Farmers ignore the rules about keeping livestock off food and water for specific periods before going onto a truck. Operators like Mark Johnstone, from Surat in Queensland, has to cope with cattle producing the extra effluent in his trailers.
“You can only tell people once,” says Mark. “If you keep going back to them, complaining to them and telling them to keep the cattle off water, they will end up going to someone else. I can understand the problem, they send out these pamphlets saying cattle have to be off water for 12 hours before loading, then we pull up at a ramp and they are still putting them in the yard.
“It’s hard, because some people will take them off water and others won’t. If I go and load first at a farm which doesn’t, then the crate is full of mess when I go to the next farmer. He has been responsible but his cattle will come off looking just as bad as the farmer who doesn’t bother.”
Recent changes to the legislation have meant each piece of equipment being used in a task where volume loading of livestock is allowed has to have a plate attached. In the past, the S10 plate only had to be fixed to the prime mover, now each trailer and dolly need to be certified separately. This sets a maximum mass for each component, opening up the opportunity for roadside enforcement to weigh trucks to ensure they do not breach the volume loading rules.
“New South Wales is really hard for us,” says Mark. “Every now and then we do a load out of there. Because we have to have our crates built heavier to cope with the conditions out west, when we go into NSW we get done. We are probably only legal with a deck and a half of cattle on the trailer.”
According to Mark, the push to limit loading is making operators buy lighter trailers, which he regards as a dangerous move. The conditions in the areas where he works will cause increased damage to lighter trailers.
“When you come down some of these tracks and it causes damage, then get onto the bitumen and something falls off, that’s when you get the really bad accidents,” says Mark.
All of the maintenance work is handled in the Surat yard, apart from big jobs like replacing diffs. However, since Mark has started buying new trucks, as opposed to second hand, there have been very few major repairs to worry about.
Three full-length trailers and a lead trailer mean Mark can run a number of different combinations from a single trailer, through the B-double and AB triple, all of the way up to an AAB quad. This biggest combination can run west of Quilpie under a permit and is, essentially, a double road train pulling a B-double.
The road conditions and the loads carried by livestock hauliers in the remote areas require exceptional solutions. Mark has come up with own solutions. He can end up on the side of the road, satellite phone in hand days away from help. He has to be resourceful and be prepared at all times.