by: Carole Hicks
UGA Ext. Animal Scientist Beef Cattle

Long gone are the days of the traditional cattle drive. Cowboys on horseback would round up cattle and drive the cattle hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to railheads and stockyards. Cattle drives had to strike a balance between speed and the weight of the cattle. While cattle could be driven as far as 25 miles in a single day, they would lose so much weight that they would be hard to sell when they reached the end of the trail. The modern cattle "drive" takes on a little different mode of transportation. Hauling cattle using a stock trailer is an integral part of most operations. One of the most important but often neglected tools in transporting cattle is the stock trailer. Trailers should be kept in good condition and repairs made when needed.

Trailer tires should be routinely checked for proper air pressure and tread wear, and should be free of dry rot. One way to check the age of tires is to read the DOT serial number on the face of the tire. For example, a DOT serial number of 0406 means the tire was manufactured in the fourth week of the year 2006. Tires with five or more years of age should be looked at for replacement. When replacing tires, make sure the replacements are of the same size and load capacity as the old tire. Look for the size marking on the side of the old tire. It should have the letters ST or other indication that it is for trailer use only. Never use passenger car or light truck tires on a trailer. Don't forget the spare. Spare tires should receive the same maintenance protocols.

Bearing and axles should be maintained and greased according to manufacturer recommendations. A jack capable of lifting not only the trailer but also the load it carries, along with a block, should be kept accessible. One popular place to store the spare tire and jack is in the nose of a goose-neck trailer. However, if needed when the trailer is loaded, these necessary items would be very difficult and potentially dangerous to get to.

Trailer lights and wiring should be inspected to ensure that they are properly functioning prior to hauling cattle. Brakes should be in good working order. The floor of the trailer should be inspected and repaired or replaced as needed. The useful life of a wooden trailer floor is probably less than 10 years. If the trailer is not cleaned out on a regular basis, the life expectancy is potentially less. Any trailer used to haul livestock should have a non-slip floor. Options for flooring include wire cattle panels or rubber matting. If wire panels are used, make sure that the panels are securely held down. It is often helpful to bed aluminum trailer floors to help prevent slipping. Trailer floors should be cleaned routinely to assist with biosecurity and help prevent the spread of disease.

Trailers should not be overloaded. Check the truck's manual to ensure that it can handle the load to be pulled safely. Proper load densities should be used to ensure that there is adequate floor space per head to minimize stress, bruising, injury and possible death loss. Cattle should have sufficient room to stand with little risk of being forced down because of overcrowding. When the trailer is not full, safely partition cattle into smaller areas using the trailer's dividing gates to provide stability for the cattle and the vehicle. Trailer doors and internal gates should be sufficiently wide to permit cattle to pass through easily without bruising or injury. Take care when opening and closing gates. If cattle are overloaded, there can be a great deal of tension on the gates, causing them to spring forward when unlatched. Much like when traveling by airplane and the stewardess warns before opening overhead bins, "contents may have shifted during transport," you must be cautious when opening gates on loaded trailers.

When loading cattle onto the trailer, care should be taken to move the cattle slowly and quietly. Low-stress handling techniques should always be utilized when moving, loading and unloading livestock. This will help prevent the animals from getting too excited and lessen the chance of injuries and the degree of shrink. Watch the height of the back of the trailer. If the step up is too high, cattle will balk. Consider backing the trailer onto a slope or using a ramp. Sort cattle into groups based on size, sex and horns. Load different groups into different compartments. Load heavier cattle toward the front of the trailer. Bulls that have not been together should be loaded into separate compartments. Likewise, cattle purchased from separate sources or from different groups should be separated to prevent them from trying to establish a new social order while on the trailer. Evaluate if animals are physically fit enough to be hauled before loading on the trailer.

It is essential to handle cattle carefully when transporting in order to not jeopardize the quality of our products. There is an economic incentive to properly transporting animals. An estimated one-third of all bruises occur on the farm. The other two-thirds usually occur during transport and marketing. Bruised and injured cattle will sell for less and have a greater degree of trim loss. Making sure the stock trailer is in good working order before transporting cattle can help avoid a potential disaster or dangerous situation. Taking care to follow these recommended transportation practices can make your next cattle "drive" safe and profitable.

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