Safe travels

Just about every cattle producer with a pickup truck also has a stock trailer to connect to it, but many don't give their trailer a lot of thought. They hitch it up when they have cattle to haul, and park it under a tree when they're finished.

During the recent Cattle Transportation Symposium in Fort Collins, Colo., University of Tennessee professor emeritus Clyde Lane, PhD, discussed the importance of proper maintenance and operation of stock trailers for minimizing stress on animals and drivers, protecting animal welfare, preventing economic losses and preserving the public image of beef production.

Lane notes that for many in the general public, their only exposure to livestock production occurs when they see animals being transported on public roadways. If they see cattle confined in a broken-down trailer on a hot day, or even worse, injured cattle resulting from a preventable accident, their perception of beef production is likely to become more negative. And from the producer's standpoint, no one wants the frustration of delays on the road or the economic losses associated with cattle shrink, sickness and potentially deaths.

During the symposium, Lane walked participants through a set of recommended procedures for stock-trailer transportation, including checking the truck, the trailer, the cattle and the emotional state of the driver. His suggestions include the following:

·         Know the weight limits and ratings of your truck and make sure the loaded trailer adheres to those limits. Lane says if you are in a wreck and the trailer exceeds the truck's limits, you could be legally liable even if the accident was not your fault.

·         Make sure your truck is in good condition, with plenty of tread on the tires, a sound trailer hitch and working electronics.

·         Communicate with your insurance carrier to confirm coverage on the trailer and the cattle you haul. Some companies, Lane says, will not cover the trailer if you are hauling cattle owned by someone else.

·         Be prepared for a breakdown by carrying the appropriate jack and tools for on-the-road repairs. Ideally, carry contact information for producers along your route who could transport and house the cattle in case of an extended delay.

·         Mount the trailer's spare wheel in an accessible location. On many goose-neck trailers, Lane says, the wheel is mounted inside the neck section. He recommends moving the wheel to an outside mount so you don't have to enter a trailer full of cattle to access it when needed.

·         Check the age of your spare tire (and other tires). The last four digits of the DOT number on the sidewall indicate the month and year the tire was manufactured. Even if it was never used, an old tire can be unsafe, and lane recommends replacing tires over seven years old regardless of wear.

·         Prior to transporting cattle, give the trailer a good safety inspection. Check the tires, flooring, gates and latches for damage. Have someone check to confirm all the lights are working properly. Once loaded, check the brakes before heading out on the highway.

·         Load cattle quietly and carefully to minimize stress. The closer the back of the trailer matches the floor or the loading ramp, the easier it will be to load. Lane says sometimes digging a narrow trench for the back wheels of the trailer can help align the trailer with the ramp for easy loading. Do not load any animals that are not fit for transport, including those that appear they could become a "downer" during the trip.

·         If you experience a breakdown that can't be fixed quickly, such as having two blown tires and only one spare, deal with the cattle first. Locate another trailer or portable panels so the cattle can be offloaded to temporary housing, then work on fixing the trailer.

·         Provide some shallow bedding in the trailer to improve footing for cattle, particularly on slick metal floors. Clean the trailer as needed to prevent corrosion, ensure cattle comfort and reduce trailer weight.

·         Finally, assess the emotional state of the driver, whether that is you or someone else, before hitting the road. A driver who is stressed, frustrated, angry or otherwise agitated is more likely to drive aggressively, with excessive acceleration, hard braking and too much speed through curves. Take time to calm yourself down, relax and drive in a manner that minimizes cattle stress and the risk of an accident.

For a video interview with Dr. Clyde Lane discussing stock-trailer transportation, see "Care for your stock trailer" from Drovers CattleNetwork.