An accident involving a cattle truck in Indiana on July 11th sheds light on how quickly the beef industry hits the media spotlight. In this specific case, creating a less than desirable outcome for agriculture. As summer heat and drought conditions push potential weaning dates ahead on the calendar many cattlemen may start to feel crunched for time and become overwhelmed by the management decisions they need to make. In times of stressful situations, haste can make waste, so take time to slow down and ensure the safety of people and cattle. Here are a few reminders to plan for successful handling experiences each time cattle are transported.
- Do the math.
Calculate trailer stocking densities based on current cattle weights to determine the number of trailers or trips needed. Follow industry loading recommendations for cattle pots and stock trailers. Then double check the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and review weight restrictions for the roads you will be traveling. Note that some South Dakota county or township bridges may have weight restrictions this fall, so check with county officials if you have questions regarding bridges in your area.
- Minimize injuries.
Evaluate all areas of the handling facilities prior to bringing cattle into them. Repair any broken areas and cover sharp corners. Gates should be free-swinging and have quick, secure latches. Ensure that loading ramps are in good repair and secure. Don’t overlook the importance of good footing even in times of dry conditions – remove rocks and take time to level dirt surfaces that receive high traffic to save on potential cattle lameness and handler injuries (e.g. rolled ankles).
- Check the records.
It is important every time cattle are being transported to ensure they are fit for transport. Review treatment records and verify withdrawal times have been met before loading cattle. Identify at least one person to be in charge of making the final decision on whether all animals are healthy enough for transport or if any animal would require humane euthanasia. Shipping calves is stressful, so making sure each calf is ready for the trip will optimize their well-being and chances of remaining healthy when they arrive at their destination. Don’t overlook the paperwork that is required for your truck and trailer. Review South Dakota vehicle permit information.
- Ready the crew.
Success is impacted by the crew’s understanding and the clarity of expectations communicated by the manager or owner to each crew member, including a hired trucker. Discuss the path cattle will take and each persons’ position throughout the facility. Highlight potential trouble areas, such as tight corners, narrow alleys, or pinch points along the lead-up alley and chute. A verbal reminder of how to properly use handling aids (if provided) and apply pressure to cattle and release it with handler position via their flight zone and point of balance helps to ensure a low-stress handling experience for cattle.
- Weather factors.
When temperatures climb, take steps to keep cattle and crew safe. Provide additional water and factor in a timely break for crew if working cattle all day. Place water tubs in cattle holding or sorting pens when possible. This can especially be beneficial if cattle are being transported a long distance. As cooler fall temperatures approach, plan accordingly for both crew and cattle.
- Emergency kits.
First-aid and emergency road kits are often overlooked. We all know that accidents can happen, from cuts and bruises to major truck rollovers. Being ready for the unexpected can lessen the stress in the midst of all types of incidents. Prepare a basic human first-aid kit for your facilities and trucks. Additionally, consider having basic veterinary supplies for cattle emergencies and proper equipment to perform humane euthanasia. Create a printed paper with emergency contact numbers to call (laminate or seal in a plastic Ziploc bag).
In the Moment
- Read the cattle.
Cattle clearly communicate with the handler whether they are comfortable or getting stressed by the handling process. Cattle responses are directly related to the amount and type of previous handling – cattle on pasture that see people once per year are much flightier and may respond more unpredictable than cattle with more frequent human interactions. Each person should stay attuned to cattle behavior to know if they need to change their handling techniques or adjust the amount of pressure they are applying to individual animals. The goal is to have cattle walking or trotting through the whole process, not charging, piling up in corners, or trying to escape over gates.
- Read the people.
For many ranchers working cattle is a family affair. Assigning each family member, especially children under 16-years-old, to appropriate tasks will maintain a safe working environment. Pay attention to people’s physical stamina. When people get tired their performance may deteriorate, which has a direct impact on how they interact with the cattle and may result in them having a slower reaction time. Mental and emotional attitude are just as important as physical stamina. When people become frustrated they may get more aggressive in their handling and this can result in increased stress on the cattle, as well as create potentially dangerous situations for other handlers. If a handler gets frustrated, take a couple minutes to talk to them and address the source of their frustration. This seems like an insignificant concept, but it can prevent injuries and even help prevent people from leaving the ranch due to arguments between family members or co-workers.
- Double check equipment and cattle.
After all the cattle have been worked, sorted, and loaded onto the truck, take one last look at the truck and trailer before hitting the road. Are all trailer gates secured? Are all cattle standing comfortably in the trailer compartments? Are handling aids on the trailer secured or placed in the cab? Is all necessary paperwork in the cab?
This summer has been a stressful time with the drought across the region. Stress takes its toll on people, so it is important to approach cattle handling slow and steady and not rush. After all, each and every one of those calves is important to your ranch’s financial sustainability. These are just a few general reminders to help ensure that this fall’s weaning and shipping time stays safe. Remember, once those trucks leave the ranch gate many eyes are on the beef industry, so let’s keep our best foot forward!