Tips & Preparation for Safe Cattle Hauling |

Tips & Preparation for Safe Cattle Hauling

Now that pastures are starting to green up and calves are growing, many producers are getting ready to haul their cow/calf pairs to summer pastures. There are multiple factors to consider when transporting livestock, said Heidi Carroll, SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Extension Associate, as she discusses three of those factors beginning with stocking density.

Stocking density

“The stocking density in trailers is important to maintain cattle well-being and minimize injuries,” Carroll said, pointing to Table 1 which has loading recommendations for various weights of cattle and various trailer sizes.

She explained that Table 1 represents recommendations for polled and dehorned cattle. “Reduce the number of cattle by 5 percent when hauling horned cattle. During hot and cold conditions, decrease the number of head loaded to prevent additional stress,” Carroll said.

Remember the maximum weight of cattle for each trailer size with these calculations. “Be careful not exceed the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating for your truck and trailer,” she said.


Cattle well-being should be maintained during the entire process of transporting cattle, from gathering and loading the animals to unloading. “Calm, quiet low-stress handling methods should be used by everyone assisting,” Carroll said. “Sorting sticks, flags or paddles can be used to safely sort animals and humanely encourage movement. Electric prods should only be used on stubborn animals and then put out of reach after the animal cooperates.”

She also encouraged cattle handlers to evaluate the facilities and trailer for distractions if cattle continually balk and refuse to flow easily instead of resorting to excessive electric prod use. “A shadow, ground surface color change or a sweatshirt placed on a fence may inhibit cattle movement,” she said.

Weight distribution

Determine the appropriate weight distribution of cattle for your specific trailer type (gooseneck versus bumper hitch) and the number of compartments within the trailer. “When hauling cow/calf pairs, separate the cows from the calves in the trailer to ensure the safety of the calves,” she said.

When hauling bulls, Carroll said to separate bulls from each other and to separate bulls from cows or calves. “Bulls unfamiliar with each other should not be mixed on a trailer because damage to the trailer and animals is likely to occur if or when they fight to establish a hierarchy,” she said.

Horned or tipped cattle should be separated from polled, and space allowance should be appropriate for each group with respect to horn status. “Balance the weight to get the best towing performance and smoothest ride,” she said. “Also be considerate of the route taken and how you drive to prevent cattle from jostling or slipping.”

Avoid sudden accelerations, stops, or turns and pick roads that have minimal sharp turns or stops. Preparation, attention to detail, and low-stress handling ensures a safe, successful experience when hauling cattle this season.

Carroll also said safe transportation of cattle starts with proper maintenance of the truck/pickup and trailer. “During the busy spring season, maintenance and repairs may get pushed down the list of priorities. However, taking the time for maintenance checks will help things run smoother and safer when you begin hauling cattle,” she said.

Performing maintenance checks a few days before cattle are scheduled to be hauled provides time to fix any problems without pushing back the transport date. Maintenance will minimize the risk of devastating accidents that can damage not only the equipment, but also injure or kill livestock.

“Hauling cattle to summer pasture is a satisfying task after such a long, cold winter. Take the time to check over trucks and trailers to ensure it goes safe and smooth. Review humane handling methods with family members or employees to minimize the stress on the cattle and prevent injuries,” she said.

–SDSU Extension