Hauling “live loads” is not easy, but I am learning about it first-hand, these days. First off, I should probably apologize to all the Livestock Relocation Specialists (bull haulers) out there that I have told, over the years, that my money has never smelled like that. It’s funny sometimes the roads that life takes us down – my life now has me back on the road and hauling bulls. I teasingly say, that with all the BS that I have put up with over my years on the road, I might be over-qualified for the job, but here I am. There are so many different types of trucking out there, I thought it might be fun (and interesting) to write about some of them every so often. So, this month, I am focusing on the bull haulers.
Recently, at the Top Gun Largecar Shootout in Rantoul, IL I met a few bull haulers with some beautiful trucks, and they were kind enough to let me take pictures and chat with them for this story. What I learned on my own so far is that they do not all just walk on and walk off by themselves. We have had to halter calves, and have one person pull while the other one pushes, to get them in the trailer. And, sometimes, you have to do the same thing to get them back off! You need to carry clean clothes at all times, because you never know when you will need to change.
I was told in the very beginning, you will never beat a bull to the back of the trailer, so don’t even try it – otherwise, you will probably get stepped on and/or kicked. I have been stepped on, but I did not let go of the bull, so I guess that means I won – even though my little toe lost. I have not been kicked yet, but you can bet that I got myself some steel-toed boots in a hurry!
Just for fun, I thought about posting a “Rules to Ride” policy in the trailer – it would include no pooping on the walls or doors, and no spilling the water bucket – but I don’t think they would comply. In fact, most of them poop while walking in, making a mess of the nice shavings bed I have put down for them. In all honesty, I cannot remember when I have had more fun trucking.
One of the livestock relocators I met in Rantoul was Gene Carnes and his wife Misty from Prairie City, IL. Gene told me that he started riding bulls in high school in 1994 and continued until 2007, which gave him a real respect for the bulls. I told him that I feel no need to get on one’s back to respect them! Gene pulled a bull rack in his early years of trucking but got out of it when his contract was sold. From there, he pulled a reefer for 10 years, but he recently got back into livestock hauling. Today, he drives a dark tan 2004 Kenworth T-800 with maroon fenders. His mantra, “The Only Way I Know,” is painted on the back of his bunk.
A lot has changed since Gene last hauled livestock, with the biggest change being the new animal welfare laws. The USDA now severely limits the use of electric hot shots and now wants haulers to use rattle paddles to load and unload, instead. This makes it take longer to load and unload, but they say that it causes the animals less stress. The National Pork Producers Council now requires drivers to take a Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) course. When completed, you get a certificate that is required at most packing plants, along with your driver’s license, to get in. The cattle and sheep producers do not have this yet, but I would not be surprised if they don’t follow suit very soon.
Another change is that more and more livestock haulers are switching to spread or tri-axle trailers because of the weight. I know how hard it is to load boxes just right so that all your axle weights are maximized and you are still legal, but when you are loading live animals and you don’t know the individual weights of each one – and they can freely move around inside the trailer – it makes it almost impossible to get loaded, with a maximum weight, and still have all of your axle weights be right, too.
By law, if a load is on the trailer for over 24 hours, the driver is required to stop and let them all out to rest, eat and drink. For the long hauls, being a team could help a lot in controlling the amount of time that the animals are on the trailer. And, after unloading, you can’t just pull into your local Blue Beacon for a trailer washout. But, thankfully, many of the packing plants and sale barns have a trailer washout location nearby.
While in Rantoul, I also met Curtis Mentzer – another bull hauler. When Curtis told me that he was named Iowa’s Most Eligible Bachelor in 2000, I knew had to find out more about this guy. Curtis grew up on a cattle and pig farm in northwest Iowa. He got his CDL to drive the farm trucks when he was 18 and still in high school, but that career would be put on hold for a while.
One July day, while driving a tractor in a local parade, Curtis was spotted by Kay Boyson, a model recruiter visiting her brother. After talking to his parents, Keith and Kathy Mentzer, Curtis headed to New York to pursue a career in modeling. While in New York, the editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine picked him to be Iowa’s Most Eligible Bachelor in 2000. He spent four years going all over the country modeling, before finally coming home. Curtis is humble about his good looks, and said that there were a lot of “city guys” in New York that were just full of themselves!
Once home, Curtis and his cousin Brent Sibriect each bought a truck and trailer. Curtis’ modeling money helped him buy that first truck and trailer, but his hard work has been the reason that he continues to be so successful in the business. Curtis told me that hauling livestock will teach me a whole new vocabulary, and I believe him. He has hauled cattle, pigs and sheep for nine years now, and works hard to keep the trailer loaded both ways. Today, Curtis drives a super-clean 2013 Peterbilt 389, painted Hawaiian Orchard, with a 550 Cat, an 18-speed and 3:55 rears.
Curtis met his beautiful wife Jessica on a date set up by his friend Josh. She doesn’t go with him on the road because she is busy with her own business as a beautician, but she did take a break to go with him to the truck show in Rantoul, where I was lucky enough to meet both of them. What a great-looking couple! Curtis told me that he has friends that argue about the trucking part of their personal lives, but for Curtis and Jessica, it is working. “She is cool with it,” he said with a smile.
Loading a clean trailer every time is important to help keep our food chain supply safe. There are also new regulations going into effect soon relating to animal identification, and there will come a day if you don’t participate, buyers will not be buying your livestock. It’s all to help identify where animals come from and where they have been, in case of a recall.
I have said before that if you have trucked for a day you will have a trucker story, but if you are a bull hauler, your stories might be just a little bit more colorful. Hauling livestock is a very serious and dangerous business, and I want to say thank you to all the men and women who are out here doing just that. If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be all that meat to put in a reefer and take to the grocery warehouses, and you’d have nothing to put on your grill or table for dinner – and that is NOT a load of bull!