Good Planning When Hauling Livestock Prevents Disasters On The Road

While towing a livestock trailer is a common practice on most farms, with the summer show season, additional precautions should be observed. The safety of cattle, young showmen and family members give drivers added responsibilities when loading, unloading and on the road.

To safely tow a livestock trailer, your truck must be capable of towing the weight of the trailer plus the added weight of the livestock. Check the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW), which includes the tow vehicle’s weight plus the loaded trailer weight. When calculating the weight, remember to include the weight for fuel, passengers, and cargo. The weight of large show cows and equipment can add up fast, so make sure you don’t exceed the vehicle capacity.

Know the maximum tongue weight for your trailer. This is the amount of the trailer’s weight that presses down on the truck’s trailer hitch when using a bumper pull trailer or the truck’s bed when using a gooseneck trailer. The majority of the weight (85 to 90 percent) should be carried over the axles so that only 10 to 15 percent of the weight is carried on the tongue.

Don’t pack the cattle, a little extra room is important to maintain cattle well-being and minimize injuries. It is recommended that you gate between cows and heifers. Hard stops can squeeze young animals as cows shift to maintain their balance. If you do have to deaccelerate suddenly, find a safe place to stop and check the animals.

Before using a livestock trailer, Extension professionals suggest checking both the truck and the trailer to ensure that they are in good working condition. In addition, take the following actions:

  • Latches and safety chains:Double-check the latches and the safety chains and cables between the truck and trailer to make sure they are fastened securely. Make sure you are using a ball that is the correct size for the trailer.
  • Trailer brakes:Inspect the breakaway cable or brake system. Manufacturers recommend that any trailer exceeding 1,000 lb. have its own brake system, but you should also check state regulations regarding brake system requirements.
  • Wheel bearings:Check and repack the wheel bearings on a regular basis and replace as necessary.
  • Electric Wiring and Connections:Make sure all wiring is in good condition. Trailer connectors should match the truck connectors. Check to make sure that all the lights (brake light, turn signals, and taillights) on both the truck and the trailer are working. Make sure the electrical connection is securely plugged into the truck. With the extra draw on the charging system, make sure it can handle the load.
  • Tires:Examine the tires for signs of dry rot, wear, or damage, and make sure that all tires, including the spare and inside dual tires, have the correct air pressure. Consider replacing tires at least every five years, regardless of use.
  • Lug nuts:Inspect the lug nuts regularly to ensure they are properly tightened.
  • Trailer:Inspect the trailer floor to make sure it is sturdy and clean. If more traction is needed, install rubber matting. Consider replacing floor boards that are showing signs of wear or rot.
  • Battery:If you use battery-powered accessories, ensure that your emergency battery is charged and ready for use.
  • Brake controllers:Test your brake controllers and make adjustments as needed depending on the weight of your trailer.

The protocol to test controllers include:

  • The first step in testing your electric brakes is to locate the controller or adjustor, which is typically located beneath the instrument panel on the tow vehicle. The controller has an adjustment button (+ or -) and sliding lever. You may need to use the controller to increase braking power (+) for heavier loads or decrease braking power (-) for lighter loads.
  • Once you have located the controller, slowly move forward on a level surface and shift the tow vehicle transmission to neutral. Use the slide lever on the brake controller to bring the load to a stop using the trailer brakes.
  • If the trailer brakes cause the truck to jerk, your trailer brakes are adjusted too high. Lower the braking power on the trailer until the trailer comes to a smooth stop. If the truck and loaded trailer do not slow to a stop, the brake controller must be adjusted to a higher level.

Loading the Trailer

Loading animals into a trailer can sometimes be a frustrating task, but there are steps you can take to make the task safer and, ideally, easier. For example, use a ramp so animals can walk into the trailer without having to step up. Remember to be patient and calm during the loading process so that you do not scare or stress the animals. Additional recommendations include the following:

  • Protrusions:Inspect the trailer for broken or sharp objects protruding into the trailer. These items should be repaired immediately to prevent an injury to an animal or operator.
  • Weight distribution:When using a bumper pull trailer, place the heaviest animals in the front of the axles. Load older and larger animals first, followed by younger and smaller animals.
  • Ties:When tying animals in the trailer, use slip knots and tie securely at head height in the trailer.
  • Visibility:Make sure animals can see you when you enter and exit the trailer, when you are in the trailer, and when you tie or untie them.
  • Squeeze and pinch points:Remain alert to the danger of being pinned between animals and trailer sides and being pinched by the trailer gate.
  • Gates:Once the animals are loaded into the trailer, quickly close the gates latch them. Then don’t delay in getting the trip underway.


When driving on any roadway, always maintain a safe speed, keep your headlights on, and stay alert. Your braking time increases when you are towing a full trailer, so maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you and leave adequate room to stop. Plan your travel time carefully, and be aware that weather can cause delays by impacting road conditions and animal comfort.

Do not lock the trailer when you are transporting animals. In the event of an emergency, rescue workers don’t need the hassle when they are trying to help your animals.

More information on trailer safety is available at:



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