Dickinson Cattle Co.
Ranch e News #90 - Cattle Transport Safety/Comfort
by Darol Dickinson
Buyers at a registered cattle sale have a lot of transport choices. With each breed of cattle a few dozen "cattle haulers" offer their services to the new buyers. Their trailers are eagerly sleeping in the parking lot, waiting for the next paying trip. Good equipment, maintenance, safety and an alert driver are essential. There are many who can dig into this problem deeper than me, but I will toss out some considerations that may help make decisions so that valuable cattle arrive with safety and less stress.
The long-haul is stressing. It may require rest stops. A short trip to a slaughter plant might not need the same precautions. Some drivers are more thoughful than others. Use this checklist, to help determine the good prepared transporters.
1) Tires. A quick glance at the tire wear on trucks and trailers will help "read" the management of this unit. If the tires, or a few tires are worn nearly to the air, this may be a hauler who operates on a shoe-string and skimps in many other important ways.
2) Width. When hauling Texas Longhorns a trailer 8' wide is desirable. An 8.5' is even better; this is the most width the law allows. For safety of the widest horns, the widest trailer is best. Trailers 6' and 7' wide don't cut it for mature high value Texas Longhorn cattle.
3) The Ride. This is harder. Many of the best trailers in the last 30 years have the Henschen torsion ride axles. These are far better than the ancient slipper spring, shackle bolt designs. The torsion ride concept is brilliant and is virtually maintenance free for a million miles. However, even this great trailer improvement will wear down and the pleasant comfortable ride will become like no springs at all on the second million miles. With slipper springs they are a continuous repair. They are cheap and require lots of "watching." Everything needs repaired.
4) Air Flow. In the south a lot of air flow is essential for traveling in hot weather. In the north cold air makes a chill factor that stresses cattle in a serious way. While the driver is tooling along in a warm cab, the 20 degree temperature outside, combined with a 70 mph wind movement creates a 10 to 20 degree below zero chill factor. This stress is likely to cause off-load cattle to become sick in a couple of days.
5) Exaust Fumes. Most trailers are built by professional welders, not professional cattle haulers. As a result the welder is not responsible for cattle stress. I have seen trailers with open front drops where the fuel exhaust blows right on the cattle causing them to breathe carbon monoxide the whole trip. The front of every trailer should be solid, the tops and at least half way up the sides. Air vents on solid roofs can be designed to open or close, letting air in from the top or upper sides forcing the poison fumes to flow below the trailer, and clean air on the cattle
6) Vertical Parallels - There should be no vertical parallel structures in a trailer. Cattle move horizontal. When there are vertical parallels it is a serious trap for horn breaking and even broken legs. Punch sides or vertical bars are a no - no.
7) Divide gates should be 10" or more off the floor. When cattle lay down it is important that enough room is there to move legs under and back out from under gates. Low gates are a leg trap. Unless you are a pig hauler, have high divide gates. If a divide gate is 2 to 4" off the floor it limits the bedding thickness, or the gate won't open.
8) Floors. One peak into a hauler's trailer will tell you something. How deep is the manure? What is the floor made of? How is the floor bedded before your valuable cattle are loaded?
A re-bar grid for floor traction can become the most painful bed any critter could ever have unless there is proper bedding on top of it.
Old style trailers had pine board floors, some were replaced by oak boards. Boards can become very slick when gobsmacked with fecal material. To eliminate cattle falling around, people with the old type trailers add hog panels or re-bar to the floor for traction. This helps, but if long hauls exhaust cattle so they lay on the floor, the re-bar and traction efforts become the most painful bed any critter could ever have. How would the driver like to sleep on a bouncy bed of re-bar? Cattle lay on their legs, hocks, ankles and knees - those are bones. That is serious inhumane torture. If valuable cattle will be laying down, a good layer of hay or shavings should cover the traction design with several inches of bedding cushion.
9) Security - Make sure the driver has a heavy chain and lock, not just on the trailer door latches, but completely around the door and trailer corner. There are idiots on the roads who would open trailer gates and release cattle just for fun. Every wise transporter has a few chains and locks and makes sure two legged varmints don't mess with the valuable pay load.
10) Ride - The real test. While selecting a quality transporter for your newly purchased cattle this probably won't work. However, the real test of a trailer is to ride in it yourself and see how it feels. If you are tired and exhausted just standing in a trailer for an hour or so, that is a clue that changes need to be made in behalf of the cattle. Make them.