COK Investigation Exposes Suffering During Interstate Farm Animal Transport
While the abuses endured by animals on factory farms and inside slaughterhouses are gradually gaining the public’s attention, the treatment of millions of animals during transport—between farms, auctions, stockyards, and slaughterhouses—remains relatively concealed.
In July 2005, COK investigators traveled throughout the United States to document the conditions endured by farmed animals shipped across the country on trucks and trailers. Our investigators found that, in many cases, farmed animals are overcrowded onto vehicles and moved long distances—often exceeding 28 hours—without food, water to drink, rest, or adequate protection from the elements. As a result of such hardships, an untold number suffer in-transit injuries, illnesses, stress and even death.
The Twenty-Eight Hour Law: In 1873, the U.S. government passed the Twenty-Eight Hour Law to address the transport of animals across state lines. One of the few federal statues that applies to farmed animals, the Twenty-Eight Hour Law states that, with limited exceptions, animals cannot be transported via “rail carrier, express carrier, or common carrier” for more than 28 consecutive hours without being unloaded for five hours for “feeding, water, and rest.” At the time this law was written, the primary vehicle for movement of livestock was the rail car. In the early 1950s, however, trucks surpassed the use of rail cars and remain the dominant carrier in the industry today, comprising more than 95% of current farmed animal transport.
Enforcement History: Until recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency charged with enforcing this statute, has stood behind its decade-old policy of excluding the interstate truck transport of farmed animals. According to a USDA website that offers trucking guidance for animal exporters:
“Federal law requires that livestock in interstate commerce be in transit for no more than 28 hours without food, water, and rest. However, this law applies only to rail shipments.”
In October 2005, this policy was challenged by Compassion Over Killing, The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, and Animals’ Angels in a petition to the USDA. After reviewing this petition, the USDA announced in September 2006 that it will begin protecting farmed animals transported long distances on trucks.
The excerpts below from our investigators’ log notes reveal many of the hardships of animal transport.
Friday, July 15, 2005
9:45 am – Junction City, Kansas: I saw a truck carrying cows on 1-70 heading west and followed it for nearly six hours until it pulled into a feedlot about 30 miles northeast of the Colorado/Kansas border. I spoke with the truck driver while he and another man unloaded countless feeder cattle (about 500-600 lbs. each) from the truck. He stated that he makes this trip once a week—from Virginia to Kansas—during the summer. He explained that these cows will be “fattened up” for about 120 to 160 days, and then they’ll be loaded back onto a truck and sent to the slaughter plant. He says the trip from the farm in Virginia to this Kansas feedlot takes anywhere from 24 to 30 hours and that the cattle receive no food, water or rest off the truck throughout the entire journey – unless, on occasion, the “owner” asks that they be rested somewhere along the route. The driver told me the cattle are almost always hungry and thirsty when they arrive and that, in some cases, cattle have died on his truck during transport.
Today’s temperature here reached 93 F.
4:30 pm – Goodland, Kansas: I drove back to the I-70 and 27 junction in Goodland where many livestock transport trucks stop to refuel. I talked to a driver who says that pigs from the corn belt often get trucked to a slaughterhouse in Los Angeles, but that this doesn’t happen as often in the summer because of the heat unless they are in need of more pigs. The driver also described how young cattle from northern California are routinely transported to feedlots in Kansas. He told me that the “humane society” suggests that livestock be unloaded after 26 hours of transport to rest for eight or so hours. When I asked him if this was an actual law, he said no. I further asked if drivers follow that recommendation, and he said that typically they do not.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
6:50 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – Los Angeles, California: I watched at least six trucks from Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona—all carrying live pigs—pull into a slaughterhouse in Los Angeles.
Today’s temperature reached 81 degrees.
Monday, July 18, 2005
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon – Los Angeles, California: More trucks carrying live pigs from Utah pulled into the slaughter plant this morning. I managed to catch a side view of the trucks and many pigs seemed to be panting. It’s already 80o F today.
1:30 p.m. – Los Angeles, California: The temperature this afternoon is about 81 F, and trucks carrying live pigs are still steadily pulling into the slaughterhouse.
I decided to drive across the L.A. River to catch a view of the back of the plant from a distance. I couldn’t believe my eyes—I saw dead pig after dead pig hauled by a “bobcat” tractor and dumped into dumpsters. This went on for a few hours until the bins were full and the pig’s legs and bodies were jutting out from the top of the bins. These pigs did not appear to have been slaughtered—they most likely died during transit.
