Animal handling highlights

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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Heavy feedlot cattle have no differences in lameness compared to smaller feedlot cattle, according to Lily Edwards-Calloway, Ph.D., an animal welfare specialist for JBS USA in Greeley, Colo. She presented her data at the North American Meat Institute’s annual Animal Care & Handling Conference, held last October in Kansas City, Mo. 

Dr. Temple Grandin
Dr. Temple Grandin
(photo: Rosalie Winard)

As part of her research, thousands of feedlot cattle were scored for lameness when they arrived at meat packing plants. The study was a joint effort of JBS and Elanco Animal Health. One of the most important findings was that cattle had significantly higher percentages of lameness when the temperature was over 80˚ F. The most likely cause for an increase in summer-time lameness would be beta agonists. This result agrees with anecdotal information from yard employees that cattle fed beta agonists have more problems during hot weather. Edwards-Calloway was surprised that the size of the cattle had no effect on the incidence of lameness.

Riding with hogs

The highlight of the conference was a presentation by Jason McAlister, animal welfare manager with St. Joseph, Mo.-based Triumph Foods, who went on an eight-hour ride in a semitrailer hauling pigs. The room was packed to hear this report. McAlister said the pigs were at first inquisitive and were nosing him, and then he seemed to be accepted and just became one of them. Even though the weather was cold, he was still warm enough to be able to write notes without gloves because the trailer had correct coverage using boarding.

Everybody knows that aluminum trailers rattle, but McAlister was surprised that the loud rattling of the gates drove him crazy. Halfway through the trip he was allowed a break at a truck stop. There was only one thing he wanted – earplugs. The store did not have any so he bought a pack of filter cigarettes and made earplugs out of the filters.

It is possible that the rattling gates may stress the pigs. Research studies should be conducted with a trailer where the gates have been modified to stop rattling. These studies should be done with both cattle and pigs. I predict that reducing rattling in a cattle truck may reduce dark cutters because dark cutting is associated with longer-term stresses such as transport.

Non-compliance records

Janet Riley with NAMI and Lucy Anthenill, DVM, presented data on the reasons for the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (USDA/FSIS) enforcement actions for Humane Slaughter Act violations. For non-compliance records (NRs), according to their data, 37 percent were issued for problems with stunning, and 27 percent were for lack of water. Many of the water problems were in small plants. The most common water problem was the troughs were either empty or frozen.

Poor maintenance was a major reason for NRs due to facility problems. Animal handling problems were reasons for 6 percent of the NRs and facility problems for 12 percent. It is likely that the reason for the high percentage of stunning NRs is that the law specifies that stunning must be perfect. Handling problems are determined by the inspector’s judgment.

Riley has been compiling data on plant suspensions by the USDA and found that cow plants had significantly more USDA actions than fed-beef plants. Failed captive bolt or gunshot was the most common reason for suspensions. Lack of water was the reason for a significant number of NRs, but it was not a major reason for suspensions.

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