cow horizon

Investigator Notes

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 93o 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 81o 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.)