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Blog February 2024 Updated April 2024

Livestock Transportation

Embracing technology for well-being and sustainability. Navigating between ethical responsibility, operational efficiency and environmental impact

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Jan Tønder

Intelligent Optimization Solution Advisor

How livestock impacts our world

The livestock sector plays a crucial role in global food systems, supporting 1.3 billion people worldwide and providing 40% of agricultural value¹. Estimates vary as to how much human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the industry is responsible for. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations revised their estimate from 14.5% down to 11.1%.2 Yet peer-reviewed studies put the figure as high as 19.6%.2 It’s impossible to come to any real consensus. It depends on the year a study was done, sources of emissions included, and other factors.²

One thing is for certain: Enhancing the effectiveness of livestock supply chains is essential for curbing the rise in GHG emissions.

Ethics, money, and reputation

Animal welfare is integral to sustainability. It encompasses ethical and social dimensions of responsible business practices. Ensuring the wellbeing of animals during transportation also reflects a commitment to wider societal concerns, namely sustainability.

The suffering of animals during transportation is frequently overlooked when calculating transportation expenses or pricing for animal-derived products. The expenses associated with livestock transportation, which are influenced by factors like the type of animal and travel distance, include labour, fuel, equipment, health checks, and tolls. Although a comprehensive database on transport costs in Europe is lacking, available evidence indicates that these costs typically represent a small fraction of the final retail meat price.³

For instance, when examining EU-produced poultry breast fillets sold in Germany, transport expenses amount to approximately two cents per kilogram, equating to less than 1% of the total meat price. The financial repercussions of animal welfare issues during transport are inadequately documented, which deters the development of incentive systems to encourage transport companies to address such challenges.³

In Ireland, the rejection of meat in slaughterhouses due to poor animal welfare practices can significantly impact producers' profit margins, reducing them by up to 43%.³

Nevertheless, in certain instances, non-compliance with regulations regarding the transport of unfit animals may yield financial advantages for producers. For example, the European Commission found that an operator had been fined €250 for transporting a bull with a broken leg. The approximate value of the slaughtered bull was €1500.3 This is why sanctions for substandard practices are frequently perceived as minor in comparison to the financial gains obtained from selling unfit animals.

Non-compliance, when perceived as a means to achieve financial gains despite potential fines, can significantly tarnish a company's reputation. Such actions often lead to negative public perception and backlash, as they reflect poorly on the company's ethics, values, and

commitment to animal welfare. Consumers, advocacy groups, and stakeholders will view the company as prioritising profit over the well-being of animals, potentially resulting in boycotts, protests, or damage to the brand's image.

In an era where social responsibility and ethical practices are highly valued, a company's reputation can be severely impacted by actions that prioritise financial gain over responsible and humane practices.

The challenges facing livestock transportation

Transporting livestock induces stress in animals during loading and unloading, and the journey itself. Issues arise such as hunger, thirst, heat, inadequate space, and rest deprivation, all of which impact the quality of the meat. Healthy cows, for example, also perform better when it comes to reproduction.

Animal welfare is influenced by factors including journey length, duration, and conditions like space availability, microclimate, road quality, and the behaviour of drivers. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) points out that the transportation of animals heightens the likelihood of transmitting antimicrobial-resistant bacteria among animals, attributed to multiple risk factors, including⁴:

● Animal contact

● Duration of transport

● Airborne transmission within the vehicle

● Adverse environmental conditions, such as temperature

To improve animal welfare in the EU, EFSA is calling for shortened journey times and increased space allowances for animals.⁴ The suggested regulations will mandate non-EU animal transporters to request authorisation for animal transportation. Competent authorities outside the EU must certify that the animal journey plans adhere to conditions at least as stringent as those outlined in the proposed Regulation.⁵

There are wider societal and environmental implications attached to this, namely, the need for more drivers and trucks. More trucks, more emissions.

Lower journey times will reduce transporters’ carbon footprint, but the higher space allowances will raise emissions. It’s not an exact balancing act, as overall, emissions will be slightly higher. Any gain in emissions, no matter how negligible, is headed in the wrong direction. Nothing is set in law yet – the proposal was only put forward in December 2023. But clearly, something has to be done to improve animal welfare while lowering emissions.

The impact of manual processes on your business

The transportation of livestock presents a multifaceted set of challenges, ranging from ensuring the humane treatment of animals to addressing environmental concerns and complying with evolving regulations. If your company relies on manual processes, you’re already falling behind in achieving sustainability.

Inefficient operations

Manual processes, such as paper-based record keeping and manual route planning, lead to inefficiencies. This includes longer turnaround times, increased paperwork, and higher labour costs, all of which put a dent in productivity.

Working manually also prevents real-time visibility into the status and location of livestock shipments. Transporters cannot effectively monitor and manage their fleet. This limitation creates inefficiencies in loading and unloading livestock, contributing to operational delays.

Inefficient manual processes typically contribute to higher fuel consumption and carbon emissions due to suboptimal route planning and longer transit times. And of course, more fuel and mileage mean higher operational costs.

Keep in mind, too, that manual data entry is susceptible to human errors. This leads to inaccuracies in documentation and record keeping, which have cascading effects on logistics, billing, and compliance reporting.

