NEW ORLEANS, La. — The public is casting its eyes on how livestock are moved and one of the key aspects is maintaining trucks and trailers to prevent potential accidents.
It is stressful for livestock when the trailer breaks down at the side of the road and too often first responders do not know what to do when an emergency happens, said Ron Gill, livestock handling specialist with Texas Agrilife extension.
“There are a lot of reasons to do this and we never think about the important aspects of transportation, particularly on the stock trailer side of it, until we are in crisis mode. We need to figure out how we can limit the number of incidents,” he said during a stockmanship clinic held at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The stress of rough transportation can affect meat quality with dark cutters, blood splashes and bruises. It may also impact the immune system of the calf.
“It is critical to the industry that we get this right,” he said.
For big jobs, it is better to hire a professional hauler but for smaller trips, Gill offered some tips to ensure animals arrive at their destination safe and sound.
Regular maintenance is required. If driving a semi, pre-inspection is mandatory. However, inspection is often ignored by producers when using smaller stock trailers.
“People don’t know the brakes don’t work until they are loaded with cattle. We hope to God we don’t hit anybody,” he said.
The truck needs to be big enough to pull the trailer with the proper hitches.
If using a half-ton truck, make sure there is a goose neck hitch.
Make sure hitch components are latched correctly and consider using latch safety chains. A break-away chain system to automatically stop is needed.
“Many people in agriculture don’t have that hooked up,” he said.
The structural integrity of the trailer must be checked.
The floor must be stable and stay under the cattle. Make sure it is not rotting and is well braced so it can bend.
“If the sides start to rust out it could have a buckle point,” he said.
Use nonslip flooring and if an animal goes down it needs room to rise again.
“If they get to stepping on each other’s feet, that causes stress,” said Gill.
Make sure tires are appropriate for the size of the load, because they may not be big enough for the weight.
“We overload our trailers based on the rating of the tires we have on the trailer. The trailer may have enough springs and the right axle but our tires are not big enough,” he said.
Lug nuts should be checked. If there is fresh rust around the nut that means it is getting loose or something else is wrong.
“Grease the wheel bearings annually, but probably nobody does,” he said.
Axles and springs under the trailer need to be checked.
“Most of us don’t look under the trailer until something breaks,” he said.
Shackle bolts are the pivot point that carries all the weight of the trailer. The centre shackle bolt supports the trailer.
When putting cattle on the trailer, latch the gate quickly. Most have a slam latch so it closes immediately. If the gates don’t latch easily or stay closed it could be dangerous. The gate can be tied with a rope as a secondary means of security. Be careful when tying a gate with a chain because if there is an accident, a person may not be able to loosen or cut the chain.
Cattle that load and stand quietly rather than fight for position are less likely to get hurt or damage the trailer.
Don’t load different weight classes or sexes in the same compartment.
“People will put at least one more animal on a trailer than they should. That creates stress because they are constantly pushing on one another and animals don’t have room to adjust themselves on the trailer,” he said.
If possible, load cattle with an alley or from a chute but the closer it is to ground level the better. Cattle are not jumpers. There should not be a gap between the trailer and chute when they are loading because a leg could fall through and get broken.
When loading, let the animals figure out how to move smoothly rather than using a prod to push them.
Consider weather conditions. Animals can suffer from cold or heat stress and this causes weight loss or shrink.
Don’t load too tight if the weather is hot. Body heat will build up and if there is no air flow, problems develop.
This could also create drag on the truck and that affects fuel efficiency.
“If you have got good stockmanship, your trailer is safe and you can get them loaded and transported to market very easily, that is where the money starts,” Gill said.