Safe cattle yards: Livestock loading and unloading

Efficient livestock loading on your farm starts with planning for safety. Livestock loading is one of the most dangerous activities in the yards. Use this quick guide to check the safety of your livestock loading.


Assess the safety of your loading ramps

Improve the safety of your livestock loading

Livestock loading is one of the most dangerous tasks to be undertaken in cattle yards. It requires trained and experienced cattle handlers.

Plan for safety before you start loading

Familiarise livestock transporters with the work area, discuss the loading plan, and explain any risks before loading starts.

  • No-one should load cattle alone.
  • Ensure someone familiar with the cattle is in control when loading.
  • Handle cattle using methods they are used to. For example, if a farm uses low stress stock handling, use these methods when loading.
  • Avoid being within the ramp with cattle.
  • When upgrading yards, design them to separate people and cattle at all times.
  • If physically being in a pen is required to apply pressure to cattle, ensure that:
    • all cattle handlers are aware of and communicate with each other
    • gates are securely shut prior to applying pressure in the pen in case cattle turn back
    • there are escape routes for the people applying pressure in the pen, that do not involve jumping over, under or through railings or climbing the ramp
    • the pen is not overcrowded, or that a single cow, steer or bull are not isolated alone from the herd in a pen
  • Ensure all gates and yard rails are well maintained and can securely hold against the weight of cattle that may turn around in the pen.
  • Ensure that everyone working in the yards is trained and experienced in cattle handling.

Use the right type of ramp

There are many different types of ramp designs available. When replacing a cattle loading ramp, for safety and longevity:

  • design it to at least livestock ramp standard AS 5340:2020
  • design out people and animals being in the same space

Before deciding on a loading ramp think about:

  • The type of trucks you want to load or unload.
  • The space that you have to load and unload.
  • The number of cattle you are planning to load or unload.
    • If you are loading high volumes of cattle you may want to consider a double decker (under and over) loading ramp.
    • If you have a high volume of cattle coming onto farm you may want to consider a dump ramp. This is a ramp that is usually wider than a loading ramp and unloads into pens that have easy access to holding paddocks.
  • The fit for the breed of cattle you want to load and unload.

The livestock transporters association has excellent guidance that discusses width of ramps, safe designs, loading areas and much more. They also have links to videos of best practice and improved ramps.

Book livestock transport that works for your loading area

Think about your loading areas before you book livestock transport. If your loading area is not set up correctly it can be unsafe to use certain transport options.

Before booking livestock transport consider:

  • What the loading area looks like.
    • All loading areas should have a flat approach to the loading ramp without debris such as discarded equipment, farm machinery, hay bales or large ruts or holes.
  • The access available for the loading vehicle.
    • There needs to be enough room to straight line reverse, without needing to stop on a public road while loading.
    • It is best practice to have access to the loading area that does not require the vehicle to twist to fit the space.
    • Will the vehicle need to back in from the blind side? This should be avoided wherever possible.
  • The weight of the truck you book.
    • Can the surface of your loading area support the weight of the truck and cattle once loaded?
  • The size of your ramp forcing pen.
    • The pen needs to accommodate a minimum of a long pen of cattle, up to a pen of cattle as per the penning density guidelines.
  • The type of ramp you will be using.
    • Lightweight portable ramp facilities that are not bolted to the ground are not ideal. You should make transport drivers aware if you intend to use this type of ramp when you are negotiating transport with them.
    • All portable yards need to be securely anchored, for example by using wheel chocks.
  • The availability of farm help to familiarise the livestock transporter with your yards and oversee loading.
  • The weather forecast for when loading occurs.
    • Wet weather may reduce the weight that your loading area can support.
  • The time of day and light conditions for loading.
    • If loading in dark conditions ensure there is adequate lighting.
  • Are the roads leading to your farm rated to support the truck or trailer you are ordering?
    • If the roads surrounding your farm are not rated for B-Doubles, you should not order one, or you may need to get a NHVR permit.

Your responsibilities under the law

As a farmer you may be self-employed, employ people, or manage and control a farm. Regardless, you have duties under the OHS Act. These can include ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • you provide a farm that is a safe working environment without risks to the health of your employees and contractors
  • your farm activities don't expose persons other than employees, for example family, or visitors, to health and safety risks
  • that people, including people making deliveries on the farm, can enter and leave the farm safely, and without risk to their health
  • you consult with your employees and contractors about health and safety on your farm

More information and advice