Stock Trailers - Hauling Cattle Safely

Published on Wed, 08/23/2023 - 11:23am

Stock Trailers - Hauling Cattle Safely.

 By Heather Smith Thomas.

 Fifty years ago most ranchers had stock trucks and loading chutes; that was the common way to transport cattle to and from the ranch—to bring in purchased animals, haul cattle to market or to the veterinarian or haul them to summer pasture to unload at an unloading dock or a place where the truck could back up to a bank and jump the cattle out. Today that’s changed.  Almost every stockman who hauls cattle has a stock trailer.

Some trailers can haul as many cattle as the earlier stock trucks, and are much more convenient because you don’t need a loading chute and loading dock.  The animals can be loaded or unloaded from any corral, alleyway or out in the pasture.  A trailer is also easier to make into two or more compartments with divider panels, to keep more weight at the front or split the animals appropriately, such as keeping smaller ones (like calves) separate from the larger ones that might crowd or crush them.  

A stock trailer can be pulled by any heavy-duty pickup—which most ranchers already have.  The two main types of livestock trailers are bumper pull and gooseneck. Each has its pros and cons and people generally choose whichever best suits their purposes.  A bumper pull simply hitches to the vehicle you’re using to tow the trailer.  Many bumper pull trailers are compact and lightweight. They’re ideal for hauling small horses, ponies, goats, and sheep. This kind of trailer is easy to hook up, and maneuver.

A bumper pull trailer can be a good choice for people on a tight budget or who lack the type of truck needed to pull a big gooseneck.  A vehicle pulling a lightweight bumper pull can get better fuel mileage than when pulling a heavier gooseneck trailer.

Although the smaller size can be an advantage for some folks, it could be a disadvantage for others. For example, many of the bumper pull trailers aren’t suitable for larger horses or cattle, or for transporting more than a few animals. They also offer less stability than gooseneck trailers.

To pull a gooseneck trailer, you’ll need a pickup truck with a suitable truck bed hitch. This setup creates more stability and a smoother ride for the animals. Gooseneck trailers are ideal for hauling larger numbers of animals for long distances.

A gooseneck trailer has a large neck or arm that connects to a ball hitch in the bed of the towing truck. This kind of hitch provides more stability, and the weight is balanced over the truck axles rather than the frame.  This makes it safer because it reduces the amount of sway that can occur while on the road and provides more stability.  

Gooseneck trailers are available in many different sizes including the large double deck livestock trailers.  The extra space and ability to haul more animals can more than make up for the extra cost (in initial purchase price and in more fuel used for pulling the heavier trailer) over time.  Various trailers are made from a variety of materials that have a direct impact on how much they weigh.

The most common types are aluminum (which are lightweight, rust-resistant, and often less expensive), steel (extremely durable and affordable, but very heavy and prone to rust), galvanized steel (durable and rust-resistant, but with a heftier price tag) and composite materials (which often strikes a balance between durability and affordability).

It’s always safer to go with something heavy-duty rather than minimum strength, especially if the trailer will be hauling a lot of animals and gets heavy use.  The load limit is generally based on the axles and their strength.  As an example, with the larger trailers that are used by professional cattle haulers, 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 – which amounts to several cattle.  

When buying a conventional stock trailer that might be used for hauling eight to 14 or more cows, you need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for weight and number of cattle, which depends on the size of the trailer and the strength of its axles.

For example, a 24′ x 7′ trailer can usually safely haul a maximum of eleven 1,200 pound cows.  If the cows are larger than that, you’d want to load fewer of them.

Examples Of Various Trailer Types And Brand Names
The Elite Aluminum Livestock Trailer is built with a heavy duty, engineered structure with functional designs and customizable features, to increase the longevity of the trailer and retain value.  Available in multiple widths, lengths, heights and multiple hauling styles, Elite Trailers can build a trailer to meet a rancher’s particular needs.

Featherlite livestock trailers utilize heavy-duty aluminum construction, which makes them both durable and lightweight.  Featherlite stock trailers combine an all-aluminum, rust-resistant body with a heavy-duty cross-member system and aluminum flooring to support the weight. These trailers have double thick sidewalls and a 10-year limited structural warranty.

CM Livestock Trailers come in steel or aluminum and several sizes, to fit any need or budget.  Known for their durability, longevity, and versatility, CM Stock Trailers include models such as the Brushbuster BT, Brushbuster MT, Stocker, Roundup AL and Stocker AL.  This lineup includes both bumper pull and gooseneck models.

Exiss Trailers have been producing top-quality aluminum trailers since 1994, at affordable prices. Exiss builds a full line of gooseneck and bumper pull aluminum horse trailers, livestock trailers and living-quarters trailers that are sold through a network of over 120 dealers in the U.S. and Canada.  

EBY makes many kinds of trailers, and Maverick is EBY’s best-selling stock trailer model.  It has no interior wheel pockets, and has a 12” tall full-length extruded aluminum bottom rail and slip-resistant aluminum diamond plate flooring.  It is designed with superior structural integrity and manufactured for durability. Custom options are available.  The Ruff Neck is EBY’s most rugged model, engineered for durability with a high level of customization, often used by commercial transporters.

Tips For Safe Hauling
Never exceed the weight capacity for the tow vehicle, the hitch, or the ball and safety chains.   To limit the sway and improve stability on the road, place the heavier animals in the front compartment, ahead of the axle.

Travel at lower speed on rough roads.  If the trailer begins to sway when you encounter a gust of wind or severe weather, maintain control by slowing down gradually, keeping your steering steady, and maybe try applying only the trailer breaks to help reduce the sway. If you slam on the brakes, you could cause the trailer and vehicle to jackknife and also possibly injure the animals.  Don’t increase speed or think you can steer out of a sway.

Don’t overload the trailer or crowd the cattle.  BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) transport training is something every cattle producer should pursue.  Officially launched in 2010, the BQA stock trailer guidelines were developed to encourage cattlemen to practice proper trailer safety procedures, including trailer maintenance, loading and unloading procedures, loading capacity, equipment selections, and driving and weather considerations.

When these BQA guidelines were adopted, one issue that was identified was bruising.  In 1994, 80% of cull cow carcasses had some level of bruising. Not only is bruising a beef quality issue, but also a humane handling issue as well.

One of the common ways cattle get bruised is during transport from the ranch to the market or slaughter facility.  Over or under-loading cattle can cause serious bruising and added stress to cattle being hauled.  Every rancher should know the capacity of their trailer.  Cattle should be sorted into trailer load groups in the pens, making it easy to load the optimal number.  If there is an adverse event in transit that requires heavy braking or there are curving, winding roads, it’s a lot easier on the cattle and takes some of the stress off them if they are not loaded too loosely or too crowded.

Load density is critical to safety.  Most people try to get at least one more animal on the trailer than they should.  The cost of an extra trip isn’t as great as the cost of losing an animal due to overloading. If a cow goes down and can’t get up, how much money could you lose?  You also get poor fuel mileage when your truck is overloaded, with excess strain on your vehicle.  Do not exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating for your truck and stock trailer.

Loading and unloading procedures are a critical issue that is often overlooked.  With proper facility design and low-stress handling techniques, cattle walk onto a trailer quietly and haul more calmly.  Lower stress leads to fewer problems.  As stress increases, immune function is reduced, which can lead to more illness. If cattle are calm on the trailer, there will be fewer injuries and less bruising.

Sort animals (for a load, or for splitting them into compartments) based on their age, size and whether they have horns. Don’t put a calf in with mature cattle.  Don’t haul bulls together unless they have been living together in the same pasture and already have their differences settled.  It’s also not a good idea to haul cows in late pregnancy.

Too much stress while being hauled leads to more shrink, and sometimes serious injury.  When hauling horned cattle reduce the number of cattle in the trailer.  The number loaded during hot weather should also be reduced.

Trailer maintenance is also very important.  Some ranchers use trailers so seldom that they don’t regularly inspect the flooring or clean out the wood-bottomed floors.  Those boards may eventually rot or crack and break through, injuring cattle. The trailer should be cleaned out after each use. It’s important to inspect tires, wiring, flooring and gate latches routinely and not wait until they’re broken.  If tires start to wear very much, replace them, and make sure you always have a good spare.  Also make sure you have a jack that is capable of lifting a loaded trailer in case you ever have to change a tire on the road.