“A lot more operations are getting big enough to run their own equipment so it makes it tough for the independent livestock hauler.”
The slower flow of cattle across the U. S. border is affecting livestock haulers across Alberta, and it’s no different in the Peace region.
Keith Stephenson is owner of one of the Peace’s largest livestock-hauling operations. Based out of Valleyview, his company hauls livestock across all four western provinces. “It’s tough,” said Stephenson. “We used to get certain slowdowns for sure, but now they’re so prolonged.”
Stephenson has been in the business for 18 years and employs drivers in Beaverlodge, Valleyview and Barrhead. He says independent livestock haulers have additional problems since some companies such as former customer Peace Pork have decided to buy their own trucks.
“We’ve run into that quite a bit in the last six years,” he said. “A lot more operations are getting big enough to run their own equipment so it makes it tough for the independent livestock hauler.”
Stephenson says he’s not sure that always pays off. “When you figure out the total costs of buying, maintaining and operating your own equipment, I don’t know that they’re seeing much cost savings.”
Stephenson says one of the biggest challenges is lack of livestock movement into the U. S. “There’s so much equipment just sitting around right now that would normally be running south of the border,” he said. “Everyone’s just trying to stay busy and keep their people employed.”
Back to livestock
At the age of 18 Stephenson earned his Class 1 and started hauling food and fertilizer out of Stony Plain. He then went to work in oilfield hauling. After about five years, he bought his own truck and started hauling for Canadian Freightways and Burns Foods.
Stephenson moved up to the Valleyview area, bought his own farm and was keen to start hauling livestock again. “I’d always liked it best, but it’s seasonal and I couldn’t afford to stay in it,” he said. Once he was a little more established, he says he could weather the seasonality of the business.
Today, Stephenson hauls cattle and hogs from the Grande Prairie and Dawson Creek areas. Cattle go to the slaughter plants at High River and Brooks, as well as to southern feedlots. Picking up a load of hogs per week to Langley, B. C. has also helped.
“We run tri-trucks and trailers, so we can haul more weight and more head,” Stephenson says. “The new configuration works well for some plants too since we can make an extra-heavy load work, and it works well for feeder cattle too because it gives us more square footage.”
Insurance can be a big headache when you’re in the hauling business, says Stephenson. “You’ve got to have at least $100,000 coverage per trailer for cargo, and I’m not sure everyone does,” he said.
Hiring good help can also be difficult. “Right now I’ve got some good operators, but it can be tough to find someone who fits with hauling livestock.” It’s not like working in the oilfield, said Stephenson.
The new certification course required by Canadian Livestock Transportation helps, he said.
Livestock hauling is different than any other kind, said Stephenson. “You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing and the people you’re dealing with,” he said. As for Stephenson, this is definitely his game. “I’ve always liked hauling livestock, and since I was 18 I was looking for a way back.” For now, Stephenson said he plans to cut back on some of his equipment. “There’s no room for expansion, that’s for sure,” he said. “If you believe the prognosticators, cow numbers are way down and it stands to reason there are less feeder cattle and calves to move. It’s time to sit tight and wait for things to turn around.”