Monday, July 25, 2005
2:30 p.m. – Pennsylvania: I stopped by a livestock auction house today to take a look around. When I arrived, I started up a conversation with a truck driver who just finished loading 125 pigs and was getting ready to drive to Ohio. He said this trip would take him about seven and a half hours.
As he explained to me that he makes sure not to overcrowd pigs in hot weather, I observed the pigs in the truck—they appeared to have little room to move and were leaning on each other due to lack of space. They also seemed to have scratches and cuts all over their bodies. Many pigs were already panting, just shortly after having been loaded. The driver told me that he expected that all of these pigs would survive the journey and proceeded to tell me about an incident in which three pigs died after he his truck broke down, leaving him stranded for 21 hours on a day like today—the temperature today reached 90 degrees.
As we kept talking, the driver stated that every 36 hours truck drivers are supposed to unload livestock to offer them food and water. He explained that this is a federal law that has been in effect since the 1920s. When I asked him if drivers follow this law, he said that they are “supposed to” but if a driver is a couple of hours away from his destination, they usually don’t stop to unload. When I asked him if its common for drivers to exceed 36 hours in one trip, he affirmatively stated that dairy cattle are driven from the east to west coast and vice versa. (See “Trucker Transcripts” to read more.)
3:30 pm – Pennsylvania: At the rear entrance of the auction house, several drivers were unloading animals—mostly sheep, calves, dairy cows, and pigs. Several dairy cows appeared to have enlarged udders from possible mastitis while at least one was limping on a rear leg as she was unloaded off the truck. Inside another truck, I saw an injured cow with cuts and scrapes on her back; she was breathing heavily and was unable to get up. She was left on the truck for nearly two hours—also on the truck was a dead cow, directly in front of her the entire time.
While I watched this injured cow on the truck, another trailer pulled up with additional dairy cows—two of whom were also unable to get up. I witnessed the driver and several workers wrap a chain around the back leg of each cow and, one at a time using a “bobcat” tractor, drag these downed cows, who were still very much alive and fully conscious, off the truck, onto the pavement. After about an hour, these two injured cows were still sitting in the same spots on the pavement where they had been dragged and several workers tried to force one of them to stand up. As they were pushing her, another worker approached and poked her with an electric prod, which caused her to scream. She still could not get up.
About ten minutes after their failed attempts to force this cow to stand up, a man with a 22-caliber rifle fired a single bullet into the heads of each of the three downed cows (the two cows on the pavement and the one cow in the truck mentioned above). The man with the gun watched as one of the cows on the pavement continued moving her head, body and tail for several minutes after she was shot. He appeared to contemplate shooting her again but refrained.
I spoke with one of the men who said that their driver usually has a better rate but that it was a really hot day and one of the cows may have been injured due to an accident on the road that stranded the truck for about an hour. While we were talking, another trailer pulled up—a dead goat was dragged off the truck and left beside a dumpster that was already filled with other animal carcasses including a sheep, calf, and another goat.
Friday, July 29, 2005
4:00 p.m. – Lexington, Nebraska: I stopped at the Nebraskaland Truck and Travel Center near Lexington and spoke with a driver who told me that once a month he personally drives cattle from a small stockyard on the Eastside of New York City to Chihuahua, Mexico. He claims that he regularly makes this trip in 48 hours without ever offering the cattle water or food or a chance to rest. While he only makes this trip once per month, he said the trip is made three times per month and that the cattle, “if they are lucky,” may be unloaded at livestock sales barns along the way while the truck is being refueled. Normally, however, he explained that the cattle are not unloaded—thus, the cattle are denied rest, food and water for at least 48 hours.
This driver also says he transports pigs and claimed that during one trip, he had a pig “blow-up” after 22 hours of confined travel. The other pigs, he explained, had “worked him over” and they were all covered in blood. During another trip, this driver claims that 40 out of 290 pigs died in transit and that 7 more had to be shot inside the truck at the slaughterhouse.
9:30 p.m. – Elm Creek, Nebraska: Shortly after pulling into the Bosselman Travel Center at the intersection of Route 183 and I-80, I started talking with a driver who told me a story about fellow driver who had 24 calves die during one of his trips through the Mojave Desert from Sacramento to Texas. This driver also told me that he has driven cattle from Quebec to Mexico and that cows coming from Canada into Mexico are not allowed to “touch U.S. soil” due to diseases, including mad cow disease—so the animals are confined on the truck without food or water throughout the journey.
This driver also showed me how he falsifies his Department of Transportation required logbook to make it appear that his trips are in compliance with the law. He maintained that such falsifications are common among livestock truck transporters. (See “Trucker Transcripts” to read more.)
