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If it’s their last ride, let’s make it their best ride

As challenging as different categories of freight can be, you could say that livestock shipments are a different sort of animal.


As challenging as different categories of freight can be, you could say that livestock shipments are a different sort of animal.

Livestock haulers work within one of the most regulated segments of the trucking industry. In addition to the on-road rules governed by provincial highway traffic acts or the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, they face the oversight of groups including the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Provinces and territories pile their own rules on top of the CFIA’s Health of Animals Regulations – Part XII, which govern every shipment.

And while dry freight is loaded with forklifts or pallet jacks, the drivers involved in this work are often equipped with a little more than a pig board and some patience when guiding freight which has a mind of its own.

A clear understanding of an animal’s personality can make a big difference in loading procedures. Pigs, for example, are easily spooked and have a natural herding instinct. They will generally move back if a small board is placed in front of them, and shift forward if the board is placed behind their shoulders. One stubborn animal may resist at first, but it will eventually follow the others.

Valuable information like this is openly shared by industry groups such as the US National Pork Board or the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC), www.farmfoodcare.org.

A little flexibility can also go a long way. Animals that are wary of a ramp or set of stairs might be more easily moved onto a middle deck. And those that are initially wary about stepping onto the trailer might be quicker to hop on-board after other animals are loaded.

Of course, pre-trip inspections involve a few extra steps when working with living freight. Drivers with these specially designed trailers – equipped with features such as non-slip floors – are expected to ensure the animals have fresh bedding, are well divided, and secured behind latched gates.

But the unique demands hardly end once the livestock is loaded. Different cargo can make a big difference in vehicle dynamics. Cattle, for example, have a higher centre of gravity than pigs. The need to leave a cushion of space around any cattle means that the animals can also shift like the fluid in a tanker whenever the truck turns or brakes.

Every stop or start will require more space than a dry van.

To compound matters, many of these shipments involve routes that are far away from a well-serviced highway, along narrow dirt roads that are flanked by steep ditches. The hazards themselves can be obscured by snow and ice long after main routes are cleared. (It’s why I always took a few minutes to kick the snow off the edge of a laneway before approaching a property for the first time).

The careful trip planning does not end there. Something as simple as a stop at a wrong barn could lead to an extended delay if the equipment has to be washed down to isolate any diseases and meet bio-security rules.

Meanwhile, this living, breathing freight needs to be monitored along every route. Squealing pigs that are pressing against the sides of a trailer on a hot summer day, for example, may be competing for a cooling flow of air and need to be hosed down. Drivers also need to remain aware of the environments where the deliveries are made. I remember one plant where fans from the barn could blow heat onto a parked trailer, and that was compounded by the fact that the parking area left little room for air to circulate.

Cold weather presents its own challenges. Animals have been known to bunch together in an effort to stay warm, but those at the bottom of the pile could suffocate. This makes the insulating value of winter panels particularly important.

And when it comes time to unload the freight, truckers who move the livestock deserve some protection of their own, and that can come in the form of personal protective apparel such as hard hats, safety boots, masks and work gloves. They also need to be aware that every action can affect the reputation of their entire industry. Animal rights activists, armed with nothing more than a cell phone camera, could capture images taken while a driver is struggling with his cargo, and post the video online for everyone to see.

Indeed, safe handling practices can’t be sacrificed when working with a stubborn animal. I know one livestock hauler who put the entire process into this perspective: “If it’s their last ride,” he said, “let’s make it their best ride.”

– This month’s expert is Jason Shiell. Jason is a senior risk services consultant for Northbridge Insurance, and has more than 20 years’ experience in the trucking industry as a driver, certified fleet driver trainer, risk manager and more. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long-standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.


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