Today, there are a total of 23 beef plants on the Arrowsight video auditing system for animal welfare. The plants include both fed cattle and cow slaughter. I recently had a chance to visit Arrowsight “mission control” in Alabama. Each auditing station has three large flat screen computer monitors so that more than one view can be displayed at a time. Most of the views are really clear and I could see animal handling and stunning.

There are a few things that have been learned about camera positioning. For a clear view of stunning, a camera located a little off to the side is more effective than one located directly overhead. When it is located off to the side and slightly lower, it makes it easier to see the movements of the stunner and accurately determine when an animal requires a second shot.

There was a lot of variation in camera locations on the chute that led up to the stunner. The best view showed three cattle waiting in line. To have good views, the cameras have to be kept clean. If a camera gets dirty and the view is obstructed, the plant receives an email.

Auditing methods

In the large plants, 100 cattle are scored each day while in the smaller plants, 50 cattle are scored daily. When an auditor sees a problem, such as electric prod use that is over the 25 percent limit on the AMI standards, the plant receives an email. It is essential to have the cameras viewed by people employed by an outside auditing firm.

Over many years, I have observed that relying on the plant people to do all the camera auditing does not work. After the novelty wears off, people stop using the cameras. The very first video cameras installed in a plant were in the late 1980’s. A camera was located over the pig-stunning chute and it was hooked up to a monitor in the plant manager’s office. It worked great until it broke about two months later. No one got around to fixing it.

Over the last 10 years since plant audits were started, there are certain patterns of behavior that keep repeating themselves. When people see an auditor or a quality-assurance person doing scoring, all the electric prods get put away. When the back is turned, the prods come out again. The same thing has happened with video auditing.

When new systems were installed, prod scores sometimes doubled because the people moving animals did not know that the system was active. Stunning usually stays the same. The reason for this is that captive-bolt stunning is so dependent on good maintenance. All the big plants now have documented maintenance programs.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to “visit” all 23 plants. No formal scoring was done, but it was obvious that they all would have passed the stunning audit. Stunning scores do not change much. They may be better with video auditing because I have observed that some stunner operators get really nervous when someone with a clipboard is standing next to them.

Unfortunately, I saw two plants that had electric prods in their crowd pen. I have worked cattle in all 23 of these plants. The two places absolutely did not need electric prods in the crowd pen. The only place they need them is at the stunner entrance. One plant had their crowd pen stuffed with 30 cattle. Fifteen to 18 cattle is the correct number. People jam too many cattle in the crowd pen because less walking is required. Good livestock handling requires moving small groups and more walking. The plant probably would have passed an audit, but keeping handling good requires constant vigilance.

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.