Saturday, July 30, 2005
7:25 pm – Elm Creek, Nebraska: I spent most of the day at the Bosselman Travel Center watching livestock trucks—some full, some empty—come and go, and I spoke with a few drivers about their experiences. One driver I talked with was hauling a truck filled with 283 pigs. He explained that he picked these pigs up about 50 east of Kansas City, Missouri, around 11:00 a.m. this morning and that he had not given the animals any water prior to loading. In addition the driver asserted that the animals would not be fed or rested throughout their journey—which would last at least 35 hours and end in Modesto, California—nor would they have access to water aside from what was sprayed on them for cooling purposes. The temperature today in this area of Nebraska reached 95o F.
The driver told me that pigs are transported from the same farm via this route to California once a week. When I asked him if any pigs die in transit, he pointed out one pig who had already died and made reference to another dead pig in a different part of the truck. He said these dead pigs would be left in the truck with live pigs for the rest of the journey. I later noticed one of the pigs nudging the face of a dead pig.
Of the surviving pigs, many appeared to have several injuries including scratches, bruises, abrasions, and lacerations on their bodies, legs, and ears, some of which were bleeding. I observed one pig with what appeared to be a swollen area on his underbelly and another whose skin on his hindquarters appeared abnormally red.
Although the truck was so tightly packed with animals that several pigs were forced to lean against and sit on each other, including one of the dead pigs, the driver stated that he could have fit many more than 283 pigs into this truck. Near the truck the smell of ammonia was strong, and the temperature inside the truck felt noticeably higher than outside. Many pigs were panting or open-mouthed breathing; some were frothing at the mouth, and one was coughing incessantly. Some of the pigs seemed to be fighting as one was forced to walk on top of the others to move about the trailer. I also saw pigs chewing on each others’ ears. The driver explained that, at times, pigs fight each other while on the truck.
As we talked, the driver sprayed the pigs with water for approximately 45 minutes. He explained that this was intended to cool them down. As he sprayed the animals, he repeatedly and forcibly yanked the nozzle from the mouths of pigs trying to drink from the hose. After being sprayed, some pigs appeared to lick the water off the skin of other pigs while others attempted to catch water dripping from the deck above.
After spraying the pigs, the driver went inside the truck stop to shower, and later, at 11:25 p.m., drove the truck at least 40 miles north to pick up his wife. After about two hours, the driver returned to the truck stop. At 1:45 a.m., he departed the truck stop again, this time heading to Modesto, California. At this point, these animals had already been confined for over 14 hours, yet had only traveled 400 miles of the more than 1,800-mile journey from Kansas City to Modesto. During this approximate six-hour layover at the Bosselman truck stop, the driver did not release the animals off the truck to rest, nor did he provide them with food or water to drink. Furthermore, the driver acknowledged that for the rest of the journey to California, these pigs would not be offered any food, water for drinking, or rest off the truck. (See “Trucker Transcripts” to read more.)
Transcripts from Farm Animal Transport Truckers’ Conversations with our Investigators
COK’s investigators traveled through many states and talked with several truck drivers who haul farmed animals across the country. Here are a few excerpts from the transcripts:
Monday, July 25, 2005—Pennsylvania, 2:30 p.m.
Truck Driver Transporting Pigs from Pennsylvania to Ohio
[COK] Do you have to water them [pigs] down on the way or anything?[Driver] Usually don’t. Usually there ain’t any place to do it. Supposed to do it every 24 hours if you have livestock on… no it’s every 36 hours your supposed to unload ’em.
After 36 hours you’re supposed to unload them?
And give them feed and water or something?
Feed and water them.
Is that the government that tells you to do that?
Yes. That’s been a standing law for forever. That started way back in the twenties.
So after 36 hours everybody has to stop and…
Supposed to. Now if you’re only 2 hours from where you’re going, you know, most guys aren’t going to do it.
Do people ever go 36 hours?
Oh yeah. Yeah, they’ll load dairy cattle out here [Pennsylvania] and take them to California and vice versa.
Thursday, July 28, 2005—Nebraska, 9:30 p.m.
Truck Driver Unloaded Cattle Prior to Interview
[COK] What would you say is the longest drive you’ve done with cattle?
I went from… Quebec down to Mexico. It was like 3400 miles.
How long does that take?[laughing] Legally? Well I’ve been out for three weeks this uh … about midnight tonight and have done a little less or a little over 15,000 miles.
I talked to this guy who hauled pigs…
I’ll haul pigs every once and a while.
He said one exploded on his truck. I guess it’s really hard on them…
Yeah, it’s hard on them with the heat and all.
