Ranching 101—Here’s a rundown of how to find a stock trailer to suit your needs.

April 11, 2019

4 Min Read
livestock trailer purchase

 By Bruce Derksen

With spring’s arrival and summer grazing season approaching, it might be time to replace grandpa’s old stock trailer with a new or second-hand trailer to haul your cow-calf pairs to pasture. Or maybe you’re just getting into the cattle business and need a trailer.

But like a B grade horror movie, you imagine 300 trailers spread over a 15-acre lot with salespeople focusing in on you from every direction before you even put your truck in park.

Before you find yourself in this predicament, come up with a plan and decide on a few things.  What kind of budget do you have and what are you going to be using the trailer for? Your purchase will vary greatly depending on whether your answer is hauling cows and calves, show horses, grass cattle, pasture bulls, hogs, sheep, feed or equipment. Will you make long cross-country hauls or just occasional quick jaunts to the local veterinarian?

If you need to match the trailer with a new truck, the choices become easier as you can upgrade to a larger or more suitable sized bumper hitch or gooseneck trailer in either steel or aluminum. But if your purchase needs to fit your pre-existing truck, make sure that it can be used properly and safely. 

Calculate the combined trailer and cargo weight and ensure it will not exceed what your vehicle can handle. And don’t forget the cost of registration, insurance and warranty, as it all adds up.

Both steel and aluminum trailers have pros and cons. The cost of aluminum will likely hit your pocketbook harder on purchase day, but it will pull easier and give more worry-free longevity by standing up to the elements better. 

Depending on your area of the country, you will want to choose either solid walls and roof if used in colder climates or slatted walls and a possible bow-top tarped roof for hotter and more humid areas.

For new trailers, there are still many available options to choose from such as steel or aluminum body, matting, and wood or rubber plank flooring. Measure for desired roof height and account for door positioning, available safety latches and locks when making decisions. If new to owning a trailer and unsure of what you require, buying locally can be a reasonable way to find out from dealers what works well for other producers in the area.

If you decide to purchase a used or second-hand trailer, more work and diligence is ahead. Each year, many stock trailers are stolen throughout the country and if you make the mistake of buying one, you will potentially be out both the money paid and the trailer when it is returned to the rightful owner. Don’t skip over the step of checking the serial number and chain of ownership as it can save a lot of heartache and money in the long run.

Having a thorough check done on any used trailer is a must. If you are not comfortable with all the potential suspect areas of a trailer, arrange to have it checked by a trained professional. It is much better to be safe than sorry. 

If you have enough experience and knowledge to make the inspection yourself, don’t leave any stone unturned or panel unchecked. Over time, rust and corrosion on a steel trailer will damage welds, joints and supports, leaving it vulnerable.

Check specifically where walls and floors meet, probing any visible rust spots with a screw-driver or knife to discern the extent of problems. Make sure gates and latches are in good operating condition and look for bent or replaced metal signifying potential chronic troubles. 

Assess the tires including the spare with rim and attempt to find out when the bearings and brakes were last serviced. And don’t forget the underside. Pull on some coveralls and crawl underneath, looking for corrosion and cracks on floor crossbeams and supports. Check shackles, bolts, springs and axles plus inspect the wiring looking for loose or exposed electrical wires and harness.

If you’re still interested in the trailer after your thorough check, arrange for a test drive with your own truck. Listen for any odd or unusual noises, taking note of braking pressure required and straight-line towing. Make sure all the lights function properly and be aware of excessive bouncing and swaying.

When searching for that “just right” trailer, do so with purpose and the right state of mind, confident in the fact that you know what you want. Don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked into a conversation about rainfall amounts or the basketball game when you should be crawling underneath looking for signs of corrosion and rust. 

A checklist can be a very helpful so that nothing is overlooked or forgotten. With a well-defined goal in mind, you will be able to face those salespeople or your neighbor selling his used trailer with the proper mindset, knowing that with your knowledge and preparation, you will make a sound decision for your operation.


Derksen is a freelance writer and feedyard pen checker from Lacombe, Alberta.

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