In order to haul livestock safely, there are a few things to check on both the truck and trailer before hooking on, loading up and heading out.
“Knowing the load capabilities of your truck before using it to haul livestock is important,” says Kenda Lubeck, farm safety co-ordinator for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “Just because your truck can pull a loaded trailer down the road doesn’t mean it can handle it safely. Drivers often won’t discover this until they have problems manoeuvring the rig at highway speeds or find it difficult to stop.”
To know if your truck is rated to safely handle a loaded livestock trailer, check the truck’s gross combined vehicle weight rating. This is the maximum weight the tow vehicle can safely handle. It factors in the tow vehicle’s weight (including passengers, fuel and any equipment or cargo) plus the weight of the loaded trailer.
Lubeck cautions that hitches are also rated for weight and fall into different classifications. Before you even mount a hitch in your tow vehicle, whether bumper pull or gooseneck, make sure it is rated for the loads required.
It’s important to set aside time to do a thorough safety inspection of the trailer. This should include:
- 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. On a bumper pull, safety chains should be crossed under the tongue and be just long enough to enable the rig to turn, but not so long as to drag on the ground.
- Trailer brakes: Inspect the breakaway cable or brake system. In Alberta, brakes are required on any trailer over 910 kilograms being towed by a private passenger tow vehicle.
- 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 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. Now is also a good time to ensure that your tow vehicle tires are strong enough for the job. Check the sidewall and compare the load rating of your truck to the load each tire will be required to carry.
- Lug nuts: Inspect regularly to ensure they are properly tightened.
- Flooring: Inspect to ensure it is sturdy and clean. If more traction is needed, install rubber matting. Replace floor boards showing signs of wear or rot.
- Battery: If you use battery-powered accessories, ensure that your emergency battery is charged and ready for use.
- General condition: Look for signs of weakness such as warped areas, rust, corrosion or cracked welding points, any sharp edges that could injure an animal or handler, and that all screws, nuts and bolts are tight and secure.
- Brake controllers: Test and make adjustments as needed depending on the weight of your trailer. This needs to be done before each trip as load weights change.
“By thoroughly inspecting your truck and trailer each year, you reduce the chances of being caught off guard at an inconvenient and possibly dangerous time,” says Lubeck. “Knowing your rig is safe lets you focus on other important tasks, such as driving.”