Justin Rhinehart, Extension beef cattle specialist at Mississippi StateUniversity, notes that like throwing a ball, cattle transportation requires a good follow-through. Reinhart says that to optimize return on investment, stocker operators have to start with the correct cattle and receiving protocol, regulate health and performance, choose the most appropriate time to sell or ship, and follow through by making sure the cattle reach their next destination without compromising profit.

While any transport, even from one pasture to another, can affect cattle performance, Rhinehart says transportation to the next phase of beef production — the feedlot — is critical for stocker operators whether they sell their cattle or retain ownership. This step typically involves significant distance and involves middlemen and a period of time when your cattle are not under your direct management. Stress during transport leads to decreased immunity and increased disease shedding, resulting in an overall negative impact on health and performance, he says.

Rhinehart encourages stocker operators to do what they can to minimize stress during loading, transport and unloading. Handling methods immediately before and during loading set the tone for the rest of the transport process. Keep calm while sorting and loading, reduce loud noises and yelling, and limit hits with sorting sticks and prods. While the concept seems simple, he says adopting these principles takes patience and planning. Set a day without other pressing appointments to sort and load cattle so you can take your time, and discuss a loading plan with the driver.

To minimize stress during transport, select your hauling company or driver carefully, based on reputation, cleanliness of their equipment and willingness to cooperate with your procedures. Ask if they have Master Cattle Transporter certification through the National Beef Quality Assurance program.

The follow-through comes at unloading. Rhinehart says that for stocker operators who retain ownership, unloading is equally as important as loading and transport. But even for those who sell their cattle, their reputation benefits if the cattle arrive in good shape and require less treatment for poor health due to shipping stress. He says cattle should be unloaded within one hour after arrival, and sooner in extreme weather, again using low-stress handling methods. For more information, click here.