Livestock Trailer Safety

Photo of herd of beef cows

Photo provided by the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH)


Use the following format to cite this article:

Livestock trailer safety. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Towing a livestock trailer is a common practice on most farms and ranches. Livestock trailers, also referred to as stock trailers, are used to move livestock between locations, haul show animals to county fairs, and transport animals to processing plants.

To safely tow a livestock trailer, your truck must be capable of towing the weight of the trailer plus the added weight of the livestock. Check with the manufacturer to determine the Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW), which includes the tow vehicle’s weight plus the loaded trailer weight. The GCVW rating can be located in the vehicle’s serial number or in the operator’s manual. When calculating the weight, remember to include the weight for fuel, passengers, and cargo.

The manual for the trailer should specify a maximum tongue weight—the amount of the trailer’s weight that presses down on the truck’s trailer hitch when using a bumper pull trailer or the truck’s bed when using a gooseneck trailer. The majority of the weight (85% to 90%) should be carried over the axles so that only 10% to 15% of the weight is carried on the tongue.

Before using a livestock trailer, check both the truck and the trailer to ensure that they are in good working condition. In addition, take the following actions:

  • Latches and safety chains: Double check the latches and the safety chains and cables between the truck and trailer to make sure they are fastened securely. Make sure you are using a ball that is the correct size for the trailer.
  • Trailer brakes: Inspect the breakaway cable or brake system. Manufacturers recommend that any trailer exceeding 1,000 lb. have its own brake system, but you should also check state regulations regarding brake system requirements.
  • Wheel bearings: Repack the wheel bearings on a regular basis and replace as necessary.
  • Electric Wiring and Connections: Make sure all wiring is in good condition. Trailer connectors should match the truck connectors. Check to make sure that all the lights (brake light, turn signals, and tail lights) on both the truck and the trailer are working. Make sure the electrical connection is securely plugged into the truck.
  • Tires: Examine the tires for signs of dry rot, wear, or damage, and make sure that all tires, including the spare and inside dual tires, have the correct air pressure. Consider replacing tires at least every five years, regardless of use.
  • Lug nuts: Inspect the lug nuts regularly to ensure they are properly tightened.
  • Trailer: Inspect the trailer floor to make sure it is sturdy and clean. If more traction is needed, install rubber matting. Consider replacing floor boards that are showing signs of wear or rot.
  • Battery: If you use battery-powered accessories, ensure that your emergency battery is charged and ready for use.
  • Brake controllers: Test your brake controllers and make adjustments as needed depending on the weight of your trailer.

    • The first step in testing your electric brakes is to locate the controller or adjustor, which is typically located beneath the instrument panel on the tow vehicle. The controller has an adjustment button (+ or -) and sliding lever. You may need to use the controller to increase braking power (+) for heavier loads or decrease braking power (-) for lighter loads.
    • Once you have located the controller, slowly move forward on a level surface and shift the tow vehicle transmission to neutral. Use the slide lever on the brake controller to bring the load to a stop using the trailer brakes.
    • If the trailer brakes cause the truck to jerk, your trailer brakes are adjusted too high. Lower the braking power on the trailer until the trailer comes to a smooth stop. If the truck and loaded trailer do not slow to a stop, the brake controller must be adjusted to a higher level.

Loading the Trailer

Loading animals into a trailer can sometimes be a frustrating task, but there are steps you can take to make the task safer and, ideally, easier. For example, lower the back of the trailer as much as possible so that animals may step into the trailer without having to step up. Remember to be patient and calm during the loading process so that you do not scare or stress the animals. Additional recommendations include the following:

  • Weight distribution: When using a bumper pull trailer, place the heaviest animals in the front of the axles. Load older and larger animals first, followed by younger and smaller animals.
  • Ties: When tying animals in the trailer, use slip knots and tie securely at head height in the trailer.
  • Visibility: Make sure animals can see you when you enter and exit the trailer, when you are in the trailer, and when you tie or untie them.
  • Squeeze and pinch points: Remain alert to the danger of being pinned between animals and trailer sides and being pinched by the trailer gate.
  • Gates: Once the animals are loaded into the trailer, quickly close the gates and ensure that they are secure.
  • Protrusions: Inspect the trailer for broken or sharp objects protruding into the trailer. These items should be repaired immediately to prevent an injury to an animal or operator.


When driving on any roadway, always maintain a safe speed, keep your headlights on, and stay alert. Your braking time increases when you are towing a full trailer, so maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you and leave adequate room to stop. Plan your travel time carefully, and be aware that weather can cause delays by impacting road conditions and animal comfort.

Do not lock the the trailer when you are transporting animals. In the event of an emergency, rescue workers will be able to more quickly gain access to an unlocked trailer. For your animals’ safety, do not allow them to hang their heads out of the trailer, where they could be injured by flying objects.


View the video below about cattle trailer safety from Right from the Start: Safety Awareness for the Next Generation of Livestock Producers series from the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education.

View the video below about horse trailer safety from Right from the Start: Safety Awareness for the Next Generation of Livestock Producers series from the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education.

For more information about cattle handling, click here to view the article “Beef Cattle Handling Safety.”


Use the following format to cite this article:

Livestock trailer safety. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from




Harshman, W., Yoder, A., Hilton, J., & Murphy, D. (2011) Loading and towing equipment on a trailer. HOSTA Take Sheet 6.6. The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from….

Livestock trailer safety. (2012) Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education. Retrieved from

Ross, D. (2011) Take livestock transportation safety seriously. DairyHerd Network. Retrieved from

Smith, K. (n.d.) 14 trailer safety tips. Hobby Retrieved from


Contributors, reviewers and summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
William C. Harshman, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Kerri Ebert, Kansas State University
Jimmy Maass, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance (Has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –