Re: Photo: Watermelons In Livestock Car (Undated)

Douglas Harding

Remember that livestock slaughter took place year-round, some plants running several shifts. Slaughter houses also like to keep1-3 days of livestock on hand to keep cutting lines going even if supply was disrupted by weather, holidays, or other anomalies. Livestock shipments were/are an everyday occurrence to keep those slaughter houses working. And buyers from the slaughter houses went far afield seeking suitable animals, resulting in animals being shipped daily, sometimes over long distances. It is also important to note that trucks were not restricted to the 28 hr law like railroads, until the 1990s, well after the railroads were completely out of the livestock shipping business.

But Ray is correct, some livestock shipments were seasonal. Think sheep being moved from high mountain meadows to lowlands in the fall, and back up to the high lands in the spring. Feeder calves were moved from western grasslands to midwestern feedlots and local farmers for feeding on corn each spring. Then once "fattened" these same calves moved to slaughter in the fall/winter. 

Pigs are a little different. One point, most are raised within 100 miles of where they will be slaughtered, so hog shipments quickly moved by truck, even in the 30s. Most pig farmers plan their breeding plans and their feeder pig purchases to have a load ready to sell about every two weeks. 

Doug Harding
Youtube: Douglas Harding Iowa Central Railroad

On Wed, Jun 8, 2022 at 4:09 PM Ray Breyer via <> wrote:
Nope: it means that A specific yard had A specific car at A specific date in time, that wasn't doing anything else.

Yes, livestock was seasonal, but there are lots of variables that go into that statement. Where are you talking about? When are you talking about? What era are you talking about? What railroad are you talking about? The car fleets would move to where the traffic was, meaning that you'd see odd things like W&LE stock cars in Oklahoma. Leftover cars would be used to haul other loads, but I suspect that there was a constant trickle of that activity, rather than downtime seasons for entire fleets of stock cars.

If you're modeling before 1936 (when the USDA says 50% of all livestock movement were by motor vehicle, not by rail) you can trace a lot of roster fiddling by railroads, as they attempt to balance their equipment investments with traffic requirements. Stock cars come and go pretty rapidly, and it was large leasing companies like Mather and Streets that provided some cushion against surges. After 1936 the stock car fleet is on a straight downward spiral, as most livestock movements transitioned to trucks by 1960. There were outliers that moved stock by rail into the 1980s, but they were at the tail end of a 60 year trend.

Ray Breyer
Elgin, IL

On Wednesday, June 8, 2022, 02:49:06 PM CDT, Ted Larson via <> wrote:

Does that suggest that cattle shipments were seasonal?

Ted Larson   ---   GN in 1965   --- 

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