Trailers, especially gooseneck trailers, have really revolutionized hauling both on and off the farm. What once was the domain of cumbersome, seldom-used straight trucks is in the domain of the heavy-duty pickup (although I do acknowledge that a pickup is still considered light-duty in the trucking world).

Overbay andy
Extension Agent / Virginia Cooperative Extension
Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has 40-plus years of dairy and farming experience.

Towing a trailer is handy, but it also involves more than just hooking to the beast and taking off. A trailer turns your truck into an articulating vehicle, which changes its handling characteristics almost immediately. 

There are several issues to consider when selecting a truck and trailer combination. First on the list would have to be the capabilities of the truck itself. While it isn’t the most economical thing to be driving around an oversized vehicle on a daily basis, the maximum load a truck can withstand has to be factored in.

While simplistic in nature, the truth is: A big truck can haul a small load, but a small truck can’t haul a large one. Same thing with a trailer. Every once in a while, my uncle would have a calf he wanted killed for beef and commented that it was inefficient to put his single calf on our 20-foot trailer.

While he was technically correct, to us it would have been terribly expensive to maintain a small trailer for his single calf rather than have one trailer that fit our normal needs. 


Speaking of longer and larger trailers, the length of a livestock trailer should be a factor on how many cut gates you will need along its length. Generally speaking, a trailer’s load should be situated to where 60% of the load is in front of the axles and the remaining 40% is behind.

Matching the trailer to the task is crucial. I was speaking with a gentleman the other day who was headed west on a hunting trip. He wanted to bring along his side-by-side (a really nice side-by-side); however, the trailer he used to haul it around locally became unstable at speeds above 60 mph.

“I sure don’t want to crawl along for 2,300 miles,” he said. As we observed the side-by-side on the trailer, it was obvious what the problem was. Too much of the load was sitting on the back end of the trailer. The weight was acting like a prybar to take weight off the rear wheels of the truck. 

Unfortunately, his solution (if he was going to take his UTV with him) was that he was going to have to find a longer trailer. While length is often an issue, my personal experience also involves trailer width.

I have a 24-foot tilt-deck trailer I am very fond of. It is especially handy for hauling around my old narrow-front antique tractor. There’s no need to worry about a third ramp or walking the front up one side of the trailer before positioning the rear of the tractor to match the ramps. I just drop the deck and drive on.

The problem is: I recently added a ’70s-era “muscle tractor” to my stable. While it is also a narrow front, its rear width makes it risky to try to place on the low-profile tilt bed. Since the tilt bed fits between the fenders of the trailer tires, it is a full 20 inches narrower than a standard deck-over flatbed trailer.

Adding to the issue of width, the tilt bed relies on the weight of the tractor’s front end to lower the tilt bed back to horizontal. The larger tractor’s rear-end weight would make it less likely to tip the tilt bed over if I was brave enough (or crazy enough) to try to load it on the narrow trailer.

My solution was to purchase a new trailer with a hydraulic dovetail, which gives me both convenience and width to haul either or both tractors. The added weight of the trailer, however, does need to be factored in the load distribution equation and the truck’s capabilities.

Capabilities and control are influenced by the size and location of the hitch as well. One thing that has gotten more than one “trailer borrower” in trouble is the fact that a 2-inch ball on their truck will hook up to a 2 5/16-inch hitch on the borrowed trailer. It won’t stay hooked but it will hook up.

The first bump or bridge, and away she goes. Make sure the ball and the hitch match. This is where a hitch that lets you select the correct ball without changing the entire hitch is pretty handy. They are, of course, pretty expensive and need to be protected from theft.

The truck’s hitch location is important for several reasons. A gooseneck or fifth-wheel setup sitting over the rear axle of the truck gives you more control over the trailer in comparison to a bumper hitch. 

Pintle hitches are located on the rear of many medium-duty trucks, but the size of the truck itself helps control the load. I have seen gooseneck hitches placed in half-ton pickups – but for the most part, this is not recommended.

Where you are going can impact your trailering success. If you are backing into tight places, a gooseneck is much easier to maneuver. The turning radius of a bumper hitch trailer is limited by the corner of the trailer as it punctures your truck’s rear quarter panel.

Finally, what you can pull isn’t nearly as crucial as your ability to stop and steer. As I used to tell young boys who visited our dairy on FFA field trips, “If you can’t stop it or steer it, you better not hook to it.”