Panhandle Perspectives: Preparing for cattle transport saves time, money and stress

by Dave Osdiek | Nebraska Extension

There are several important factors that should be considered when cattle are being transported. Photo by Extension Educator Troy Walz.

October 14, 2021

Lincoln, Neb. —With fall upon us, many producers are beginning to plan shipment of this year’s calf crop or moving cattle from summer pasture to crop residues, fall/winter pastures, or to a dry lot. Every year, millions of head of cattle are transported from point A to point B. During this time, our bumper-pull trailers, gooseneck trailers, or cattle pots are giant billboards for the cattle industry.

Because of this fact, we as cattle producers should be ensuring we are doing our part of shedding a positive light on the cattle industry by following best management practices when transporting animals.

Important factors to consider when cattle are being transported include loading conditions, time in transit, weather conditions, comingling, segregation of different sexes and weight classes into separate trailer compartments, driver experience, and animal health status and physical condition.

Shipping can be one of the most stressful times in a calf’s life. More stress on cattle during shipping may increase the animal's percentage of shrink loss. Reducing shrink by 1 percent alone could benefit the industry by more than $325 million. A past Beef Quality Assurance survey indicated that feeder calves traveling to Texas or Nebraska feedyards traveled an average of 468 miles, with a range that varied up to 415 miles.

Furthermore, the 2016 National Beef Quality Audit and Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit found that the average load of fed cattle travel over 2.5 hours and more than 135 miles from the feedyard to the harvest facility, and market cows and bulls traveled over nine hours and more than 395 miles from their origin to the harvest facility. These audits also found that the amount of space provided to these animals during transit often fell short of animal handling recommendations for larger animals.

According to animal handling guidelines recommended by the North American Meat Institute, a 1,000- to 1,400-pound hornless animal should be provided 12-18 square feet of space. According to both audit results, fed cattle were allowed on average 12.2 square feet and market cows and bulls were allowed 12.4 square feet.

The previous data provides insight on the long distances cattle travel, which could have negative impacts on cattle welfare and performance due to stress. Stress from shipping can affect calves’ immunity and prolong the amount of time calves are off feed following shipping. With these disadvantageous effects related to stress, it is important that producers work to make the shipping process as stress-free as possible.

Research has resulted in several pre-shipping suggestions:

  • Prior to trips longer than 12 hours, cattle should be fed and watered within five hours prior to loading
  • Prior to trips longer than four hours, cattle should be fed within 24 hours prior to loading
  • Cattle should be in good health and fit for transport
  • Cattle should be handled as little as possible and as gently as possible prior to transport
  • Cattle should receive a minimum of five hours of rest following 48 hours of transport

One resource available to producers is the newly developed Beef Quality Assurance Transportation (BQAT) on-line training modules at With over 2,000 BQAT certifications currently issued in Nebraska, these modules can help producers improve shipping methods and reduce stress on cattle during shipping.

This resource provides checklists for producers to help make shipping cattle safe for both personnel and cattle. It also contains loading density suggestions for popular trailer layouts used in the industry. Taking time to work through the checklists prior to transport can save costs and headaches after the cattle are loaded.           

Another online resource available for producers is the National BQA channel located on YouTube. Searching for the keyword “Transportation” will result in several informative videos covering transportation.

Finally, one important task for producers when shipping cattle across state lines is the entry requirements prescribed by each state animal health official. Producers have had to search through state regulations to ensure they meet all the requirements to transport cattle across state lines; however, a new feature offered at allows producers to enter the state of origin and the shipping destination. The website will provide all cattle health requirements for transportation. 

This feature is not only for cattle heading to the feedlot or inspected harvest facility; producers can also use it for sales, exhibition, and show and rodeo stock. With this new resource, producers can easily find all the requirements to successfully transport cattle to all 50 states.

Humane handling of cattle when transported is important not only to the producer, but also the industry. Producers should review these available tools and resources to ensure they are following the best management practices when transporting cattle.

Information sources:

Schwartzkopf-Genswein K., J. Ahola, L. Edwards-Callaway, D. Hale, and J. Paterson. 2015. Symposia: Transportation issues impacting cattle well-being and considerations for the future.

This article appears in the October BeefWatch online newsletter at UNL’s beef production website, A new BeefWatch is posted every month, and interviews with the authors of BeefWatch newsletter articles become available throughout the month of publication and are accessible at 

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