No one wants to have or even witness a livestock truck accident, but they do happen. When they do, there can be dead, injured or loose livestock on a county road or a highway, in addition to human injury or death and multiple vehicles involved. What you have, in a word, is chaos. 

Jennifer Woods, of J. Woods Livestock Service, Blackie, Alberta, is an expert on livestock handling and livestock transportation accidents. Woods spoke at last week at an emergency preparedness seminar preceding the 2nd International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare at Kansas State University on how these accidents happen. She gave tips to emergency personnel, producers and veterinarians on what to do when dealing with an accident like this.

Woods says out of 415 livestock transportation accidents in North America involving commercial livestock trailers, 80% involved a single vehicle; 59% were between 12 a.m-9 a.m.; 56% involved cattle (70% of those were feeders and calves); 84% of trailers tip to the right side; and 85% were driver errors such as fatigue. Of accidents involving swine, 70% involved market hogs.

The challenges at an accident scene are many. It’s a mess with a tipped over trailer, it’s a volatile scene with loose animals, it involves a vehicle accident plus a livestock incident, and distressed and injured animals can be unpredictable and dangerous.

The goals for dealing with a livestock transportation accident are to reduce the danger, risk and confusion, and increase safety. First and foremost, Woods says, is human safety, both of the driver and of the personnel responding to the scene.

As far as the livestock that are uninjured or injured but able to move around, Woods says to leave the electric prods at home. “Electric prods make things worse at an accident,” she says. “Allow animals to calm down before trying to handle them. Let them have visual contact with other animals and keep them as a group. If they haven’t run off yet, they won’t. Leave them alone.”

Woods stresses to not chase cattle with cars or motorcycles. “If you chase them they run and they have a chance of getting further into traffic or injuring people.” She advises that if there is a gate to a pasture or portables that have been set up, open it up and let them in. “Don’t stand at the exit hole in the side of a trailer where they are trying to come out,” she says. “Everyone wants to stand and look in but that only frightens cattle into staying inside the flipped over trailer.”

Woods is trained and certified in Large Animal Rescue and has been assisting on accident scenes since 1998. She has trained producers, livestock transport drivers and emergency responders. She has advised large processing plants on the use of rescue trailers that include things such as portable corral panels, and has trained them on establishing a network of available resources at the time of an accident, and establishing chains of command.