On paper, moving cattle from one place to another seems simple enough. Load the animals into a livestock trailer, transport them the way you'd transport any other cargo and unload them at the destination. Easy as pie, right?
Actually, plenty of things can go wrong here. I should know.
Before the trip, the animals can become agitated, difficult to lead or even dangerous. Even if you somehow manage to lead them into the trailer – or whatever mode of transport you use – they can still suffer injuries during the trip; from slips on the floors, bumps on the walls or fights with other animals. Once you unload, you still have to ensure that the cattle won't bolt at the last minute, lest you want a stampede on your hands.
Photo: iStockphoto.com/tracy tucker
So it's a good thing you can avoid all that, and more, by following the steps below.
Keep the Cattle Calm
If you've never led a herd of cattle before, it's best to sit back, let a more experienced handler do the job and take notes. However, if you insist, here are the basics:
- Check the weather reports. Schedule the drive in the early morning or late evening. Otherwise, extreme temperatures might stress out the animals during the trip.
- Understand a cow's moods. You can do this by noting the movement of the animal's tail. If a cow is relaxed, the tail hangs straight down. If it's frightened or sick, it tucks its tail between its legs. If it's angry or threatened, it swishes its tail away from its rump. Be very careful when this happens.
- Know the concept of flight zone. There's a more detailed explanation in the link, but it boils down to this: The flight zone is basically the cattle equivalent of personal space. If you want to gain a cow's trust, you need to be aware of this zone, and how to move within it.
- Shut out any sources of stress or distraction. Set the loading area in a place away from too much noise and flashing lights. Surround the area with solid sides to keep the herd's movement under control.
- Avoid hitting stubborn animals as much as possible. Lead the more docile ones first, so that their more bullheaded – no pun intended – companions will follow. If this doesn't work, try prodding the cattle gently with tools like rolled-up newspapers and plastic paddles.
- Set up a ramp that's at least 12 inches long and 3.5 inches off the ground. The ramp should have a slope of 20 degrees – enough to help the animals get in and out of the trailer, but not so much that they'll risk slipping.
- Be on the lookout for sick, injured or dying animals. According to the National Market Cow and Bull Beef Quality Audit, cows suffering from advanced or terminal diseases should be euthanized. The less serious cases can still undergo veterinary care – but should be transported separately from healthy animals.
Make the Trip Comfortable for the Animals
Unlike most types of cargo, cows can suffer from bruises, lesions and other injuries during transportation. To avoid or minimize these, do the following:
- Choose a good livestock trailer and squeeze chute. Pick one that limits unnecessary movement, such as Arrow's 8500 squeeze chute, which has an antibacking system to keep a cow from kicking and injuring handlers.
- Pad the walls inside the trailer, and use nonslip flooring. This will minimize bruises from getting bumped all over.
- Separate the bulls, cows and calves. Be careful not to put two unfriendly bulls in the same trailer; otherwise, they will cave in to their animal instincts and fight each other. The calves should likewise be in a trailer of their own, for safety's sake.
- Follow your state's regulations on maximum load limits for cattle, as well as those of the National Beef Quality Assurance Master Cattle Transporter Guide.
- Check your mode of transport for any defects. You want to keep the driving experience as safe as possible for you and your cattle.
- Drive smoothly. Avoid suddenly speeding up or slowing down. Be careful when turning at an intersection, and when driving on rough bumpy roads.
Unload the Animals Carefully
Careful handling doesn't stop once you reach your destination. In fact, you might have to be more careful than usual at the unloading point. Before and while you unload, here's what you do:
- As soon as you get to the destination, unload the animals within 15 minutes. The longer they stay in the trailer, the more likely they'll become stressed out.
- Check for signs that the cattle are agitated. If they were calm before the trip, but are now hesitant to leave the trailer for some reason, there must be something distracting them – like barking dogs, flashing lights and humming engines. It's also possible they were injured during the trip, so inspect each animal carefully before you let them out.
- Make sure the drop-off point is as safe as the pick-up point. Clean up any manure that might get in the way of the cows.
- Lead the animals out of the trailer the same way they were led in: Calm them down, leverage their flight zone to gain their trust and be gentle with even the most stubborn ones.
When transporting livestock, safety is of utmost importance. Remember to put all the necessary precautions in place before, during and after getting your cattle from point A to point B. That way, your cows will be happy and healthy – and so will you.