If You Own Livestock, You Need A Reliable Trailer

Moving animals is a big part of raising livestock, so make sure you have a good trailer and know how to load it before hauling day arrives.

by Audrey Pavia
PHOTO: Courtesy www.fthr.com

If you share your life with more critters than just a couple of dogs and some chickens, you probably own a stock trailer—or you need to own one. Whether it’s goats, sheep, cows or pigs on your farm, you should have a safe way to transport them. And unlike the dogs and the chickens, you can’t just toss your farm animals in the backseat of your car.

Livestock trailers come in a variety of sizes and styles, and the one you have—or the one you will choose to buy—will depend on what kind of animals you want to transport, and how many. While horses have their own special transportation needs—and trailers designed especially for them—most other farm animals do well traveling in a basic stock trailer.

Trailer Basics

Most people have seen horse trailers tooling down the highway. But a livestock trailer is different from a horse trailer in several ways.

Unlike horse trailers, stock trailers tend to be lower in height and also narrower in width. Stock trailers have a rear swing gate as a door, and a step-up entry, as opposed to a ramp. 

An escape door is usually located at the front of the trailer for human use. Most stock trailers have an open design with no dividers. Some have floor-to-ceiling gates inside that allow you to separate some of the animals while they are traveling.

Stock trailers are typically less expensive than horse trailers. One reason is because of the construction. Basic stock trailers usually have single-wall construction and no padding on the inside. They also have slots for ventilation as opposed to windows that can be opened and closed.

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Two Kinds of Trailers

Stock trailers can either be bumper pulls (attaching to a hitch on a vehicle bumper) or goosenecks (attaching to the inside of a truck bed). Unless you have a lot of animals to haul, a bumper pull stock trailer is probably the better choice.

Gooseneck stock trailers tend to be large and are often designed for big loads. And, of course, they’re more expensive.

Some stock trailers have storage compartments, but most don’t. Horse trailers have tack rooms and other places to keep saddles and tack. But for hauling critters such as goats, sheep, cows and pigs, you probably don’t need a place to keep equipment.

If you want to bring feed along, you’ll likely want to put it in the back of your tow vehicle.

livestock trailer trailers
Courtesy HillsboroIndustries.com

Pulling Your Trailer

Whether you are considering buying a stock trailer or already own one, it’s crucial that your tow vehicle be capable of hauling the weight of the trailer plus whatever you put inside.

You will need a heavy-duty truck or SUV, preferably equipped with a tow package. This will enable you to plug the trailer power connector into the tow vehicle, and receive electricity to the trailer. Your brake lights and turn signals will be synced with your vehicle via this connection. 

Read more: It’s critically important to respect payloads and towing limits.

Towing Capacity

How do you know if your vehicle is capable of safely pulling your trailer? According to Kelley Blue Book, a California-based vehicle valuation and automotive research company, the towing capacity of your vehicle is the maximum amount of weight it can safely pull. This changes based on how the vehicle is configured, how much weight it’s already carrying, and how you distribute and control the load you need to tow.

You’ll find that the vehicle manufacturer has assigned an estimated towing capacity weight for your truck or SUV. But you can’t just look at that weight and the weight stamped on your trailer, and assume you are good to go.

Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating

What you really need to look at is your vehicle’s Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR). This is the weight of your vehicle with people and equipment loaded, plus the weight of your trailer, with animals, feed and anything else included.

You also need to know your vehicle’s “curb weight.” This is the weight of the vehicle itself without people or equipment inside.

According to Kelley Blue Book, subtract your vehicle’s curb weight—available from your vehicle manufacturer—from the GCVWR, and you’ll get the towing capacity of the vehicle. For example, if your vehicle’s loaded weight is 10,000 pounds (includes vehicle weight plus people and equipment) and your trailer’s loaded weight (includes trailer weight plus animals and feed, etc.) is 6,000 pounds, your GCVWR is 16,000 pounds. 

If your vehicle’s curb weight is 5,000 pounds, your needed tow capacity is 9,000 pounds. Kelley Blue Book recommends not coming within 10 percent of your maximum towing capacity for safety reasons.

The less weight you are pulling, the safer you and your animals will be when traveling. 

To determine the weight of your trailer while loaded, you need to have an idea of how much each of your animals weighs. If you’re not sure, do some research on your type of animal and what they typically weigh at their current age, or ask your veterinarian for an estimate.

