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Tips for Transporting Livestock

Flashback to June 2017. 

This was the first year my husband and I ever decided to raise pigs. 

Step one in raising pigs was getting them home. We purchased piglets from a farm about an hour away from our house, which meant we had to move the piglets that distance…all without a trailer.

My crafty husband built a sturdy wooden box and we lifted it onto the back of the truck. We got to the farm and the farmer’s wife eyed it carefully, nodded her approval and said, “Hm. I like it. One time, my husband and I moved a calf halfway across the state.”

“Oh,” I said. “In a box like this?”

“No,” she laughed as we loaded the last piglet into the box. “We put it in the back of our minivan. It broke one of the windows!”

We had a good chuckle at that, but truly, livestock transportation is no laughing matter. 

As we’ve gained more experience over the years with moving animals, we’ve realized that what works for one group of animals might not work as well for another group. Sometime in the next few months, we plan to invest in a livestock trailer – but it just hasn’t been in the financial cards quite yet. 

Therefore, we’ve had to experiment with a variety of methods of livestock hauling. Most of them have worked (with the exception of a few near misses). 

However, all of them have one thing in common – you’ve got to put the animal’s needs first and foremost. 

Here are some tips for hauling any kind of livestock – with or without a stock trailer.

how to move livestock

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Why Safe Handling and Transport Matters

safe handling livestock
Photo: Pixabay

If you’re going to raise your own animals, whether for meat, eggs, fiber, milk, whatever, you are going to need to have a plan in place to transport them. It’s almost inevitable that they will need to be moved at some point!

And packing animals into a trailer isn’t as simple as loading them. There are other considerations you need to make. 

But does safe handling matter? After all, if they’re just going to the slaughterhouse, what’s the big deal?

Hopefully, you don’t have this attitude – if you’re raising animals, even for eventual slaughter, it’s important that you be sensitive to the needs of your animals. 

Not only is rough handling and transportation inhumane, but it also can decrease your final product. Maltreatment in any way causes stress, and when an animal is stressed or frightened it will burn through important energy reserves. 

This is why many USDA approved slaughterhouses have a resting period before the animals are slaughtered. In the case of the lambs that we recently took to the slaughterhouse, we were required to bring them in a minimum of 12 hours before they were killed. This helps reduce the impact that stress can have on the flavor, quality, and color of the meat. 

In fact, a healthy pig can lose up to 5% of its body weight during a single four-hour trip.

And if you’re not slaughtering your animals? Here are some other risks that unsafe travel pose:

  • Your animals can get loose and escape the trailer
  • Too much bumping and swerving can cause bruising, hide damage, or broken bones
  • Stress can reduce production even long after the ride has ended 

Methods of Transporting Livestock 

moving livestock
Photo: Pixabay

Livestock Trailers 

Here’s the deal- if you’re going to be transporting animals, you really need to invest in a stock trailer. 

It’s so easy to scare animals with actions like heavy braking or sharp cornering. Plus, they can get hurt. A stock trailer should be large enough to hold the size and number of animals you plan on transporting, and it will help reduce some of the shock of transport. 

If you’re in the market for a livestock trailer, make sure you select one that is well-ventilated. Not only can a lack of air kill your animals, but so can highway fumes. Ventilation is important at floor level, too, but not too much – it’s illegal to let animal droppings pass through to the roadway. 

Most importantly, your stock trailer should have a nonslip floor. Not only can your animals hurt themselves if they slip, but this can lead them to panic even more. 

Livestock Transport Companies 

The second best option to owning your own livestock trailer is renting out the services through a livestock hauling company. Companies like uShip are excellent ways to ship your livestock without shelling out the cash for a trailer. 

Here’s how it works: you contact a livestock company like uShip and they’ll match you up with livestock transportation companies in your area and within your budget. Alternatively, you can contact the shipping company directly. Generally, you will be charged a flat rate per mile. 

Borrow or Rent a Trailer 

There are lots of places that rent out trailers for commercial or personal use. You may also be able to borrow a trailer from a friendly farmer, too.

DIY Methods 

Here’s where you need to get crafty – and pay close attention to the well-being of your animals.

