It would be difficult to imagine a beef production industry without commercial transporters, the ones who make a living hauling pot-bellied trailers up and down the road at all hours of the day and night. More than 900,000 commercial loads of slaughter cattle are delivered to our nation’s federally inspected packing plants each year. The average market-ready steer is transported four times during the production cycle and is handled by no less than 15 different individuals during these sometimes stressful moves. Today’s commercial cattle transport sector has evolved over five decades from a backyard enterprise into a large, corporate-driven essential service, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recognizes that any essential service that is part of their production chain deserves some serious attention if it is to remain viable.

NCBA’s Beef Quality Assurance program is mandated to identify and promote guidelines for the delivery of a safe and wholesome product to the consumer. There are many facets to the BQA program, from the monitoring of feed additives to the handling of the cattle throughout the production cycle. According to the BQA Recommendations for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, producers and transporters are responsible for providing “transportation that avoids undue stress caused by overcrowding, excess time in transit or improper handling during loading and unloading.”

Our increased awareness of accountability throughout the production cycle has brought the transport sector into the spotlight because it plays such a critical role. The trucking of live cattle can no longer be thought of as a simple hand-off to the driver. It is actually a three-stage cooperative effort referred to as the Relocation Process.

The first stage of the Relocation Process is grouping and begins when the producers/handlers start the cattle toward the shipping area. Before the animals even set foot on a truck, they must be sorted, counted or even weighed. The second stage, transport, is the responsibility of the driver. His job is to transport and care for the animals until he delivers them into the hands of someone else in the cycle, such as a feedyard receiver or an auction market employee. The third and final stage, resettlement or termination, happens at the feedyard, ranch or packing plant. Resettlement takes place when the cattle are offloaded and have had a chance to resume their normal feeding and watering routine in a stable social herd environment, which may take up to 72 hours in a commingled feedyard environment. Termination is defined as stunning at the packing plant or euthanization due to debilitation. It soon becomes easy to see how the successful relocation of live cattle can depend on the proactive teamwork of several individuals sharing the same common goal.

Our cattle truckers do great work and their valuable contribution must be nurtured if the industry infrastructure is to remain solid. The Nebraska Cattlemen recently teamed with Texas A&M University to develop a cattle trucker information package under NCBA’s BQA banner. As with most challenges associated with an industry that is so widespread, the sustainable future of the cattle transport sector will be defined in the years to come through increased communication and a willingness to work together. 

Tim O’Byrne, president of Calico Beef Consulting, can be reached at 702-566-1456 or calico@handlingcattle.com.