European influence

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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Dr. Temple Grandin 

On a recent trip to Germany, I visited three beef plants and three pork plants. Each beef plant processed several hundred bulls, heifers or dairy cows each day. The bulls arrived at the plant in groups and were penned in groups. If bulls are reared together and kept in pen-mate groups, there is little fighting. To prevent the bulls from mounting each other, fence panels were hung from the ceiling on chains. Most bulls remained calm. The panels formed a suspended roof about 18 inches above the shoulders of the largest bulls. The breeds are mostly Simmental, Braunviegh, Brown Swiss and some Hereford crosses. Handling the large tame bulls was similar to handling steers. Bulls reared in groups and kept in groups are not interested in attacking people. My host, Tonnies Meat Company, treated us to some of their bull beef steaks that were delicious.

Large pork plants

Many people think everything in Europe is small. I went to three pork plants that processed more than 850 pigs per hour. They used the same large Butina CO2 stunners we use in the US. In both the beef and pork plants, confirmation of insensibility and making sure that animals do not regain sensibility was meticulous. The corneal reflex was checked on each bull and on the pork line, every pig was checked.

If a pig was showing any sign of regaining sensibility, it was re-stunned with a Jarvis pneumatic. The stunner was suspended on a balancer in a horizontal position. In Europe, blood is often collected with a hollow knife. To further ensure that pigs did not return to sensibility, the hanging carcass was weighed on a rail scale before and after bleeding to measure blood loss.

Intact boar pigs

Both Germany and The Netherlands raise market pigs as intact males. I was surprised at how large the boars were. In the UK, the intact males are smaller, around 220 lbs. In Germany, many of the boar pigs weighed 240 to 250 lbs. Every morning I ate bacon and I did not smell boar.

There were interesting differences in the behavior of boar pigs from different countries. German boars are bred for large amounts of lean pork. When these animals came to the plant, they quietly laid down and slept. Sometimes they were mixed in with gilts (young female pigs) and there was no mounting. I also had the opportunity to see several truckloads of Dutch boar pigs. They were fighters and constantly interested in mounting and sex. It was amazing the difference between the different genetics.

A pen of female pigs from The Netherlands was restless, milled about and did not settle down. They did not fight. The Dutch pigs had more behavior problems even though they were smaller. I learned that intact males can be handled. Genetics may be a major factor in being successful.

Low on lameness

Both the boars and the bulls had good feet and legs and almost no lameness. Leg conformation on both the cattle and the boars was excellent. There were no post legged or collapsed ankle animals. Several pens of Holstein dairy cows also looked really good. In contrast, the condition of some dairy cows arriving at US plants is atrocious. Initial results from a survey of Wisconsin auctions showed that 20 percent of the Holstein cull cows were emaciated.

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