Dairy producers may not transport cattle as often as beef producers, but knowing how to handle cattle and being prepared for difficult situations is knowledge every dairyman should have. “We are motivated to develop procedures that help us throughout the chain,” says Jeff Johnson, president of Out West Trucking.
The driver is one of the biggest components. “Getting qualified drivers is key. Before we put them on the road with fat cattle hauls, we have them work locally until we feel comfortable with them getting on the road,” says Johnson.
Experienced drivers have fewer problems, and when there is a problem, they are better equipped to handle it. “We make sure all of our drivers know how to chain up on mountain passes. Our drivers are paid by the mile, so we make sure they are paid for that procedure as well so they are incentivized to do that,” he explains.
Communication is another important component. “Our dispatch office is running road reports all day long. Communication with the plant is important. If we are going to have a big weather event, we stay in touch so we can cancel loads if needed,” Johnson says.
He continues, “It enables us to avoid most situations over the year. Our drivers know their route. We have strategic locations along the route that we can get off and unload in extreme weather conditions. We have strong relationships with sale yards to get off the road and get them shelter or other help.”
Making sure the truck is ready for transportation can make a big difference for the cattle. Sanitation of the truck can help to stop the spread of disease and make cattle more comfortable.
“We don’t do anything more than routine maintenance of the truck and trailer. We ask guys to wash out every load, but sometimes when it’s frozen in the winter it’s not possible. We do have wash-out facilities on the routes that we haul,” Johnson says.
Bedding the trucks is also important for livestock comfort. “We bed all the trucks for long-distance hauls. It costs about $50 to bed the truck, and the livestock owner pays for that,” he explains.
The time of year plays a critical role in how cattle are handled, for two main seasons: fall/winter and spring/fall. “The key thing is common sense; during those time periods we make sure we load them midday so we are not going over mountain passes late at night. We don’t want to get stranded,” states Johnson.
Johnson also explains how cattle moved from different climates should be treated differently, such as providing slates to cover some of the holes on the side of the trailer in colder climates and the ability to remove those slates when in warmer climates.
The summer shipping procedures are a little different. “With our summer shipping procedures, our goal is to keep the cattle as comfortable as we can before they ship, while being loaded, while being transported and once they get to the plant,” Johnson says.
Their load-out time is 3 a.m., which keeps cattle out of the heat of the day. They move cattle to be shipped out the day before to pens that are close to reduce stress on cattle the day of loading.
“Usually we do that in the morning before the day they are hauled, and that way we can get them fed. What we want to do is get them acclimated, which makes for less stress on the cattle,” he says.
Physically loading cattle can play a big part in how they haul. “We ask our drivers to inspect the cattle before they load them, but ultimately, if there is an animal that dies on the truck, the driver is responsible for it. Once you cross that line, then everyone is pretty serious about it,” Johnson explains.
He continues, “If you have an animal go down, we try to get them up with the least amount of stress possible. We don’t want a driver on the side of the interstate with a hotshot trying to get a calf up.”
Even the best preparation does not always prevent an accident. Every driver carries written procedures from the Department of Transportation and insurance information.
These procedures are followed by every driver. “Assuming the driver is not injured, one of the first things is to see if anything has gotten out of the truck. When you have a situation, we need to notify local authorities and also notify them that there is a potential for an accident if there are livestock out,” Johnson says.
He adds, “Our people in the back office will start calling local people to get on-site to unload and transport the cattle. Before any are released, you have to realize you are not in control; the local authorities are.”
Transportation is important to both dairy and beef producers, and knowing what to do to prevent problems is the best information a dairyman can have. PD
Robyn Scherer is a freelance writer based in Colorado.