As the weaning and marketing seasons approach, cow-calf producers can take several steps to prepare their calves for transport and minimize problems during transport. But no matter how well calves are accustomed to handling, shipping day can turn into a wreck if ranchers, crew members and truck drivers are not working toward the same goals.
Michigan State University Extension livestock specialist Ben Bartlett, DVM, stresses the need for producers to communicate with truckers. “Sometimes we overlook the obvious,” he says. “If you haven’t worked with a trucking firm before, talk with them. Tell them that your operation stresses calm animal handling, and you want drivers who can do the same. Create an expectation that the process will be quiet and relaxed.”
Ranchers need to do their part, too, Bartlett says. Prepare your crew members with training on low-stress animal-handling methods, and clearly communicate your expectations for how gathering, sorting and loading will proceed on shipping day. Limit the use of new crew members, keep the number of people involved to a minimum and foster positive attitudes.
Let the trucking company know that you will have the cattle ready to load when the trucks arrive, then follow through. From that point, assuming you have prepared the calves with prior good handling, you can assure the drivers that loading will be easy and actually will take less time if shouting, running and prodding are kept to a minimum.
Bartlett says that if you are ready to load and have calves that will get on the trailer easily, drivers often are happy to stand aside and let you and your crew load the cattle. Show consideration for the drivers. Maybe offer them coffee and donuts when they arrive. If a driver leaves your place feeling like he was treated well and knowing that you care about the way your calves are handled, he’s most likely to transport them carefully. If you are happy with the service a driver provides, Bartlett suggests dropping him — and his boss — a short note saying so. A positive relationship can pay off year after year.
Check your facilities for possible problems before loading, and correct problems that arise on shipping day. Bartlett provides an example from his own operation, saying he’d prepared calves for loading but they kept stopping in the alley, not wanting to walk into the trailer. He stopped to search for the cause and found that sunlight coming through a window was casting a shadow that looked like a series of bars across the alley. After deploying what he describes as a “high-tech” solution — propping a sheet of cardboard over the window — the calves walked right onto the truck.
Bartlett says that if truckers show up at your ranch and you don’t like what you see — trailers still filthy from their last load, drivers who handle cattle roughly — tell them you’ve decided not to ship cattle that day, send them away and find another hauling service. It’s that important.
“Our work with low-stress handling is, of course, good for the calf,” Bartlett says. “It’s also better for the people doing the work and better for the public’s perception of our care of our animals. With all the interest in where a person’s food comes from, how the animals were treated, and the new laws being written on animal care, we have a great story to tell. We need to convey to producers that the public is going to be looking over our shoulders and we had better be able to justify what we are doing. Low stress is a story we can be proud of.”