The first feedlot cattle trailers were designed in the 1960s with a tandem truck and box, and since that time, trailers have become more sophisticated, including going from one deck to two, adding gates within the trailer and increasing the weight a trailer can haul.

Scherer robyn
Freelance Writer
Robyn Scherer-Carlson is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

“The modern pot trailer has a drop center, which lowers the center of gravity and helps to prevent rollovers,” says Loren Fruhwirth, livestock division manager for Merritt Equipment Co.

Loren Fruhwirth

“They now have a doghouse in the back that can lay down, ramps for going to different areas and gates for keeping the load even. The trailers now are more versatile and can do numerous tasks.”

There are many different trailer styles today. In Texas, a fat pot, which is used only to haul fat cattle, may have a full cargo door on the back that can create a fully opening back door.

The deck runs straight across on the top deck, and these trailers are quick to load and unload. However, they can be tough on drivers if not gated correctly, causing the load to surge, according to Fruhwirth. These trailers also require a special unloading dock at the plant and have a poor resale value.


The Midwestern fat/feeder pot is also straight across the top deck to the front and has a doghouse in the back. They are rampless to the top deck and have a better resale value because they are more versatile. Like the fat pot, though, proper gating is important to keep the load even.

Some of these trailers can haul nearly 90,000 pounds, depending on the type and number of axles. A three-axle trailer can haul 89,500 pounds, whereas a two-axle can haul 80,000 pounds.

The extra weight in the trailer for a third axle is around 2,000 pounds, which boosts the extra pounds the three-axle trailer can haul by 7,500 pounds – and that is several cattle.

Safety and cleanliness are also important in trailer design. “If the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) is more than 10,000 pounds, you have to have reflective tape 15 to 60 inches off the ground on three-quarters of the side.

You must also have reflective tape across the back and white tape 12 inches across and 12 inches down on the top back corners,” says Dr. Clyde Lane, professor emeritus, University of Tennessee Extension.

He adds, “It’s also important to know where the spare tire is located, that the lights are in good working order and that your safety chains are attached.”

trailer with a slide up ramp

In terms of cleanliness, keeping the floors in good shape and free of manure is also important. “Cleanliness is part of animal health and comfort. You can’t make the trailer a bathtub, and you have to be able to clean them out.

You can lighten up your trailer by 600 to 700 pounds by getting the manure out and opening the valves to drain it. Some truckers will do that on the road to avoid a fine at the scale, but you shouldn’t do that and can get a fine if caught,” states Fruhwirth.

One of the challenges trailer manufacturers face is the variety in sets of rules from state to state when it comes to hauling cattle. For example, a 50-foot trailer is legal in every state except California, where only a 40-foot or smaller trailer is legal, according to Dennis Sands, vice president of sales and marketing for Merritt Equipment Co.

“The lower 48 does not have one set of weight laws, and when considering the axle spreads and weight laws, as well as different-size animals, there is a lot of variation in trailer designs. Even the legal height for trailer tires changes from state to state,” he explains.

Trailer design is also about the quality of the animal when reaching harvest. Having different levels in a trailer and ramping can cause beef quality issues due to bruising. According to Dr. Daniel Frese, 61 percent of bruising occurs down the midline, which are in the most valuable cuts of meat.

He explains, “The dorsal midline and central regions of the carcass are the most common locations for bruising. Many of the cattle are being transported in the same truck from 400 to 700 pounds as they are when headed to slaughter at 1,300 to 1,500 pounds. Fifty-three-and-a-half percent of beef carcasses had at least one bruise, and a lot of the cattle are hitting their backs on the trailers.”

This information is important, and trailer manufacturers have made some adjustment to help decrease the number of bruises. “We have one trailer with 54 inches of clearance on each deck, and 47 inches in the doghouse.

a three axle trailer

Our three-axle trailer has 59 inches of clearance in both. Everyone’s needs are different depending on if they are hauling calves, feeders or fats,” says Sands.

He continues, “Swapping out the ramp from one that slides up under the top deck to one that folds up against the trailer wall can help decrease bruising because it gets rid of the track and bracket. It is also handier to fold up. A simple swap like this may run around $1,500, making it an affordable upgrade.”

Deciding what trailer to purchase is a big decision, as a trailer can run from $65,000 on up, depending on what features are desired. However, keeping purpose in mind, as well as safety, can help a producer make the best decision.  end mark

Robyn Scherer is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

PHOTO 1: Cattle trailers can have multiple levels, which helps keep the load even.

PHOTO 2: Loren Fruhwirth, Livestock Division Manager for Merritt Equipment Co., explains the differences in trailers at the Cattle Transportation Symposium, held in Fort Collins, Colorado, in May.

PHOTO 3: A slide-up ramp, such as the one to the left, drops the height of deck on the bottom in part of the trailer, increasing the opportunity for bruising.

PHOTO 4: A three-axle trailer can haul more weight than a two-axle trailer. Photos courtesy of Robyn Scherer.