When transporting cattle, especially over long distances, a long list of things can go wrong. By planning for contingencies, though, and developing a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs), cattle haulers can avoid many of those problems and minimize losses when problems do occur.

During the recent Cattle Transportation Symposium in Fort Collins, Colo., Jeff Johnson, president of Out West Livestock, outlined how his family’s trucking business works to avoid problems or minimize their impacts. Johnson and his family operate farming, ranching and cattle-feeding businesses in Idaho, and got into the trucking business to integrate transportation of their own feedlot and feeder cattle into their existing operations. The company currently operates 20 trailers and eight tractors, hauling cattle primarily in Idaho, Washington California, Oregon and Nevada.

Johnson says the company runs a lot of long hauls of 250 to 300 miles from Idaho feedyards to packing plants in Washington or Utah. Most of the company’s drivers have considerable experience in handling and hauling cattle. New drivers spend time carrying feeder cattle on shorter hauls before driving the longer hauls. All the drivers regularly participate in animal-handling and transportation training through the Beef Quality Assurance program.

The long hauls with fat cattle include crossing high mountain passes, and the company has developed separate SOPs for different times of the year. During the winter, drivers load cattle in the middle of the day to avoid crossing the mountains at night. They are trained to chain-up their trucks and are paid for the time they spend installing chains in addition to their per-mile rate. The company’s dispatcher monitors and transmits weather and road-condition reports to drivers all day, and communicates with the packing plants if weather delays are likely.

The company has arranged strategic locations along their usual routes, such as cooperating auction barns, where drivers can pull off the highway and offload cattle if needed due to poor weather.

During summer months, the company uses a different set of SOPs, including loading cattle at around 3:00 am to avoid the heat of the day. The feedyard moves cattle to dirt-surfaced shipping pens the day before, and to load-out pens just prior to loading to minimize their time on concrete. The company uses bedding on the trailers for long hauls and charges the cattle owner for the cost of about $50 to bed each load.

The company’s drivers are trained to inspect all cattle prior to loading to ensure they all are fit to transport, and to check on the cattle every two to three hours during the trip.

The company also has SOPs in place in case of an accident on the road, including procedures for notifying the state Department of Transportation and local authorities, and contacting local ranchers or others to help unload, contain and transport cattle. Stressing that local authorities will be in charge at the accident scene, Johnson says the company and drivers will help facilitate movement of the cattle, either directly to the packing plant, feedyard or to a temporary holding facility.

Sanitation is part of routine maintenance on the trucking company’s equipment, and trailers are washed out after every load either at the feedyard or other facilities in the area.