Students in Brazil are learning the ropes of animal handling.

I recently returned from China and Brazil and had the opportunity to visit cattle operations and meat plants. To summarize the two trips in one word, it would be “vigorous.” The cattle industry in Brazil is surprisingly youthful. When I attended a large cattle-industry meeting, there were a lot of young people in attendance. They are eager to learn and they are quickly learning specifics about animal handling, including methods to reduce bruises and improve beef quality-assurance procedures.

US producers have learned to prevent injection damage and inject vaccines and medications in the neck. In Brazil, they are going to need to upgrade handling facilities and install better cattle-restraining systems so vaccines can be given in the neck. It is still a common practice on Brazilian ranches to line cattle up single file and give injections. For some ranchers, giving injections while each animal is held in the squeeze chute is a new concept. In the university veterinary schools, animal welfare is being added to the curriculum so they can comply with international standards. Many students were very interested in learning about ways to reduce both stress and bruises.

In China, I visited three meat-packing plants that all had good standards. In many parts of the world, a major driver of improved humane standards at slaughter is established by McDonald’s Corp. and other large meat buyers. I presented lectures and auditor training to people in the Asian McDonald’s supply chain on humane handling and slaughter of pigs and cattle. They were eager to learn welfare concepts such as measuring indicators of stunning efficiency, vocalization, falling and electric prod use. In the beef plant I visited, they had purchased a modern European slaughter line. The plant was spotless. They understand the concept of keeping the plant clean, but they needed help to learn how to correctly use a down hide-puller. The thing that impressed me was their eagerness to improve. When I was there, they were doing it right. Handling of pigs and cattle in both plants was excellent and they were quietly moving small groups. I visited three different cities outside of Beijing. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was looking at agriculture as we drove for up to 90 minutes to access the plants. They grow different crops side-by-side – I saw rice paddies and corn in adjacent fields.

Dairy focus

I also visited a huge dairy farm. There were spacious, wide, sand-bedded stalls for the cows to lie in, and two modern rotary milking parlors. The cows were clean, and in great condition. Their body condition and walking mobility was excellent. One reason for this was the use of Australian and New Zealand dairy cows that produce slightly less milk, but are heartier.

The dairy industry is also developing an extensive beef business. Unlike our dairy industry, they are fully aware that old dairy cows have a second career as beef cattle. All the bull calves are being grown for beef. In China and most of Asia, bulls are kept intact and no beta-agonists or hormones will be used. They will use the hormones that are provided for free with an intact bull. When bulls are kept in pen-mate groups, aggression was not an issue. The bull calves will be sold for beef before they reach sexual maturity at 18 to 24 months of age.

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.