While animal health officials seem to preach incessantly about biosecurity on America's cattle operations, very few operations have apparently taken the admonishments to heart.

In a survey of cattle haulers in Kansas, conducted by Kansas State University (KSU), truckers reported that few cattle operations have biosecurity requirements for truckers visiting their premises. The survey found that 76% of responding truckers “never to occasionally” encountered restricted access signs, while 15% reported such signs at every site.

Meanwhile, 90% of the operations visited by the respondents didn't require a change of clothes or footwear before handling cattle. And, 84% of respondents reported never receiving a written biosecurity protocol from owners.

That's troubling when one considers that the same survey found trailer washouts as being variable. Of respondents, 16% reported they washed the livestock trailers between every load, while 45% washed trailers once or twice each week. Another 33% said they washed their livestock trailers based on the number of loads, the length of the haul, or as needed.

What's more, the vast majority of those cleanings were with cold water. Less than 5% included disinfection, and 80% of the hauling companies had no written protocols for trailer sanitation.

“I think the survey shows the vital role the transportation segment of the industry plays in both biosecurity and quality assurance,” says Mark Spire, KSU research veterinarian and director of the study. “As a veterinarian, I want to reduce injuries and pathogen load in cattle under my care.

“Any time cattle are hauled, there's a potential for injury and the movement of pathogens from one operation to the next. It becomes critical that everybody does their part to minimize these risks,” he adds.

Spire says the survey results point out the job that needs to be done in continuing education for the trucking sector.

“Livestock trucking is a sector faced with a lot of pressures, both regulatory and competitive. As a result, trucking companies must push for the most economical program they can offer,” Spire says. “They often don't have the time to put into providing education for drivers on the practices that may enhance product delivery.”

In addition, Spire says, there are a lot of single-driver rigs, a situation that doesn't offer much opportunity for cross-training.

“If drivers are taught initially to use a cattle prod, that's what you'll see being used a lot,” Spire says. “If they're taught quiet cattle handling, that's what you'll get. It all depends on education.”

Spire says he suspects the research results of the survey, mailed to 400 members (132 were returned) of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association (KMCA), are “typical” of cattle trucking as a whole.

“From the survey, we found how we can deliver education materials to drivers and what will be the most efficient use of their time,” Spire says. “It goes back to developing some very concise information that will aid in training in areas such as vehicle sanitation, pre-transportation handling of animals, animal care while in possession of the trucking company, and on disease recognition.”

Working with KMCA, Spire says KSU has developed an instructive CD on these topics, as well as a series of brochures. Online learning opportunities are currently under development.

The four brochures and a CD on animal handling, entitled “Responsible Cattle Handling and Transport for Optimum Welfare and Meat Quality,” are available via KSU's stocker Web site — www.beefstockerusa.org — or from KMCA (www.kmca.org or 785/267-1641).

Spire says producers also have a role to play in improving the situation.

“Producers need to be open with their haulers. You need to set the parameters of what you want for humane handling and animal welfare. Prepare a list of specifications you want a company to meet if they are going to haul for you,” Spire says.

That extra effort also should not go unrewarded, he adds.

“If you expect truckers to meet those standards, and it costs extra time and money to wash those trucks out — and it's about $150 to wash them out completely — you need to expect to pay for that high quality of service,” Spire says.

For more on biosecurity, visit www.beefcowcalf.com and select “biosecurity” from the opening page menu.