Take livestock transportation safety seriously

Take livestock transportation safety seriouslySeveral weeks ago, Dairy Herd Network published a short article concerning several recent news reports from across the U.S. of traffic accidents involving loose cattle or cattle in transport. While each of the highlighted stories were sobering and should give all of us involved in animal agriculture food for thought, three of the reports highlighted an important topic not discussed often enough within agriculture: safe transportation practices when trailering livestock.

The transportation of livestock and horses is considered an everyday event for those involved with animal agriculture. We load and unload animals, hitch and un-hitch trailers and pull out on the road so often it almost seems second nature. 

That, of course, is the problem.  

This important and potentially disastrous farm activity is done so often, it can be taken for granted that the truck and trailer will work properly and that the next trip will be exactly like the last — uneventful.  Unfortunately, this is not a safe attitude. With tens of thousands of pounds of steel, hooves and rubber on the move, a single failure can lead to catastrophe.

The Livestock Transport Blog provides a list of five checks that should be made before getting on the road with a livestock trailer. They suggest checks should be scheduled for:

  • Lights. All lights on both the tow vehicle and trailer (including connections) should be checked before leaving the farm and whenever the vehicle and trailer have stopped before returning to the road. 
  • Brakes. Braking with a load is vital to ensuring safety while traveling. Also check the function of any emergency braking systems on the trailer (When was the last time the battery on the trailer emergency brake was replaced?).
  • Hitch and safety chains. Many hitch systems are designed to be detachable. When this happens while loaded, it's dangerous, to say the least. Also, are the safety chains in good condition and anchored to restrain a runaway trailer?
  • Doors. Are all doors secured before leaving the farm or other in-transit stopping points?  Remember to check the latches on sliding gates and doors, too.
  • Tires. Check tires regularly for wear, damage and inflation. It is easier and safer to change a tire before the trailer is loaded than when a tire fails on the highway.
  • Animals. Check on the condition of the animals before, during and at the end of a trip to ensure they are as comfortable as possible. Ensuring the security and comfort of the animals in transit is particularly important when animal well-being is a major focus for the livestock industries.
  • Attitude. While the driver of livestock transport cannot control the how other drivers use the road, we can control how we approach the problem. It is important for drivers to be proactive about safety. When transporting livestock, you need to drive defensively, which means staying alert, anticipating problems, make rest stops occasionally and remembering that the load is "live" and reacts differently than does a "static" load.

This "checklist" should be part of the driver's job each time animals are transported off the farm and before returning to the road after each stop on the journey.  One way to ensure that this checklist is used would be to discuss it with some regularity at farm staff, team or employee meetings and even mount a copy of the list in the cab of the tow vehicle and make it part of the pre-trip driver routine.

While a check list is a good idea for everyday use, ongoing maintenance of the trailer should not be neglected, either. 

The manure and urine deposited in livestock trailers are chemically tough on the paint, steel and wood used in the construction of most trailers. Constant use can wear brakes and wheel bearings. So a regular plan of maintenance should be implemented. 

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension bulletin FS607 - Horse Trailer Maintenance and Trailering Safety provides a good rundown of basic periodic and annual maintenance for livestock and horse trailers.  Regularly attending to maintenance can both increase safety and the life of the trailer.

A final consideration provided by the Livestock Transportation Blog is related to the impact that temperature and weather have on moving animals.

Whether the temperature is particularly high or low, it can directly impact the well-being of the animals in transport. For example, in hot weather, don't rely on moving air through the trailer to maintain a safe temperature.

Moving air in a low temperature situation can also have health impacts. General weather conditions also impact driving conditions and the comfort of the animals in the trailer. Take these into account when moving animals on the road.

There are relatively few information resources available to the public relating to transporting livestock. The USRIDER organization Web site holds a large amount of useful information about trailer safety and moving animals. Much of that information is aimed directly toward an equine audience, but much of it is still useful for other livestock industries.  

And as mentioned above, the Livestock Transportation Blog has assembled a significant collection of useful tips and suggestions. This blog is aimed mainly at the commercial livestock and horse transport industry, but it also provides a great deal of valuable information for all livestock haulers.

Finally, the Certified Livestock Transport Web site connects to a Canadian organization which provides safety and other training for the livestock transportation industry in Canada. They link to resource information from across North America.

Dean Ross is an Agrosecurity consultant based in Michigan. Contact him at: deanross@cablespeed.com