Improving animal welfare scores

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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Temple
Dr. Temple Grandin 

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – During my travels I’ve had the opportunity to look closely at beef packing plants in many other countries. US and Canadian plants are achieving very high animal welfare audit scores. For example, first-shot stunning scores are much better than plants in other developed countries. The reason for such good performance is that management is paying attention to all the details of stunner maintenance. When a pneumatic captive bolt is used, there are three components that must be maintained. They are the stunner itself, the air compressor that supplies it and the balancer. Often the balancer gets neglected. It must operate smoothly to enable the operator to easily position the stunner. A slightly frayed cable may reduce stunner accuracy.

In 2015, a major meat buyer audited 18 large beef plants in the US and Canada for efficiency of captive bolt stunning. Seventy-eight percent (14 plants) stunned 100 percent of the cattle correctly with a single shot. Two plants (11 percent) had a score of 99 percent and two others had scores of 98 percent. The average score for all the plants was 99.7 percent. These are scores that the industry can be proud of. All cattle where a shot was missed were immediately stunned again. A combination of customer auditing and increased oversight by the US Dept. of Agriculture explain these improved scores.

Electric prod use

Out of 19 large beef plants, 84 percent used electric prods on 0 to 5 percent of the cattle. A kosher plant that was not included in the stunning data was added. The remaining plants all had electric prod-use scores of less than 15 percent. In most plants there was only one battery-operated prod. It was only picked up when a vibrating prod or other non-electrified tool failed to move an animal.

Low vocalization scores

The percentage of cattle that vocalized (moo or bellow) ranged from 0 to 3 percent. The one kosher plant had an excellent score of 0 percent for both vocalization and electric prod use. The cattle were restrained in an upright restraint box. In the early years when the audits were first conducted in 1996 and 1999, the worst plants had scores of 32 and 17 percent of the cattle. All vocalizations were recorded that occurred in the stun box or restrainer. Vocalization data was also recorded during active handling while the animal was entering the stun box. Each animal was scored as either silent or a vocalizer.

Falling scores

Falling during unloading from the trucks or during handling in other parts of the facility was 0 percent for all 19 plants. In two plants, 1 and 2 percent of the cattle slipped. Falling scores have remained stable over the years. The beef packing plants have come a long way since the bad old days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Today when an animal welfare issue occurs it is usually due to a problem that must be corrected at the farm.

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