Exporting live animals easier, thanks to the Rickenbacker Airport

Cow transport at Columbus airport

SALEM, Ohio — There is a 1,500-pound cow in your barn and it needs to get to Thailand. There is no bridge that will take you there by land.

That leaves two options: airplane or ship. For some, the choice is about the animal’s comfort. The other choice is often related to cost.

Worldwide travel

The one thing common for all producers is that it’s about getting U.S. bred animals — horses, cattle, goats, hogs and sheep with the best genetics — to where they need to go in the world. The Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus recently became one of the few U.S. airports designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an approved port for the embarkation of animals in 2014.

First shipment

In March, 176 pregnant dairy cows were shipped to Thailand from the airport, in partnership with TLT Silver Tiger Logistics, during the first shipment of livestock out of the airport. The airport shipped 20 Pygmy goats to Kuwait in June.

“This is a good way for breeders to build their herds overseas,” said Bryan Schreiber, business development manager for air cargo out of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.

Quick travel

Schreiber admits it is cheaper to transport animals by cargo ship, but it can often take a month and is often not the best solution for the animal. He said that an airplane can have an animal anywhere in the world in 48 hours, even with fuel fill-ups.

“It’s all about comfort and speed and keeping the animals happy,” said Schreiber.

Schreiber said Larry Baker, manager of livestock operations for TLT Silver Tiger Logistics, approached the airport about becoming designated for livestock shipments for a couple of reasons. One was because other airports being used were too big, and the end result was that it was too hard on the animals because of the time that it took to load them. Another reason was that sometimes the flights were scheduled but delayed heavily trying to get in the air or they were canceled.

Schreiber said the USDA designation at Rickenbacker International Airport is an opportunity for new business partnerships so that the airport can become an integral part of the livestock supply chain. The airport’s location makes it a good fit. Columbus is a one-day drive of nearly 50 percent of the U.S. and 30 percent of Canada’s populations.

“The world wants our animals whether it’s through semen and embryos or live animals,” said Schreiber.

International travel

The Columbus airport can fly to Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Germany and Dubai. It is an international airport and has flights going to three continents. Schreiber said the airport worked with the customs and the USDA office closely to ensure the airport met the necessary standards and that the animals are handled humanely.


The airport uses two farms for quarantine before the animals are brought to the airport. The facilities are located within an hour of the airport. One is used for hogs, sheep, goats and cattle. The other is used for horses. The USDA can then evaluate the animals at the quarantine farms for their final exam before they are transported to the airport.

The animals are then transported by freighter aircraft that can carry up to 100 metric tons or 220,000 pounds. The exact weight that can be hauled depends on the aircraft being used for the trip.

Airplane setup

The aircraft has interior stations that can be reconfigured, depending on the animal species and how much room is needed to transport the herds.

There are no stalls. Instead, 10 by 12 footprints are laid out in the aircraft where rows are created with flat sheets on the bottom of the aircraft. The special transports pens offer cattle, or any animal, plenty of room to stand up and lay down during the flight. Schreiber said the pens are built by airport employees to the animals’ needs, depending on the species.

“The most important thing is to make sure animals are safe and comfortable,” said Schreiber. He said the airport works to ensure the stress on the animals is minimal.

“It’s all about reducing stress and having happier animals,” said Schreiber.

Exporting more

Schreiber said the United States is a bigger exporter now than in the past due in part to initiatives being issued by the Obama administration. He said the farmers who gained the dairy cattle were happy with how the cattle arrived in Thailand.

“They were very happy with the herd and it may mean more business in the future,” said Schreiber.

Ocean access

Since Pennsylvania is closer to the ocean, more farmers are using the ports available on the East Coast, since it is cheaper and they have easier access. The Pennsylvania Holstein Association has been shipping Holstein cattle by boat for the past 10 years, according to Ken Raney, Pennsylvania Holstein Association executive director.

Raney said the organization had used airplanes to move the cattle, but found the cost per head was too expensive. He said the association found it could put more cattle on a boat, which cuts the cost per head. He added that the contrast is significant. He said the organization was putting between 150-180 head of Holstein cattle on an airplane. Now, they can put any where from 1,200 to 2,500 on a boat.

“It gives you more bang for your buck,” said Raney.

Raney said the association owns a quarantine farm outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which is only about 90 miles to Delaware. Then the cattle can be loaded onto a ship in the Port of Wilmington and sent to the ocean on their way to their final destination.

Exports slowing

Raney said exporting cattle has slowed in the past 12-18 months. At one point, the association was handling 22,000 head of cattle a year. Recently, they have been handling only about 5,000 a year. However, he does see the exporting business picking up and is excited, not only about the shipping opportunities available, but what the Columbus airport can mean to producers in the Midwest.

“It’s always good to have options.”

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.