The transportation of calves isn’t just any ordinary transport

Marco Versmissen has been a truck driver for ten years. Not just a truck driver: he transports calves to and from veal farms for our daughtercompany Van Drie bv.

22-11-2019

Marco Versmissen has been a truck driver for ten years. Not just a truck driver: he transports calves to and from veal farms for our daughtercompany Van Drie bv. Marco would like to show you what this entails in practice. He’s gone to Germany to collect calves and take them to a farm in the Netherlands and we’ve followed him. 

Matchmaking for calf and veal farmer
When we arrive at the calf collection point, Marco is already there. The calves have been sorted by size and weight. This is done because calves are herd animals. When they’re put together in a group, there shouldn’t be too much difference between them. The calves have just been fed and are lying quietly in a thick bed of straw. It’s coffee time for the drivers, and we’re waiting for a phone call from the Netherlands. At Van Drie bv, colleagues are assessing which farm would be best suited to place the calves. Weight, breed and gender are very important to this decision. Veal farmers prefer to have uniform couples as this is more workable and conducive to the animals’ health. The phone rings; the drivers are given their routes. We get two addresses.

Health and safety first
Before we leave, Marco explains that he can’t simply load up and leave: “We have to wait for the state veterinary. They first need to check the animals’ health and paperwork and only then do we get an export certificate.” Despite the fact that Germany has a more extensive animal disease control programme than the Netherlands, calves cannot be imported just like that. “That’s right,” says Marco. “The veterinary doesn’t just check the animals’ health, but also whether their paperwork is in order. This ensures that the origin of the animals can always be traced and that none of the calves are from a region or dairy farm that has been blacklisted.” 

When the veterinary’s job is done and the paperwork has been verified, and the date, the calves, the transport and the registration number have been logged, the truck pulls up to be loaded. It is spotless. The floor is covered with a thick layer of straw and the calves walk onto the lorry without a hitch. In order to facilitate unloading at the two addresses, the calves for one are loaded onto the truck itself and those for the other onto the trailer. “We have to wait a moment for the driving-time registration,” says Marco. Here, again, it’s safety first. The calves take little notice. Most are already lying down in the straw. The compartments are climate controlled, so draughts and cold are well managed.  

As we leave, the first veal farmer is called so that he knows when we’ll arrive. This prevents unnecessary waiting and the veal farmer can prepare the stable so that the calves can be welcomed into a warm and illuminated shed. 

Transportation of calves not an ordinary transport
“The transportation of calves isn’t just any ordinary transport,” answers Marco when asked why he enjoys this work so much. “Doing this well takes a lot more than an HGV licence. I’ve been transporting calves since I was a boy. First with my dad and for the past ten years by myself. Apart from being a good driver, you also have to be good with animals and while you’re on the road, you have to be constantly aware of the fact that it’s animals you’re transporting.” 

The first kilometres take us along a provincial road towards the motorway. 25 minutes later we arrive at the Dutch border. “I prefer driving on the motorway to driving on small roads,” says Marco. “On provincial roads, you have to go a lot slower because of all the roundabouts and bends. We’re lucky to be driving in the evening. It’s a lot quieter now and that means less braking and accelerating. I sometimes take a brief detour on the motorway simply because it’s more comfortable for the calves.” 

Welfare through technology
In order to guarantee the welfare of the animals, not only are the compartments made comfortable for them, but Marco’s cabin is also equipped with all kinds of clever gadgets. “Look, this navigator calculates my distance to the vehicle ahead and automatically adjusts my speed. I don’t even need to apply the brakes; the truck anticipates by itself what’s ahead, like a traffic jam, for instance.” He points at a small box. “This is the climate control. If conditions become too hot or cold, I can adjust the ventilation to the needs of the calves.” We arrive at the first farm at precisely 21:30. The veal farmer and his family have been expecting the calves’ arrival. They quickly walk into their new shed. Despite there being a second address to go to, the now empty compartment is first completely hosed down. “This is very important,” says Marco, “but not always very enjoyable.” Especially late at night, or in wintertime when it’s cold and freezing, but it’s very important to hygiene.” 

When all the paperwork is done
We arrive at the second address after midnight; at 1 a.m. all the calves have been unloaded. Now, too, everything is thoroughly hosed down. It’s time to go home, but not before the last forms have been filled in. Like hygiene, welfare and safety, the paperwork is very important. Every kilometre and each animal can be traced. With his truck clean, Marco is ready for the next day. A day on which he’ll be doing what he likes doing most: being out on the road with his truck and calves.

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