimlessly. Any animal with an ongoing eye condition should not be transported until the condition has been treated and a full recovery has taken place.

  • New Forest disease/pink eye (Infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis) – signs of pink eye include obvious tear staining of the face, pus matting the lashes and hair below the affected eye. Animals find it painful to be in direct sunlight. In severe cases, ulceration may progress to corneal perforation (rupture of the eye).
  • Silage eye (Bovine Iritis) – a common cause of inflammation of the middle layer of the eye. Initial signs include excessive tear staining, blinking and forced closure of the eyelids. A blueish-white opacity is usually seen on the cornea within two or three days. This can turn yellow as pus accumulates beneath.

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To be fit for transport, livestock must be able to walk independently on all four feet, without pain.

Assessing lameness before transport

When deciding whether or not a lame animal is fit to transport consider the degree of lameness and the demeanour of the animal. Animals that are slightly ill or injured can only be transported if the intended journey is not likely to cause any unnecessary suffering or pain, or aggravate the injury, however slightly. An animal showing signs of lameness is likely to be in pain. If in doubt, do not transport the animal or seek veterinary advice.

How to assess lameness in cattle

   Score   Decision
 0 Walks with even weight bearing and rhythm on all four feet, with a flat back. Long, fluid strides possible. Fit for transport
Imperfect  mobility  1 Steps uneven (rhythm or weight bearing) or strides shortened; affected limbs or limbs not immediately identifiable. Fit for transport

Uneven weight bearing on a limb that is immediately identifiable and/or obviously shortened strides

(Usually with an arch to the centre of the back).

If the animal is bearing weight on four legs:
Fit for transport

If the animal is not bearing weight on four legs:
Unfit for transport


Unable to walk as fast as a brisk human pace (cannot keep up with the healthy herd) and signs of score 2.

Lame leg easy to identify – limping; may barely stand on lame leg/s; back arched when standing and walking.

Very lame.

Unfit for transport

Transporting lame animals

Whenever a lame animal is transported, the journey conditions will need to be improved. You should:

  • Pen the animal individually
  • Ensure the floor provides good footing
  • Provide extra bedding for comfort
  • The driver should take special care to avoid any sudden changes in speed or direction that might throw the animal off balance
  • The animal should have enough space to move within the vehicle and turn round/get back up if they lose their balance.

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Cattle should not be transported if:

  • They are pregnant females in the last 10% of pregnancy (where possible, estimated or actual service or AI dates should be used, but otherwise look for visible signs of advanced pregnancy eg enlarged abdomen, relaxed muscles around the tail head and tissues of the vulva, enlarged udder and swelling on underside of belly (hogging). An average gestation period for cattle is 270 days.
  • They have given birth during the last week.

New-born calves

  • New-born calves should not be transported if their navel has not been completely healed. Calves especially around weaning are very vulnerable to diseases. Transport can easily stress them.
  • Calves of less than 10 days old can only be transported for a maximum of 100km (62 miles).
  • Calves under 14 days are prohibited from taking journeys over 8 hours.
  • Bedding is a requirement for calves less than 14 days old and for all cattle on journeys over eight hours.

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Weakness, fatigue or poor body condition

The general condition of the animal is important – it must be ‘fit for the intended journey’.

Animals in poor condition are too weak to be transported as they do not have enough muscle strength. If presented in an abattoir, these animals will be rejected as unfit for human consumption.

Weak animals have less chance to move away from aggression, and are more likely to lose balance, due to sudden stop or acceleration, or change of direction of the vehicle.

Suspected fractures

An animal known or suspected to have a fracture, in any part of the body, must never be transported.

Fractures are inherently painful, worsened when an animal must stand in a moving vehicle during transport.

The need for animals to constantly adjust their balance during transport and the greater likelihood of the animal slipping or stumbling may cause a fracture to destabilise further, penetrating the skin, paralysing the animal (pelvic or spinal injuries), or causing internal bleeding.

All animals with known or suspected fractures must be slaughtered on-farm (see emergency slaughter on farm).

Ingrowing horns

Animals with ingrowing horns or broken/damaged horns which have the internal tissue exposed are not fit for transport.

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