If you plan to bring along feed and other equipment in the trailer, include the weight of this as well. 

Trailer Maintenance

Keeping your trailer in good shape is key to its longevity, and to your animals’ safety. Most trailers are stored outdoors, so the elements, along with time, take their toll.

Livestock trailers should be inspected at least once a year for safety. A knowledgeable mechanic, or a trailer maintenance shop, should conduct the inspection. These are the key areas that need inspection:


Look at each of the tires on your trailer—including the spare—and exam the condition and the tread. You should see at least 14-inch tread left on the tires.

If the tires are worn, replace them. Poorly maintained tires are recipes for disaster when hauling. Rotate the tires once a year, too. This will help keep the wear even.


Have the brakes examined for wear, just as you would the brakes in your car or truck. If the brake pads and/or drums are worn, have them replaced.


Examine the floorboards to make sure they are secured, and that the wood has not rotted, or that the metal has not rusted. An unstable floor can give way while you are hauling, resulting in a catastrophe for your animals. 


Lubricate the metal areas of your trailer, such as the coupler, hinges and other areas where rust may settle or where stiffness might set in. A spray lubricant should do the job. 


Make sure signals and brake lights are functioning properly. And replace any burned out bulbs or malfunctioning circuits.

Brake controller

The brake controller box on the front of your trailer is designed to engage and stop your trailer should it become separated from your vehicle while you are hauling. Have your brake controller inspected to make sure the battery is charging, and that the controller is in proper working order.

Having a well-maintained stock trailer at your disposal will enable you to haul your animals whenever you need to, for pleasure or in an emergency.

Once you have made the commitment to trailer ownership, you will wonder how you ever lived without one. 

Read more: Loading pigs? Check out these four tips for transporting hogs.


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Loading Your Animals

Whether you plan to travel regularly with your animals—like for vet visits or trips to the fair—or just want your trailer for emergencies, it’s a good idea to train each to load into the trailer before hauling day.

livestock trailer trailers
Courtesy Featherlite Trailers, www.fthr.com

Most types of livestock are naturally claustrophobic, and won’t willingly go into what looks to them like a big metal box. It can take time and patience to teach your animals the trailer is a safe place to enter. 

The best way to introduce your animals to a trailer? Feed them in it. Park the trailer where they can see it (hitched to the vehicle for safety reasons). Place some food on the floor, close to the entry, with the door securely propped open. Your animals will learn to eat out of the trailer while standing just outside.

Once they are comfortable, move food farther into the trailer. Eventually, your critters will enter to get at the food. Once they go inside, let them come and go at will. This will help them feel comfortable being inside. Eventually you can close the door while they are eating. Leave them inside for short periods of time. 

The next step is to take them on short trips, making sure they have plenty of food while inside the trailer. Even if you just drive around the neighborhood for 20 minutes, a short ride will help them adapt to movement. Be aware you may have some loading regression after that first ride. You may have to go back to putting the feed near the door, slowly working them back inside.

Safe Driving

If you’ve ever been a passenger in a car with a bad driver, you know how unpleasant it can be. You not only feel physically uncomfortable, but you may become anxious, too. The same goes for animals traveling in a poorly driven trailer. After one or two bad rides, the animals may refuse to load.

What constitutes a bad trailer ride is not far off from a bad car ride. Stopping short, turning sharply, and abruptly accelerating and decelerating can all make for a scary ride for a four-legged passenger.

Here are some guidelines for good driving when hauling livestock.

  • Reduce speed: Many highways and interstates have slower speed limits for vehicles that are hauling, and with good reason. Slower speeds are safer when pulling a trailer. A slower speed will also reduce the amount of jostling your animals will experience when you go over potholes and rough roads.
  • Gradually accelerate and decelerate: Nothing is more alarming for an animal in a trailer than to be thrust forward or thrown backward when the towing vehicle abruptly speeds up or slows down.
  • Make slow turns: Animals standing in a trailer have to work to keep their balance as the vehicle moves. The most difficult part of the ride is during turns. As you make a turn, remember your animals are working to keep their balance, and the slower you go, the easier it will be for them. A good rule of thumb when hauling your animals is to pretend you have a glass of water in the trailer that you are trying not to spill.

This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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