I took a 14-hour trip last week from Texas to Iowa to visit my family. It took me quite a bit of time to pack for our family of five — clothing, snacks, movies and games for the kids, a book for me, phone chargers, some gifts for my family from Texas, and the list goes on. It sure would be a lot simpler to be a cow and just load up and go.

But would it be better to be a cow and be unprepared for the trip? We can’t exactly tell a cow what we tell our family before leaving on a trip, so how does she know to eat and use the restroom and all the other things we do before leaving? 

It falls upon the care-givers’ shoulders to help get her ready.

Here are some considerations to help cows prepare for a transportation event.

  • Fuel her up. Given that she may miss a meal or be away from feed for a longer than usual, she needs to fuel up. Offer plenty of good quality, palatable, fresh feed for several days before transport. So long as the nutrient density is good, a bit of bulk in the diet is not a bad idea to help keep the rumen full. 
  • Fill her up. Additionally, plenty of clean, fresh water is also a must. A good way to stimulate a cow to drink is to clean the water trough. Cows are curious enough to go drink after they watch someone clean the tank. There also may be benefits to supplementing electrolytes before shipment to help reduce shrink. This is a strategy used by many producers and it may also stimulate uptake due to the flavor.
  • Size them up. Anyone that has ever hauled animals knows that they don’t stand still. They like to move around. Because of this, some pushing and shoving probably occurs to try to get the “window seat.” Therefore, it is really important to properly size the groups of animals. Similarly sized animals should ride in the same compartments. Additionally, the correct number of animal-units should be loaded into compartments to allow space for movement. Cows (calves are the exception) stand while riding. Not allowing proper space will pressure weak animals and cause them to go down. When this happens, the standing animals will cause injury to the down animal.
  • Separate the boys and girls. There no telling when he may think the time is right. A moving trailer does not provide good footing to get the job done. So, to prevent unnecessary injury, remove the temptation and separate the genders and any special-needs animals.
  • Load them right. Cattle are prey animals. When they feel threatened, they will either flee or fight. Both of these response mechanisms cause an expenditure of energy. We want her to slowly use her energy so that she arrives at her destination in the best shape possible. Therefore, it is imperative that she be loaded quietly and calmly. Yelling and prodding are absolutely unnecessary if the right people are doing the loading in the proper manner. So, use the right people and the right techniques to load.
  • Plan ahead. Anticipate the weather. Do not travel in the summer heat of the day, cold winter nights or during other extreme weather conditions, if possible. Choose smooth roads and avoid road construction that may cause unknown delays. Select good drivers that practice smooth starts and stops and make smooth turns. Ask for references if you are unfamiliar with the trucking company. 

Proper preparation is needed for all successful travel. Make the effort to help cows prepare, then load ‘em up and head ‘em out. 

Angela M. Daniels is a veterinarian with Circle H Headquarters LLC, a dairy and swine veterinary practice, food safety laboratory and DHIA milk-testing and contract research organization in Dalhart, Texas.