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Spec’ing Liners

SHERWOOD PARK, Alta. - Cattleliners - they're the most specialized types of trailers in the trucking industry. Yet they can be the most versatile as well.


SHERWOOD PARK, Alta. – Cattleliners – they’re the most specialized types of trailers in the trucking industry. Yet they can be the most versatile as well.

A well spec’d cattleliner can be used to transport steers one day and hogs another. And if you spec’ a sturdy floor and rear cargo doors, you can even use it to haul general freight as well (that is, if you can find a shipper that doesn’t get hung up on sending his freight in a livestock trailer).

Many Alberta-based hog haulers are doing just that, especially on long hauls, to the U.S. west coast for instance. Since hogs are routinely trucked down to California and faced with a lengthy backhaul, some livestock carriers have begun hauling general freight on the way back.

“We’ve started building a lot of flat-floor (as opposed to drop-belly) trailers because guys going down to California are hauling hogs down and then they backhaul freight in the trailer,” explains Ron Scarth, a sales consultant with Merritt trailers.

His company custom builds livestock trailers, and he says more customers are requesting trailers that can be used to haul general freight. Side wall kits are included, which enable a driver to convert a livestock trailer into a van in less than half an hour.

It makes more sense economically than hauling a load of air all the way back to the yard.

Wilson Trailers also manufacturers liners that can double as freight vans.

Harvey Van De Sype, Canadian sales manager with Wilson, says they’re making a bit of a comeback.

“It used to be very common about 35 years ago when a lot of the cattle were moving from Western Canada to Eastern Canada, so on the long haul it made sense to wash out and haul tires, lumber and stuff like that back – stuff that it wouldn’t matter if there’s a little animal odor in the trailer,” explains Van De Sype. “It’s kind of coming back now because the traffic is starting to run east-west again instead of north-south.”

Scarth is quick to point out that hog trailers, in particular, are among the cleanest units on the road, so shippers shouldn’t have qualms about sending general freight in a multi-use trailer.

“The big thing with the movement of hogs today is cleanliness,” says Scarth. “If you’re hauling hogs out of consignment barns, you’ve got to wash that trailer after every load and disinfect it.”

Van De Sype agrees, adding one of the most important features of cattle/hog trailers is that “they need to be wash-out friendly…you need some real decent floor drains and flush-out doors.”

While they may look pretty much the same from the outside, livestock trailers have actually changed a lot over the past few decades. Perhaps the biggest development has been the advent of air-ride suspensions.

“I haven’t sold a spring ride (cattleliner) for years now and I wouldn’t sell somebody a spring ride anymore,” Scarth says.

Spec’ing a trailer strictly for hogs can be more complicated than spec’ing cattle-only trailers, and they include options such as sprinkler systems that can be used to keep the hogs cool on hot days.

“The hog trailer looks the same and has the same dimensions, but the options we’re putting on the hog trailers are a lot more sophisticated than a cattle trailer,” says Scarth.

Rick Roy, sales representative for Barrett dealer Maxim International in Regina, Sask., says carriers may not want to spec’ a hog/cattle combo if they’re only hauling cattle.

“It costs a little more money for the hog rail and it’s a little heavier so you’re losing some payload,” says Roy. “So if you don’t need it, it’s kind of a waste of money (if you’re just hauling cattle).”

Since no two livestock hauling companies are the same, custom-building is usually the way to go.

“There are no two guys that spec’ the trailer the same,” says Van De Sype.

“Anybody who hauls livestock has their own idea about what works best for them as far as loading and unloading go. Some guys want their gates to swing on the driver’s side and the next guy wants them to swing on the curb side. Some guys want the ramps on the driver’s side and the next guy wants them on the curb side. They all have their own thoughts. That’s why you don’t see too many new livestock trailers sitting on a (dealer’s) lot, because they’re pretty much all custom built.”

When approached by a new customer, Scarth, Van De Sype and Roy all take the time to sit down with them to discuss their individual application before deciding which options should be spec’d on the trailer.

“You sit down with the fellow and find out what his needs are. Consumers are very knowledgeable in this industry – you can’t pull the wool over their eyes,” says Scarth. “It’s not like selling used cars to little old ladies. The livestock industry is a very mature and knowledgeable industry.”

There are two questions each of the sales reps ask prospective customers.

“We want to find out where they’re going and what they’re doing,” says Roy. “What they’re going to do with it is probably the most important question to ask.”

Knowing where you will be hauling livestock is important, because it will determine the wheel configuration. Some states allow tandems only while some provinces allow tridems, or even quad-axle liners. Knowing what you’re hauling is equally important. If you’re making short-haul trips of fat cattle between feedlots and packing plants, you want to spec’ a trailer for frequent loading and unloading. If you’re hauling bison or bulls, you want to spec’ stronger gates and components.

“Severe-service trailers can haul buffalo, fat cattle and bulls that could tend to fight in the trailer and bend up your equipment pretty bad,” points out Van De Sype.

And because livestock trailers are often pulled into the most remote regions of the country, it’s important buyers consider the level of customer service they’ll receive after the purchase as well.

“Consumers today have to start looking at where they go to get looked after because with livestock trailers, you’re not always in the city,” points out Scarth. “I’ve got customers from Grande Prairie to every little hick town all the way to Timbuktu, and you’ve got to be able to look after their problems.”

Since a liner can easily run six figures in price, longevity is one of the keys to consider while spec’ing. Typically, Scarth says a livestock trailer has a lifespan of about 15 years “before it’s ready to be cut up.”

Large livestock carriers will often buy a new unit and then sell it after five or six years to a smaller carrier that isn’t in the market for new trailers. That second carrier will often use the trailer for three to five years and then the trailer will usually find semi-retirement on a ranch somewhere for the remainder of its life.

“They’ll go a couple million miles,” says Roy.

Once the basic components are spec’d, there are a wide range of upgrades to consider – ranging from sprinkler systems for hogs to semi-transparent roofs that allow more natural light into the trailer. Talking to an experienced sales consultant will help you find the liner that’s best for you.


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