The livestock trucking industry did not have an easy start. In the 1930s legislation limited road transport to moving stock from farm to rail, except in areas with no rail service. The number of licences open to trucking firms was limited. Fuel restrictions, tyre shortages and the government’s right to second vehicles for the war effort slowed the growth of road transport during the Second World War. At the same time, the government had less money to invest in infrastructure, and rural areas often had inadequate roads.
However, in the post-war years the government began to expand and upgrade the country’s highway system. Between 1945 and 1955 the number of trucks in the country more than doubled. In 1961 regulation changes enabled the livestock trucking industry to compete with the railways.
The great escape
Vernon Wright recalled a cattle beast making a brave escape from a truck when he was driving a mob of cattle past it on road in Northland. ‘[A] stock transporter drives past at about 50 kph; a young heifer pulls itself over the top fence of the truck and leaps the four metres to the ground. It lands on its neck and shoulder, lies stunned for a second or two, then clambers to its feet, shakes itself, and joins in with [the] herd.’ 1
The growth of the trucking industry
Transporting stock by truck began in a small way in the 1920s and grew in the 1930s as trucks became more reliable, with bigger engines, heavier suspension and better tyres. Lorries had simple flat decks, with detachable wooden stock crates. Most crates had two decks for carrying lambs and sheep. They could hold 100–120 lambs or 80 ewes.
Despite the limited numbers that trucks could carry, they offered the advantages of shorter travelling times and less stress for the animals. The low carrying capacity of early trucks prevented mature cattle being carried until larger lorries were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s.
Transporting bobby calves
Bobby calves (bull calves or surplus heifer calves from dairy farms, only about three or four days old) are the youngest class of animal to be regularly transported in New Zealand. They are collected from the farm gate in spring and trucked to the nearest freezing works for slaughter.
Technical advances over the years have increased the size, horsepower, speed and carrying capacities of trucks. The 1960s saw the introduction of articulated truck-and-trailer units, which could carry more animals. From the 1970s, big rigs could transport around 600 prime lambs, 400 ewes, or 40 cattle. Stock crates had three levels for sheep, but could be converted to double-deck cattle crates. The crates are removable, enabling trucking firms to carry other freight outside of the stock season, making their businesses more financially viable.
As stock trucks got bigger and carried more animals, the problem of effluent became worse. Travelling in a car behind a fully loaded stock truck can be very messy. In 1997 a National Stock Effluent Working Group was formed to develop solutions to the problem, and in 2003 it introduced an industry code that farmers and trucking companies had to adopt.
In the 2000s the trucks continued to get larger and carrying capacities continued to grow, with a truck-and-trailer unit able to carry 440 adult sheep or 700 lambs, 45 prime cattle beasts or 100 weaners. These huge units often travel the length of the country.