Effect of source and journey on physiological variables in calves transported by road and ferry between Ireland and the Netherlands

Luca L. van Dijk*, Susanne Siegmann, Niamh L. Field, Katie Sugrue, Cornelis G. van Reenen, Eddie A.M. Bokkers, Gearoid Sayers*, Muireann Conneely

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study aimed to establish baseline variables for calves transported by road and ferry from Ireland to the Netherlands and to investigate the effect of journey [two comparable journeys in April (J1) and May (J2) 2022] and source [source farm or mart (SF/MA)] on these variables. A total of 66 calves from the SF/MA were transported from Ireland to commercial veal farms in the Netherlands. Blood samples were collected at the SF/MA, assembly center (Ireland), lairage (France), and on arrival on the veal farm (Netherlands). They were analyzed for indicator variables related to energy balance, hydration/electrolytes, physical/muscular stress, immunity, and inflammation [glucose, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), potassium, sodium, magnesium, chloride, urea, haematocrit, total protein, creatine kinase, L-lactate, cortisol, white blood cell, neutrophil, lymphocyte and monocyte counts, serum amyloid-A, and haptoglobin]. Health variables eye and nose discharge, skin tent (a measure of dehydration), and navel inflammation were scored by a trained observer, and calves were weighed at every blood-sampling time point. All blood variables and body weight changed significantly (P < 0.05) during transport, most notably between the assembly center and lairage. Reference ranges were available for 18 variables; 11 of these variables exceeded the reference ranges at the lairage, whilst 10 variables exceeded the reference ranges on arrival at the veal farm. However, health variables did not change during transport. A journey-to-journey comparison indicated much variation; 18 out of 25 variables differed significantly on at least one time point. In total, J1 calves experienced a more severe change in BHB, potassium, strong-ion-difference, L-lactate, and eye and nose discharge than J2 calves. The source of calves also affected their physiology; 12 out of 25 variables studied differed significantly, all of which were confined to the first time point. Specifically, MA calves had elevated levels of NEFA, urea, haematocrit, L-lactate, cortisol, white blood cell, neutrophil, and monocyte counts and lower levels of corrected chloride and lymphocyte count. Overall, calves in this study showed a generalized physiological disturbance beyond reference limits during long-distance transport, but no animal died during transport or for 3 weeks post-arrival.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1238734
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • calf
  • fasting
  • health
  • livestock export
  • long-distance transport
  • stress
  • welfare


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