He said he lost 40 one time out of 300…
I know guys that (inaudible)… I was running with a guy from Sacramento through the Mojave Desert over to Texas. He lost 24 calves.
Just cause of the heat?
When you haul them do you have to stop and feed and water them?
The only time you stop and rest them are when you have dairy cattle on like, dairy heifers or calves. Kill cows, fat cattle you don’t.
You don’t stop? No matter how long you’re going?[driver nods head yes]
So, when you did that Canada to Mexico [drive]…
I stopped because, just sleeping like that, you can’t go that long without, you know…
But the cows are still on the truck though right?[driver nods head yes] When you pick up in Canada and you take to Mexico, their hooves cannot touch U.S. soil.
Oh really? Why is that?
They’re not, because of diseases, mad cow disease. You know it’s a lot easier to tip one of these too.
Does that happen very often?
One of our trucks just tipped over about three weeks ago.
Really? Where was that at?
I think it was here in Nebraska actually.
Did all the cows die?
No, I think 32 died.[Driver gets into truck and shows me his log book.]
Here’s the log book. You know, like Santa Cruz to New Mexico. This is all wrong. It’s total bull—t. I cheat on here so much.
I’m sure everybody does though right.
Well, basically, but nothing like us [livestock transporters].
Saturday, July 30, 2005—Nebraska, 10:00 a.m.
Truck Driver Not Transporting Animals At Time of Interview
[COK] What’s the furthest you haul cattle?
Colorado to L.A. Colorado to New York.
How long does it take from Colorado to New York?
Ahh, … it depends on if you have one driver, two drivers and how much road you burn. [Laughing] It takes, uh, … by myself it takes me about … 52 hours.
New York City or … ?
Are there places in New York City that…
There’s a packing house in New York City just like in Los Angeles that take them right there on the hoof.
Beef to New York. We take pigs to L.A.
52 hours from Colorado to New York?
Well that’s kinda illegal. No, it ain’t no 52 hours, what … am I thinking? No, it’s only like 36 hours. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was thinking out and back.
So do you take breaks on the way out there?[Smiling] Occasionally.
Do you have to unload the cattle or anything, give them water or no?[Shaking head no] They stay, can stay on there for 60 … 60 hours.
For 60 hours they’re on there?[Inaudible]
They can last without water for that long?[Nodding] Oh yeah.
I thought it only takes 36?
Dude, I don’t know. I’d have to take a look at my logbook. My log book wouldn’t even be right because it’s… [Shaking head] This logbook is bull—t.
Do you ever lose any animals?
Saturday, July 30, 2005—Nebraska 7:25 p.m.
Truck Driving Transporting Pigs from Kansas City, Missouri to Modesto, California
[COK] Where are you taking these guys?
Where at in California?
How long is that going to take?
I’ll be there tomorrow this time probably?
It takes 24 hours to get there?
How long have you been going so far?
Oh, let’s see, I left about 11:00 this morning.
Have they been on this whole time?
Yeah. I’ll stop and sleep tonight… [inaudible]
Where do they go to?
Where did you pick these guys up?
Just east of Kansas City.
Just east of Kansas City, MO?
Yeah, probably 50 miles east.
So how many miles is that to Modesto?
Oh … 1600 miles from here probably. I’ve come just … [inaudible] … a little over 400. About that.
So that’s about 2000 miles?
Pretty close. [Nodding] Yeah, that’s correct, 2000 miles.
And they’re on the truck the whole time?
Do you pick these up from a farm or a livestock auction?
From this one guy. They are not from a market.
Do any of them die on the way?
Yeah, I have two dead ones right now. There’s one right here. [Pointing to a dead pig] You can just see him right here.
How often do you make this trip?
Oh, it depends. There’s a load that goes out of there every week. But I don’t haul it all.
Do you have to feed them also?
No, just keep them cool.
Is this your furthest route?
We haul a lot of dairy cattle out of Pennsylvania to California. And there’s some that come out clear up outta upstate New York.
So what do you do when you drop the pigs off? Do you bring back any other animals?
Yeah, I’ll get a load of feeder cattle and bring ’em back here to Nebraska. Nebraska and Colorado.
Do they handle it better than pigs?
Yeah, you just have to make sure that, see cattle, you gotta make sure they don’t lay down, well, they can lay down, but if the cattle get caught on their side, they’ll die. A lot of times when they lay down some of them will step over the top of them and they’ll get out flat… so you have to stop and check cattle once and a while.
Do you have to unload those at all while you’re going?
If you’re going far enough you do but I’ve never rested feeder cattle.
So how many did you say are on here?
I’ve got 383 … 283 of these on here.
Which I could have put a lot more on.