Compliance risks

Adhering to regulatory requirements is crucial in livestock transportation. Manual processes make it more challenging to ensure full compliance with various regulations related to animal welfare, health, and safety, which can result in legal and reputational risks.

Data accuracy

Manual route planning often relies on outdated maps and limited data sources, making it difficult to optimise routes for efficiency and animal welfare. This can result in longer travel times, which means higher emissions, while putting unnecessary stress on animals.

Limited reporting and analytics

Manual processes slow the collection and analysis of data necessary for performance evaluation and decision making. This lack of insights impedes efforts to improve operations and meet sustainability goals.

Competitive disadvantage

Livestock transporters relying on manual processes face a competitive disadvantage compared to competitors who embrace digital solutions for efficiency, compliance, and sustainability. Technologies make transporters more efficient, which can translate to more competitive pricing that a company operating manually can’t afford to offer.

Adaptation to market changes

The livestock transportation industry is evolving, with changing regulations and market demands. To react and pivot, when necessary, companies need agility, which spreadsheets and paper processes simply don’t allow.

How technologies improve animal welfare and sustainability

To address these challenges, many livestock transporters are transitioning to digital solutions. Already across the EU, 77% of transport trucks are equipped with a tracking system.⁴ Across Europe and the UK, 71% use GPS tracking.⁶

Those companies won’t have to make big investments if the European Commission’s proposals succeed. Their report, mentioned earlier, suggested that the use of IT systems or specialised software to monitor vehicle routes, travel durations, and other relevant parameters in animal transportation could enhance surveillance. The idea is that all data concerning the transport of animals would go into either a centralised EU or national-level database. This would enable digitising certificates and authorisations, conducting automated document checks, and providing real-time access to journey data.⁴

The purpose: ensure compliance with animal welfare legislation. While not included in the proposal, this could also have far-reaching consequences for measuring sustainability efforts. Whether or not this big-brother approach comes to fruition is up for debate.

The point is digitalisation is here and recognised by the European Commission as improving animal welfare. And those same technologies not only lower your company’s carbon footprint, but also your operating expenses. Some examples of cloud-based software include

Route optimisation

Provides the most efficient routes possible, incorporating regulations pertaining to the duration that animals can travel. Some route planners can also measure vehicle emissions. The environmental reductions you can expect:

● Up to 25%: Vehicles needed

● Up to 25%: Number of driver shifts

● Up to 30%: Mileage

● Up to 30%: Driving time

● Up to 30% CO2 emissions

Optimising routes is essential for the animals’ welfare. By minimising their travel time, your company alleviates their stress.

Fleet planner

A fleet planner designed specifically for livestock transportation offers real-time data and monitoring capabilities. Respond quickly to transportation delays or issues and collaborate with supply chain stakeholders for efficient operations. A good fleet planner refreshes planning schedules with the latest available information, including real-time updates on collections and deliveries. This agility allows for route adjustments to accommodate sudden changes, order insertions, or delays, effectively preventing unnecessary detours or trips that contribute to empty miles.

The system minimises resource consumption by preventing inefficiencies in the supply chain, resulting in reduced fuel and energy usage, while shortening the time animals spend in transit.

The added benefit: It can reduce your transport expenses by up to 25%.

Apps for drivers

Drivers can use a browser-based tablet or phone for animal traceability, documenting pick-ups, unloads, and capturing photos of the animals’ condition. It also provides regulatory transparency, with features like signature capture and document storage. In case of delays or issues, drivers can notify planners for schedule adjustments and receive immediate updates from the back office. Linked to your fleet planner, this is working efficiently.


These devices collect and transmit vehicle data like location, speed, and fuel use, aiding fleet managers in enhancing sustainability. They offer insights into driver behaviour such as harsh braking or acceleration, so that fleet managers can take corrective action.

Telematics systems enhance fuel efficiency by minimising idling, support resource conservation and efficient fleet operations.

Fleet Maintenance

Fleet maintenance software streamlines asset and workforce management in real time. It ensures efficient preventive maintenance, keeping assets in good working order for longer, preventing breakdowns and the stress that creates in animals. Good fleet maintenance software can deliver these reductions:

Up to 10%: Fuel costs

Up to 10%: Labour costs

Up to 30%: Parts & inventory costs


¹Moving Towards Sustainability: The Livestock Sector and the World Bank, 18 October 2021

²Livestock Don’t Contribute 14.5% of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions, The Breakthrough Institute, 20 March 2023

³Transport of Live Animals in the EU: Challenges and Opportunities, European Court of Auditors, 2023

Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the protection of animals during transport and related operations, amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1255/97 and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005, European Commission, 23 December 2023

Agrinfo, Animal welfare during transport, 12 January 2024

2023 Fleet Technology Trends Report, Verizon Connect, 2022

Get the Whitepaper

If you’d like to know more on the current challenges and trends in Livestock transportation and the benefits of a sustainable approach, download our Whitepaper, Sustainability in Transport: Navigating Emerging Trends in Sustainability and their Economic and Environmental Benefits. The insights you learn can help you develop your own sustainability strategy. Download the Whitepaper here.

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