Understanding cattle behaviour and adjusting density according to cattle type are key to proper transportation

When cattle trucker Rick Sincennes started in the business more than 30 years ago it was a different world.

Today animal welfare is a profile issue in the public eye, animal activists are putting pressure on producers and the people involved in cattle transportation have an entirely different level of responsibility for themselves and their industry.

The veteran trucker from Picture Butte has clear ideas on how to load, and how to lead. As a cattle-handling trainer, he teaches proper loading techniques, and as an industry advocate, he has been a significant player in developing today’s industry standards.

In the process he has developed strong feelings on how the industry needs to lead. With transportation such a prominent part of the public’s exposure to the cattle industry these days, here’s his checklist of the key things needed to accomplish that:

Cattle behaviour is key

The most important step in loading a trailer is understanding cattle behaviour.

“For example, know the animal flight zones,” said Sincennes. “Stand at the edge of the chute and lean over, and you’ll push cattle back. Follow cattle up the chute and walk alongside, and you may think you’re chasing them. But you’re actually holding everything behind you back.”

Cattle will not enter a trailer easily if there is a layer of liquid on the floor. To them it’s a lake. They simply don’t know how deep it is and won’t enter it.

Cattle type is critical

Knowing the type of cattle — beef, dairy, cull animals — and the weight of the animals are the first steps to ease of loading. Knowing the size and height of compartments in a trailer is critical. Animals should be able to stand in a natural position without making contact with the roof.

A key issue for the beef industry is transporting cull cows.

“They will not be as strong and will need room and proper bedding to lie down,” said Sincennes. “If you have loaded at too high a density and animals go down it is very difficult to manage.”

Loading dairy and cull cattle at the same density as stronger cattle is a mistake. Dairy cattle are usually taller than beef cattle and need special consideration for where they go in a trailer. Sometimes a different trailer is needed.

“There’s a huge difference between a 25-foot compartment and one that is two feet shorter,” said Sincennes.

Shippers need to lead

So many times truckers load in challenging situations where they are not able to get a good read on the cattle being loaded, said Sincennes.

“We are completely at the mercy of the shipper in those cases,” he said. “We need to be able to trust that the shipper has a good knowledge of what we and cattle face.”

The cattle industry has made significant improvements over the past 20 years, and the industry has made a real commitment to ongoing improvement.

Those continual improvements are needed, said Sincennes. Two in particular he would like to see. One is more cleanout locations for trailers. Another is easier-to-read density charts for quick reference by truckers in real-world situations, especially for newer drivers.

There have been many improvements in cattle transportation in recent years, but there are still those who shirk responsibility, said Sincennes. The biggest issue is an attitude that when an animal moves on to the next stage of transport that the potential problems move with it.

However, anyone involved with the load can be held responsible, he said.

“The reality is that people involved in transporting cattle need to understand they can be charged for poor handling of animals. The world is watching how we do these things.”

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