Transportation Fiasco Looming for Long Distance Cattle Hauls

Transporting cattle could become much more difficult if a set of congressionally mandated trucking rules go into effect before the end of the year. The regulations have the potential to cause devastating disruptions in how cattle are hauled, creating unintended biosecurity hazards and animal welfare issues.

On Dec. 18, 2017, the federal Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin for commercial motor vehicles. ELDs are a record keeping device synchronized to a truck engine that logs information digitally. In real-time an ELD records data such as time spent on the road, miles driven, location and engine hours.

Use of ELDs is being enforced by DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) through a mandate called MAP-21 which was signed into law on July 6, 2012. The regulations were supposed to create safer driving conditions and help eliminate the need for paper logs. Unfortunately, lawmakers didn’t consider what the changes might mean for livestock haulers.

Impact on Trucking and Producers

Steve Hilker, owner of Steve Hilker Trucking Inc., in Cimarron, Kan., could see what it would mean for his business when the regulations were first being established. The voluntary introductory phase for ELDs began Dec. 16, 2015.

“This is going to be a disaster for livestock transportation for anything over 500 miles,” Hilker says.

He isn’t opposed to using electronic logging, it is the hours of service limitations that come with the regulation that he disagrees with.

Under the ELD rule, truckers have an hours of service limit of 11 hours of driving in a 24 hour period. Drivers can be on-duty a total of 14 hours consecutively, including the 11 hours of drive time. After 11 hours are reached, drivers must rest and be off -duty for 10 consecutive hours.

“There has never been any consideration for a living, breathing cargo,” Hilker says.

For long hauls, such as bringing calves from Florida or California to the cattle feeding region in the High Plains, it could be detrimental.

Individual drivers have two options after driving 11 hours, Hilker says. Either they park the truck and trailer or they unload the cattle. In both situations they would need to wait the required 10 hours before getting back on the road.

A study from Canada showed spending more time in a trailer causes additional shrink for cattle. From 10 to 20 hours in a trailer, cattle will lose 6% to 7.5% in body fluid. At 24 to 28 hours, cattle will start to lose tissue, setting their performance back before reaching a final destination.

Unloading cattle at facilities midway along a long haul has the possibility to cross contaminate with other cattle. This poses a major health risk for the animals and a biosecurity risk to the food supply.

Hilker believes price discounts for long-transported cattle might occur in certain areas of the country and the costs of the transportation regulation will likely be passed onto consumers buying beef.

“What will happen for the producer who is hauling here (the High Plains’ cattle feeding region) from Wyoming, Montana, Florida, Georgia, anywhere over 11 hours? They’re going to get paid less for their calves,” Hilker says. “The trucker is going to pass the cost on, we can’t absorb it.”

Another option would be to drive in shifts with an extra driver, but this will add additional costs and require more employees. There is already a shortage of truck drivers. In Hilker’s case, he has three trucks that are not running because there is a lack of available drivers.

Exemptions Exist

Agriculture exemptions do exist, but those exemptions literally don’t go far enough.

If an agriculture driver stays within 150 miles of the origin of their load the hours of service rule does not apply. A driver can go outside of that 150 mile radius eight days out of a rolling 30 day period.

Hilker plans to run his 16 livestock rigs without ELDs and stick to hauling cattle in his immediate area. A lot of local cattle transport occurs in his area, as he is situated between major packing plants in Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal, Kan., several feedlots near those towns and two large sale barns at Dodge City and Pratt, Kan.

“Because of where I’m at geographically I think I can make that work for my business. It is going to require more management on my part,” Hilker adds.

Paper logs are still required under the exemption and Hilker will need to monitor distances traveled to stay in the 150-mile limit.

Without an ELD attached to the trucks and operating under the MAP- 21 agriculture exemption, Hilker is losing a portion of his business that helped build the company. Starting out more than 30 years ago he often hauled cattle long distance from areas like the Northern Plains, Southeast and West into the surrounding cattle feeding region.

Another truck owned by Hilker is used for grain hauling in the local area so it will fall under the agriculture exemption, too. The 18th truck in his fleet is utilized for fuel hauling and will be the only vehicle equipped with an ELD.

Running an ELD can be costly depending on the type of unit purchased. Prices range from $285 to $1,000 per unit with an additional monthly service fee of $30 to $50.

“The thing about the ELD is none of them have been certified by the FMCSA. They allow the ELD manufactures to self-certify that they are compliant,” Hilker says.

Another reason Hilker doesn’t plan to install ELDs in his livestock hauling fleet is because none of the units he has looked at are also compatible with the MAP-21 agriculture exemption, which would be the majority of his hauls.

Waiting on Capitol Hill

Industry associations and government leaders have proposed changes to MAP-21.

Hilker, in addition to running a trucking company and feeding his own cattle at local feedlots, has also been active in Washington, D.C., the past few years. Serving as the transportation committee chair for the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), Hilker has talked with his members of Congress about ELDs and their impact on livestock transport. He encourages others to contact their senators and representatives on this issue.

USCA is part of a broad coalition of 31 industry groups including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Agricultural Retailers Association, National Hay Association and National Corn Growers Association. Those organizations are supporting legislation that would delay ELD implementation for two years. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, introduced H.R.3282, the ELD Extension Act of 2017 and is currently in committee.

The House did pass an appropriations bill that included a one-year delay for livestock and insect haulers.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) also support extending the time to implement the regulation and adjusting the hours of service.

“The intent of the language in the House appropriations bill is to give livestock haulers a one-year delay to continue our ongoing conversations with FMCSA,” explains Allison Cooke, NCBA executive director of government affairs.

That language will need to be maintained when the House and Senate go to conference on their appropriations packages. Cooke says the current Senate package does not include any language pertaining to ELDs and livestock hauling. Another concern is getting the bill passed before the Dec. 18 start date for the ELD rule.

Pumping the brakes on the ELD rule would help ensure livestock haulers remain in compliance, says Jara Settles, general counsel at LMA.

“Livestock haulers haven’t been the beneficiaries of adequate outreach to bring them up to speed,” Settles says.

An extra year would give industry groups and livestock haulers more time to better communicate to lawmakers the need for more flexible hours of service is a necessity.

“We need some kind of reasonable flexibility for our drivers so they can travel in a safe manner while still being respectful of animal welfare concerns,” Settles says.

One other option is to add scheduling flexibility or what is known as a “split sleeper berth.” This allows a driver to split up their rest time into smaller chunks rather than using it all in one block.

“There is quite a bit of research that demonstrates drivers can split up their rest time in a more natural way. Very few of us go and sleep 10 hours straight. We can be more productive if we split up rest time throughout the day,” Settles says.

Thus far, FMCSA has continued to stay with mandated 10 hours of consecutive rest. LMA and USCA both support a split sleeper berth revision to the rule.

If the route through Congress doesn’t work, there is hope from a recent petition filing. On Oct. 31, the National Pork Producers Council filed a petition to the Federal Register asking the DOT to exempt livestock haulers. It was supported by NCBA, LMA and USCA.

The petition will be opened up for a 30 day comment period. Cooke says NCBA plans to have members comment on the topic of hours of service, particularly those who haul cattle. “We’re going to focus on the fact that our safety record in livestock hauling is strong,” she says.

If the petition route is successful, DOT could grant up to a five-year exemption for livestock haulers to integrate ELDs.

“The bottomline is we have live animals that we have to get from point A to point B. We have to do it safely for those on the road and the driver, and we have to be concerned with the welfare of the animals,” Cooke says.