“BSE” may only be three letters, but it’s quickly becoming a four-letter word in Alberta.
Earlier this month, Alberta drivers began receiving licence plates beginning with the letters BSE. Needless to say, it didn’t go over very well.
Red-faced Alberta government officials said the plates must have slipped through before the mad cow crisis hit Alberta in May, and again in December. To its credit, the province allowed drivers to exchange their plates at no charge.
“We weren’t going to drive around with those letters on our truck,” said one of the unfortunate drivers to be issued a BSE plate. “Millions of dollars have been lost because of mad cow. I thought it was crazy to get a plate like that here. We’re proud supporters of Alberta’s cattle industry, and there was no way a rancher was going to see that on our vehicle.”
I was hoping I’d have more encouraging news to report on the BSE front this month, but sadly, that little anecdote was about the biggest development crossing the newswires. Support for the province’s farmers can be seen everywhere. Many pickup trucks, sedans and tractor-trailers alike carry supportive bumper stickers saying “I still Love Alberta Beef.”
However, while it is undoubtedly comforting to producers (not to mention cattle haulers) to see such support among their neighbours, they still find themselves waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Waiting for any kind of silver lining to suggest there is still reason to be optimistic. So far, not even a glimmer of light has shone down the long, dark tunnel farmers and truckers have been stranded in.
And while most farmers are so deeply entrenched in the business of raising cattle that they can’t simply sell the farm (especially now) and start over, many cattle truckers are doing just that. And who can blame them?
There simply isn’t enough product moving right now to keep busy.
Livestock haulers aren’t ordinary truckers – they’re a special breed. Not only do they have to be able to pilot a tractor-trailer under challenging conditions, they also have to be an expert in the humane handling of livestock. They must be cognizant of ever-changing conditions and know how the animals on-board are feeling. When the animals get stressed, livestock haulers must know how to alleviate that stress.
While loading, they must be able to identify animals that are unfit for travel, and stick to their guns about leaving that animal behind. En route, they must ensure proper ventilation is always available, and that means extra planning to avoid unnecessary stops, busy border crossings and rush hour traffic.
There’s a whole set of specialized skills required by livestock haulers in addition to the countless challenges of driving truck. That’s why this industry is in no less of a crisis than the producers. Cattle truckers are jumping ship, and for good reason. Many will never return. Kudos to livestock transport companies that are finding ingenious ways of preventing their drivers from leaving the business. When business does return to normal, they’ll have a leg up on their competitors.
Also, kudos to those drivers who have the stamina, stability and loyalty to remain with their companies and wait out the storm together.
Those experienced cattle haulers will be highly sought-after once this mad cow crisis simmers down.
But they are in the minority. Finding good truckers with experience handling livestock was never easy. As these drivers leave the industry it’s only going to get tougher. The U.S. border will eventually re-open to Canadian cattle.
Whether or not we will still have the resources to get those cattle across, is another question.