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Hauling Cattle as a Business
Since moving into semiretirement after selling their cow herd and farmland, Waldo and Kathy Westrum of Turtle Lake, North Dakota, now focus on their side business: custom-hauling cattle. With the purchase of a new trailer, their client base and service area has expanded, doubling their cattle-hauling miles.
“Custom-hauling cattle is a good side business for a ranch because it provides cash flow,” says Waldo. “The extra income the business earns helps justify the purchase of a good stock trailer for our own ranch use.”
Waldo bought his first gooseneck trailer for hauling his own cattle back in 1992. Soon after, neighbors began asking him to haul their cattle. The business grew from there.
The Westrums’ new, custom-built trailer plays a key role in the present growth of their business. They took what they learned over many years of hauling and ordered a custom-built trailer that increases the ease of loading cattle.
The following specialized features reduce their stress and labor, and help minimize breakdowns.
• Steel construction. Relative ease of repair figured in their decision to buy a trailer constructed of steel rather than aluminum.
“If we have to repair a steel sidewall, for instance, this can be done at a regular welding shop,” says Waldo. “Repairs to aluminum have to be done at a specialized shop.”
• Heavy-duty undercarriage. The 34-foot-long trailer has three axles, each rated at 8,000 pounds. Wheels are heavy-duty, and the tires are 14 ply.
“This gives us good carrying capacity, and we’ve got more stopping power with the bigger brakes,” says Waldo. “Tire blowouts are common with stock trailers, but we’ve only had two flats in the last 26,000 miles. Those resulted from two small nails we happened to pick up.”
• Two-speed gearbox on the jack. Because the steel construction increases the weight of the trailer, the Westrums added a two-speed gearbox to the jack. The gear reduction makes it easier to crank the jack to lift the hitch out of the pickup bed.
• Double-wall design. Smooth interior walls are easy to clean and reflect light, brightening the interior. Outside walls are of horizontally designed construction materials, which tend to deflect gravel.
“Vertical structures on the outside catch rocks and chip the paint, giving rust a place to get started,” says Waldo. The trailer interior is 80 inches wide with straight sidewalls all around.
• Light interior. The interior and the exterior of the trailer are painted white. “Cattle are easier to load into a trailer that’s light inside rather than dark,” notes Kathy.
• Rubber flooring. At the factory, the floor of the trailer was coated with a ½-inch layer of a material made from recycled rubber. “It adds a layer of cushioning to the floor that makes it more comfortable for the cattle to stand on,” explains Kathy. “It’s easy to clean.”
The flooring also gives cattle more secure footing, reducing the chances of animals slipping. This gives them more confidence upon setting foot inside the trailer, and, thus, they tend to load and unload with greater ease and safety.
The material is porous, so moisture can move through it. If certain conditions in weather or hauling permit a thin layer of moisture to remain on the surface when the trailer is not in use, the Westrums spread wood chips across the floor before loading cattle. The abrasiveness of the chips improves footing and breaks up the thin layer of ice as the chips are worked underfoot by the hoof action of the cattle.
• Expanded lighting. Interior lights make cattle more willing to load at night; lights also make it easier for the driver to check animals inside the trailer. Backup lights help during night hauling. A side light on the outside of the trailer midway along its length increases safety when driving in traffic at night.
• Wide running boards. A 7-inch running board extends the length of the trailer on each side. This lets the Westrums easily stand at the side of the trailer and look inside.
“Our old trailer had a 3-inch edge running the length of it,” says Kathy. “It was hard to stand on, especially when there was ice and snow on it. The running board on the new trailer is handy and so much safer.”
• Wide top slots. Three upper slots running the length of the trailer provide airflow and let cows see out. “The slots are wide enough to let us reach in and tap on an animal if we have to,” says Waldo.
• Half-slides on interior gates. Interior gates divide the trailer into three compartments. Half-slides installed on each gate can be manually operated from the outside. This increases the ease of handling a bad-natured animal, for instance. With the rear gate closed, such an animal can still be moved to the front of the trailer without a handler having to get inside.
The Westrums continue their cattle-hauling business because they like meeting good people, and they enjoy livestock. “Being around cattle keeps us young,” says Waldo.
Building the business
Waldo and Kathy Westrum built their business slowly over the years, working at it as their own farming and ranching enterprises permitted.
These are the building blocks that have led to steady growth and long-term relationships with clients.
Nonskid floor. Long before purchasing their most recent trailer, Waldo took care to improve the footing in his previous trailer.
“I took it to a specialized business place where they spread a fiberglass coating over the wooden floor; the coating had some gravel mixed in,” he says. “That nonskid floor attracted customers.”
Timeliness. “We try to always be on time, but we prefer being 15 minutes early,” he says.
Quiet handling. “We try to handle cattle quietly without abuse,” says Westrum. “If we just have patience and give cattle a little time, most often the loading goes smoothly.”
Sharing loads. The Westrums keep track of customers, contacting them with requests to haul part-loads. They often combine two or three owners’ cattle in one trip to an auction barn. Thus, customers are able to share the hauling cost.
The Westrums’ rate is $4.25 per loaded mile. Word of mouth has been their best advertising, supplemented by ads in four local weekly papers.
“Hauling cattle for other people has been a good side business for us, because it’s flexible work and it provides cash flow,” says Westrum.
But he admits it has its challenges. “It can be expensive to maintain a pickup and a trailer, and the commercial insurance we need to carry is not cheap,” he notes. “It’s a worthwhile service, though. It’s a service to other people with cattle.”