Cattle Transport - Loading Strategies for Road Transport

 The prosecution of a grazier for cruelty and failing in the duty of care to transport only animals fit to travel has recently received widespread media attention, highlighting the obligations of all involved in transporting stock.

A producer's decisions about handling standards for their stock will influence the actions of their stockmen preparing the stock for transport and of the drivers transporting the stock. These decisions, which will significantly contribute toward the final meat quality, include:

  • How the cattle are handled from birth to transport.
  • Which cattle are selected for transport.
  • How the cattle are segregated (by type, sex, horns, size).
  • Whether the cattle are offered feed or water while in the yards after mustering.
  • How long the cattle are held in the yards between mustering and loading.
  • Whether and for how long the cattle are fasted prior to loading.

Good communication and cooperation between the cattle consignor (the owner or the owner's agent) and the transport driver will maximise animal welfare during transport. After consulting the the consignor, the truck driver will:

  • Decide on the loading density.
  • Be responsible for the welfare of the animals between loading and unloading.

Early Preparation and Handling

Livestock that are prepared from an early age experience less stress and injury during transport. This preparation starts at weaning when calves are trained to normal handling practices, both in the yards and in the paddock. Quiet cattle that have been handled well travel better than cattle that have had limited handling.

Skilled stockmen work cattle without noise and bustle to reduce stress. Cattle travel better when they are quiet and will experience less stress and bruising. Rushed cattle are stressed cattle and stressed cattle produce tough or dark-coloured meat.

Animal Selection

Animals selected for transport must be 'fit to load', that is, they must be strong and healthy enough to undertake the journey. Animals that are injured, sick or in late pregnance should not be transported.


Cattle travel better when segregated according to horn status, size and sex. Transporting horned and hornless cattle separately decreases the risk of injury and losses from bruising.

Feed and Water

Cattle begin to lose liveweight when they are taken off feed and water; most of the loss is gutfill (via faeces and urine). the greatest portion of weight loss occurs between yarding and loading.

Cattle off grass loase weight at a faster rate than cattle off grain (feedlot).


When cattle are fasted before transport:

  • The animals travel better and are easier to unload.
  • The floors of truck are drier and cleaner.

For short journeys it is recommeded that cattle be kept off water for 6-8 hours and off feed for 6-12 hours before loading.

Decisions about time off water must take into consideration:

  • The prevailing weather conditions.
  • Distance to be travelled.
  • Road conditions.
  • The cattle's previous feed.
  • The cattle's recent transport history.
  • When the cattle last had access to water.

It is essential that the total time off water - which includes time off water prior to, during and after transport - does not exceed the maximum water deprivation times outlined in the Australian Standards and Guidelines for the Welfare of Animals - Land Transport of Livestock and does not comprimise the animals welfare.


Cattle need time to settle after musteringa nd should be rested in the yards before loading. Decisions about how long to rest cattle should take into consideration:

  • The time taken to muster and handle the cattle.
  • Distance to be travelled.
  • Prevailing weather conditions.

It is recommeded that cattle be rested for a minimum of 6-12 hours before transport.

A survey of deaths among railed cattle from western Queensland showed that fewer animals died in transit when they were rested for more than 12 hours between mustering and loading.

Loading Densities

Appropriate loading densities reduce stress, bruising and deaths during the journey. Decisions about appropriate loading densities must consider:

  • The size, shape and horns tatus of the cattle.
  • The prevailing weather conditions
  • Distance to be travelled.

Loading densities must be assessed for each pen in the stock crate to ensure the animals are of similar size to ensure they give each other mutual support.

Overloading increases the risk of an animal going down and being unable to get up again, and this risk is greater with horned cattle. When animals go down the risk of bruising, injury and mortality increases significantly.


Mean Liveweight of Cattle (kg)

Floor Area (m squared /head)

No of Head per 12.2 m deck (single deck trailer)




























Table 1: Recommeded loading densities for adult cattle transported by road.

More Information

The following publications provide further information on loading livestock: 


This information has been provided by John Lapworth, Principle Project officer, Industry Services, QPIF Animal Science and Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries Beeftalk magazine.

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