Shipping Cattle on Ocean Steamships


| 2/7/2018 3:06:00 PM


Sam MooreFrom a book named Ocean Steamships, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York in 1891, comes this brief account of shipping cattle from the United States to Europe. I thought it was rather interesting, especially the statement about packing the cattle tightly to protect them from injury. In light of today’s animal rights regulations, such practices would never fly.

“The loading of cattle-ships is interesting. The vessels are tied up to the docks in Jersey City and Weehawken, where the stock-yards are located, and the cattle are driven up a narrow gang-plank. When steamships take grain or other cargo in the hold and cattle on deck, the latter are usually loaded from barges at the wharf, or while the vessel is at anchor in the bay. Occasionally a fractious steer breaks away from the drivers, and, plunging over the side of the gang-plank, takes a bath in the water. A sailor jumps in and passes a rope around the animal, which is then hoisted on board by means of a block and tackle. The cattle are placed in strongly constructed pens between decks, as well as on the upper deck. The space for each head of cattle is fixed by law at 2 feet 6 inches by 8 feet. The pens hold half a dozen cattle each. Experience has shown that there was greater loss when more room than this was allowed for the cattle. A steer with plenty of room in his pen would roll from side to side and become bruised or crippled when a heavy sea was encountered. By packing the cattle tightly, they serve as buffers for each other, and the loss is diminished. Within the last two or three years the methods of shipping cattle have been improved, so that the loss is now less than two per cent.

Cattle steamship at sea

This picture, titled “A Cattle Steamship at Sea,” gives an idea of the conditions for both the cattle and "Cowboys of the Sea."

“The cost of shipping cattle from New York to Liverpool is about half a cent per pound, live weight. This includes the care and the feed during the voyage. From ten to a dozen men are employed to look after the cattle on the trip. Very low wages are paid these men, as there are always a number of applications on hand from impecunious men who are desirous of working their passage to Europe by taking care of the cattle. A few men are regularly engaged in the business of taking care of cattle at sea. They are known as “cowboys of the sea,” and are big burly fellows who are used to rough living and to facing danger. The work of feeding and watering the cattle is not an easy task in fair weather and with a rough sea on it is dangerous. When severe storms are met, the cattle become panic-stricken, and the men are obliged to go among them and quiet them. Sometimes the pens are broken down in a gale, and there is pandemonium aboard. Cattle-ships have arrived in port with only a small portion of the number of cattle taken on board, but as the losses fall upon the shippers and the reputation of the steamship line is to some extent at stake, they are, therefore, more interested in the safety of cattle at sea than anyone else. The efforts of Samuel Plimsoll, M.P., and the cattle inspectors of Great Britain and the United States, have materially improved the methods of this traffic.”



– Sam Moore



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