By Mandy Heth
I’ve spent more than eight years working in the agricultural industry, before that there were some college years – focused in agriculture – and before that there was growing up on a small, hobby farm. I’ve seen a lot of ag. I’ve had the opportunity to tour large livestock production operations and to walk through the entire meat processing system backwards from pork loin all the way to live animals, but what I hadn’t seen is the missing link – the step between the operation and the processing facility.
It wasn’t until a recent client request that I even started to think about this “missing link.” But when a client asked – “How do they weigh pigs at a production facility?” – no one on my team had a solid answer. We had some ideas, we made some phone calls and talked to folks we thought would know and it turns out – not many people really did know what happens from the point an animal is loaded onto a trailer and when it’s in holding pens at the processing facility.
I was lucky to find a contact at Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, MO who at least walked me through part of this process. His job was to ensure that animals were arriving at the facility in a steady rate to keep their operation running smoothly and effectively. They harvest more than 18,000 hogs a day at his operation and doing the math backwards that means that they unload roughly 100 trailers full of hogs each day.
What this sparked for me was the desire to understand the rest of the process. What about the transportation of the animals between facilities? Were all of these truckers trained? Do they follow set schedules? In fact, I realized the only time I really ever heard about the transportation side of the livestock business was when an unfortunate accident happened. But just think about the hundreds of thousands of animals being transported across this country at any given time!
While at the World Pork Expo a co-worker and I were lucky enough to catch one of these illusive livestock haulers while he was perusing some new trailer equipment. He was able to answer some of our questions about how his part of the system works and share his 30 year hauling history.
When it comes time to load and unload, it’s truly the truck driver who does most of the work. He’s responsible for filling the trailer with hogs, making sure the hogs are watered in the trailer and then for unloading the hogs after they’ve arrived at the processing plant. When you’re talking about dealing with 180-200 animals at a time and trying to get them all up ramps, into trailers and keeping track of them, it’s no easy task. It’s also his responsibility to keep the pigs alive and safe during the transportation process. During the unload the truck drivers are responsible for the removal of any downed animals or animals who have died during transport, which can be anywhere from 3-6 hogs per load based on the weather (heat stress) and whether they properly prepared the animals for transport. It’s a job that’s physical, requires a lot of patience and good time management, proper animal management, as well as the skills you need to drive big rigs. Livestock hauling is definitely not a job for the weary – it’s hard work that’s often underappreciated, but critical to the food production process.
This brief glimpse into the livestock transportation business was fascinating, it’s made me appreciate our entire animal agriculture business chain even more and has me very curious to actually be able to watch a load-in, load-out and sorting process for myself. So if there are any livestock haulers out there that are looking for a shadow for a day – I’ve got my boots ready!