If you can’t acquire a livestock trailer for whatever reason (as was our case) you may have to modify your transportation a bit. 

You might use a truck with a canopy or side rails, or you could transport animals in the back of your minivan (just kidding – this probably isn’t a great idea unless you’re hauling small animals like chickens!). Some animals can also be moved in crates or large boxes on the back of a pick-up. 

Here’s a picture of a modification my husband made to the back of his father’s dump trailer. 

moving livestock
Photo: Rebekah Pierce

We had to move sheep from several hundred miles away at one point, and this modification worked perfectly. Essentially, he built a set of quickie-rails and a “ceiling” around the body of the dump trailer and then we put down a separate floor to prevent slipping.

It worked like a charm. We even built ramps to make it easier for the sheep to get inside!

Tips for Transporting Livestock 

moving livestock
Photo: Pixabay

Only Transport When Absolutely Necessary 

The first rule of livestock transport is to only move them when absolutely necessary. If you can avoid moving your animals, that’s ideal. If you can’t, make sure you familiarize yourself with the individual needs of the types of animals you are working with. 

Remember that injured animals are very difficult – if not next to impossible – to control and to transport. Keep a close eye on wounded or frightened animals and never turn your back on them, but especially when you are loading. Don’t sneak up on your livestock and pay attention to how they are confined. 

Avoid transporting animals in other vulnerable states, too. For example, you should avoid moving pregnant individuals as well as recently shorn sheep. And never, ever mix multiple species while you are transporting them.

Load Slowly and Quietly 

Your animals should be loaded as slowly and quietly as possible. This will reduce the likelihood of stress and injury. Even calm animals are prone to becoming dangerous if they feel threatened. Make sure you treat your animals kindly and gently – now is not the time to prod or rush your animals. 

A spooked animal can take half an hour or more to calm down, so if you’re in a hurry, it’s best to go easy from the get-go to prevent unnecessary delays. Try to rush an animal, and you’re going to slow yourself down even more. And don’t forget – if you spook one animal, the rest are liable to follow suit. 

An even better recommendation? Don’t put yourself in a hurry. Make sure you allow plenty of time for you to load your nails and get to where you need to be. 

Plan Ahead of Time

Don’t be fooled into thinking you are going to be able to coax your livestock into the trailer on the first try when they’ve never even seen the trailer before. This isn’t only foolhardy – it’s also dangerous. 

Instead, acclimate your animals to being handled well ahead of time. The more your animals are accustomed to being handled, the easier they will be to transport. 

The easiest way to do this is to start penning the animals while feeding them so that they are used to your presence. Then, you should begin feeding them inside the trailer. Once they know to go to the trailer each day for food, it will be very easy to coax them inside on moving day. 

If you wait until the day of the move to try feeding them in the trailer, they probably won’t go for it – animals don’t like moving into confined areas, even when treats are on the line.

Consider the Climate 

One of the biggest issues that comes into play when transporting livestock is the issue of weather. If you are trying to move animals in inclement weather, you are not going to have good results. Keep an eye on the water and consult the Livestock Weather Safety Index if you aren’t sure. 

If you must haul in hot weather, move your animals during the coolest parts of the day – whether it be morning or evening. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation and feed and water the animals before leaving. Animals like pigs benefit from being sprayed down with water right before loading, too. 

Unless you absolutely have to, do not stop. You should remain in motion during hot weather conditions as temperatures in an idle trailer can increase by five degrees in just thirty minutes! 

If you are traveling in cold weather, be mindful of the windchill. It will be magnified on the open road and is particularly dangerous for hogs and young animals. If you must, plug some of the air holes to prevent crosswinds and add extra bedding to keep everybody toasty. 

Keep Your Equipment Maintained

Before you head out on the road, make sure all of your equipment is in good working order. From tires to brakes, lights to wiring, everything should be in tip-top shape. The same goes for any latch and chains you plan to use, too. 

Consider Building Ramps 

If you’re going to be requiring your animals to walk up into a trailer, make sure you have sturdy ramps in place. In most cases, you are going to be able to lift an animal. This can cause stress both to you and to the animal, and it’s extremely risky. 

