A variety of topics were discussed at the 2012 AMI Animal Care and Handling Conference, including topics such as: the effect of cattle breed on balking during handling; a systematic approach to animal handling and stunning; and published research on beta-agonists.

Michelle Thomas from the Univ. of Arkansas reported that fed Holstein steers balk more and are harder to move into the restrainer compared to other breeds. In her study at a large fed-beef plant, an electric prod had to be used on 9 percent of the Holstein steers and only 2 percent of the Angus steers. Some brindle cattle that may have a small amount of Brahman genetics moved into the restrainer with 0 percent use of the electric prod. One odd finding was that more frequently balking cattle had a lower dressing percentage. This effect was still present in the beef breeds after the Holstein data was removed. There is no explanation for this highly significant finding. I speculate that it may be related to fat thickness.

Robust systematic approach

Larry Davis, Humane Handling Enforcement Coordinator for the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, explained the requirements for a robust systematic approach for humane slaughter compliance. A robust systematic approach is written like a HACCP plan and when a plant has a non-compliance they have to document their response.

There are four parts to developing a robust systematic approach. (1) Initial assessment of areas where problems could occur, such as slipping and falling during unloading, lack of water availability in the holding pens, excessive electric prod use, handling downers and missed stuns; (2) The plant management writes up Standard Operating Procedures to prevent problems by initiating practices such as always having a back-up stun gun, stunner maintenance program, specifying the number of animals placed in the crowd pen, policies on electric prod use and internal audits on falling, electric prod use, stunning and vocalization; (3) Periodic evaluations to make sure the SOPs are being done. (4) Continuous reassessments to ensure procedures are being followed. A true robust systematic approach has to be practiced in the plant and not be a pretty book that stays in the office.
Beta-agonist research

Kurt Vogel from the Univ. of Wisconsin at River Falls reviewed the scientific research literature on the effects of beta-agonists, such as ractopamine and zilpaterol, on cattle and pig welfare. He conducted Google searches and found only one scientific journal paper on cattle and six papers on pigs. There is a huge need for more research. The six pig papers were all studies conducted at Purdue Univ. and researchers found that when ractopamine was fed at high doses to pigs, there were some problems such as hoof lesions, increased aggression in gilts and more difficult handling.

I and other people who work with fed cattle have observed heat stress and lameness in certain groups of cattle arriving at slaughter plants. These problems have only been observed during very hot weather. Usually, only a few cattle in a group are severely affected.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.