By Ellen Crawford, North Dakota State University
With spring work winding down in many areas, beef producers are starting to bring cattle out to summer pastures.
For producers who don't pasture cattle close to home or don't herd their cattle cross-country to green grass, a stock trailer is an integral part of this spring ritual.
"Because the safety of the cattle and of the producers is at stake, it is important to take a few minutes to inspect the trailer and look for potential problems before loading cattle,” North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen says.
Here are parts of the trailer that producers should inspect:
- Floor: Make sure wood floors have not deteriorated excessively. Through time, wet manure can cause wood floors to rot, which can create a hazard for animals being transported in the trailer. Make sure the floors are sound, and minimize the possibility of animals slipping on floors. While secure footing and some bedding may minimize slippage, handling cattle in a quiet, calm, low-stress manner is of utmost importance.
- Hardware: Ensure that the gate latches secure doors firmly during transport. Use locking pins on external doors, gates and the main hitch to avoid the possibility of these opening while transporting the cattle. Use safety chains to connect the trailer to the pickup in case of main hitch failure.
- Tires: Make sure tires are sound and filled to the correct pressure. Evaluate tread wear; if too little tread is left on the tires, this presents a hazard while driving on slick roads or loose gravel. Also, be sure to check the spare tire for wear and pressure, find the trailer jacks or blocks and make sure all of these items are accessible. Tires most likely will fail when cattle are loaded. This presents a problem if the spare tire is kept inside the trailer or if you forgot the trailer jack or tire wrench.
- Axles and bearings: Occasionally check the trailer's axles and bearings to make sure they are in good repair.
- Wiring: Make sure trailer lights are working and frayed wiring is repaired. This promotes your safety and the safety of other motorists when transporting cattle.
- Brakes: If your trailer is equipped with brakes, be sure they are working and the trailer has good brake pads.
Dahlen also has this advice:
- Do not overload the trailer. Overloading will increase the potential for accidents and stressed cattle. Blown tires, cattle injuries and uncontrollable trailers are all more common when trailers are overloaded.
- When loading, separate adult cattle from calves to reduce the likelihood of calf injuries.
- Strive for equal distribution of weight in the trailer, but in bumper-pull trailers, load slightly more weight toward the front of the trailer. Cows in front and calves in back is a good rule. When more weight is loaded in the back, the potential for losing control of the trailer is greater.
- Compare the pickup towing rating with the weight of the loaded trailer, and look at the axle rating of the trailer. All of these have to be compatible for a safe trip.
- Take a few minutes to review your travel routes. When possible, avoid delays from construction, poor roads and long lunch breaks.
"Strive to get the cattle to the destination in the safest manner possible for you and for them,” Dahlen says.
For more information, view the University of Tennessee's video on stock trailers at http://animalscience.ag.utk.edu/Beef/BeefQualityAssurance.html.