Avoid rushing your animals. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to load and make sure all handlers know the plan and are familiar with the techniques and tools you plan to use. Try not to use things like electric prods, as these can cause panic. Similarly, avoid prodding or slapping an animal to encourage them to get inside. Rough handling will only make the situation more challenging. 

If you must load your animals by using a harness, halter, or a slip knot, be careful. Allow the animals to see you as you enter and exit the trailer, and be aware of your position at all times to prevent getting pinned. 

Mind Your Driving

While you’re driving, remember that trailer hauling demands full attention. Allow extra space between you and the car in front of you, because braking times increase when you have a loaded trailer. 

Although you can’t control other drivers, you can make sure you drive intelligently. Maintain a safe speed and take turns slowly to avoid stressing your animals. 

Know your limits here, too. If you aren’t familiar with (and just as importantly, comfortable with) maneuvering a livestock trailer,  you might want to leave the job to someone else. 

Don’t Overcrowd

Overcrowding your livestock is one of the worst things you can do. Not only can it cause respiratory diseases as ventilation will be reduced, but it can also cause bruising to the animals and even downed animals. Make sure you measure ahead of time!

A general rule of thumb is to make sure every animal has room to lay down at the same time. 

Inspect the Trailer Before Loading 

Take a quick walk inside the trailer before you load it. Check for items that could injure your animals, such as nails and screws, or anything that could accidentally be ingested. 

You also need to make sure the trailer you plan to transport livestock in is capable of doing so. Is your truck rated to be able to handle the load? Don’t forget to account not just for the weight of the trailer, but also for the weight of the animals being loaded as well as extra supplies like tack boxes and extra food. 

Before you start herding animals inside your trailer, make sure the floor is not slippery or damaged in any spots, too. You can add Calcite or shavings to provide an anti-skid effect. 

Know the Laws

Thousands of livestock animals are moved every day in the United States – but it’s important to plan ahead by heeding to local and national transportation laws. In some cases, you may be required to supply a certificate of veterinary inspection upon arriving at your destination, and in others, you might have to quarantine them once you arrive. 

Have an Emergency Plan in Case of Delays or Break Downs

Have a plan in case you experience travel delays or your truck breaks down. Know what you will do if you are sidelined on the side of the road and have contact numbers handy so that you can communicate delays and get help if needed. Have your route mapped out, and plan out alternate routes, too.

Try to avoid travel routes that have lots of traffic, construction, or rough roads. Remember – the smoother the drive, the better. 

Have An emergency plan for loading, too. A situation can get out of control very quickly – often in a matter of seconds. Cattle are prone to stampeding while pigs have impressive amounts of power. Horses can rear and kick, and sheep and goats are liable to ram you. 

Make sure you have an escape route while you are loading. Be alert and vigilant and have a plan for what you will do, even if just in your head, if your animals spook and begin to react. 

Know the Signs of Animal Stress

When transporting animals for any reason, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs of stress. These will vary among species and among individual animals, but some general symptoms of stress – many of which can be life-threatening – include:

  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Increased temperature
  • Open-mouthed breathing or panting
  • Lethargy
  • Reddened skin
  • Refusal to move
  • Rapid breathing 

If you notice any of these signs, stop what you are doing and assess the situation before you proceed. 

Darkness Can Be Your Friend 

move animals in dark
Photo: Rebekah Pierce

When you’re moving animals like chickens, darkness can be your friend. Limiting access to light can cause your animals to relax, which will reduce overall stress. If you’re moving animals in a  trailer, you will likely have less light as it stands. However, if you’re transporting in cates, you might want to use ones that are naturally darkened to reduce stress levels. 

When all is said and done, just remember the golden rule of transporting livestock: put your animals’ needs first. 

What tips do you have for transporting livestock? Be sure to let me know in the comments! 

Want to learn more about homesteading? You might be interested in reading these other posts.

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Author: Rebekah PierceI'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

(1) Comment

  1. Very good tips for transporting animals in trailers. Although I am engaged in horse breeding, these tips are suitable for all animals. Sometimes I come across the fact that some people neglect good trailers, saving their money, but they do not understand how their savings affect their animals.. It’s sad

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