Injections in muscle cause extensive meat damage (George et al., 1996 and George et al., 1997). Damage from injections in the muscle are long lasting. Injections given to calves at branding or weaning can still cause meatdamage (George et al., 1995ab). George et al. (1995a) found that injections in the muscle can cause a sphere of toughness the size of a baseball. Quiet handling is important because it is easier to properly give subcutaneous injections when cattle are standing still in a squeeze chute. When agitated, cattle struggle it is more difficult to administer injections in the correct position on the neck to help prevent meat damage. Agitated cattle that hit the headgate too hard can sustain extensive injuries which may destroy a large portion of the shoulder meat.
Handling pigs quietly will help prevent PSE. PSE is a serious quality defect that makes the pork pale and it has poor water binding capacity. Retailers are willing to pay a premium for pork that does not have PSE (Von Rohr, 1999). The last five minutes prior to stunning is critical. Observations by the author in four different U.S. plants have shown that reducing electric prod use, squealing and pile ups resulted in 10% less PSE. Researchers have confirmed that stressful preslaughter handling will cause a deterioration of pork quality (Warris et al., 1990; D’Souza et al., 1998 and Van derWal, 1997). The elimination of electric prods also reduces blood splash (petechial hemorrhaging) in the pork (Calkins et al., 1980; Robin Warner personal communication, 1999). Blood splashed meat has red spots in it and it cannot be sold as premium product.
Blood splashing is also a problem in Kosher cattle. The author has observed in four different plants that Kosher cattle that are slaughtered without stunning often have two to three times as more blood splash compared to cattle stunned with a captive bolt. Reducing or eliminating electric prod use and keeping cattle calm in the restraining box will help reduce blood splash (Grandin, 1994; Grandin and Regenstein, 1994). The first part of this paper will review the extent of handling related meat quality problems and the second section will cover the use of auditing methods which will help maintain quiet careful handling of livestock. To maintain handling quality it has to be measured on a continuous basis to maintain a high standard of handling quality.
Interviews with a major western packer indicated that in fed cattle most of the injections were given in the neck or shoulder but many of the injections penetrated the muscle and were not given subcutaneously. Many squeeze chutes have long neck extender bars on the headgate to hold the head for administration of growth promotant implants in the ear. The author has observed that these bars make it almost impossible to give an injection properly in the neck. The extender bars cover up the neck. The author estimates that about half the feedyards use neck extender bars which interfere with giving subcutaneous injections in the correct location on the neck.
Blood splash is a severe problem in Kosher (Jewish ritual) slaughter which is done without stunning. Practical experience indicates that it may be a greater problem in grainfed cattle compared to grassfed cattle. In four Kosher plants, the author has observed that captive bolt stunning immediately after the throat cut brought about a three-fold reduction in blood splash compared to Kosher slaughter without captive bolt stunning. Data obtained from plant records indicated that carefully done Kosher slaughter of grainfed cattle without stunning still produced 3 to 4% blood splashed carcasses. Blood splash and blood spotting was assessed by looking for petechial hemorrhages on the ribeye during grading. When cattle became excited and agitated due to excessive use of electric prods and struggling during restraint, blood splash can rise to 30% of the carcasses. A good operator of a properly designed upright restraint box can greatly reduce blood splash because he/she minimizes pressure exerted on the rear of the cattle with the pusher gate. The design of the box is shown in (Grandin and Regenstien 1994, Grandin, 1994). Data collected at a large glatt Kosher plant indicated that the percentage of carcasses with blood splash was 3.5% with a skilled restraint box operator and 10% with a poorly trained operator. All the kosher cattle in this plant were grainfed. The cattle were held in an upright standing position when the throat cut was made. In a regular plant where cattle are stunned with a captive bolt, blood splash levels are usually less than 0.5% of beef carcasses.
Excessive blood splash in Glatt kosher cattle where captive bolt stunning after the throat cut is not permitted has caused some plants to leave the grainfed kosher business. Keeping cattle calm during handling, minimizing the time that the animal is restrained and avoiding excessive pressure applied to the body will reduce blood splashing (Grandin and Regenstein, 1994). For animal welfare reasons the animal should be restrained in a device that holds it in a comfortable upright position during the throat cut (Grandin, 1994; Grandin and Regenstein, 1994).
Unfortunately in all four of these plants, handling practices gradually slipped back into their old rough habits. This happened because the quality of handling was not continually monitored on a regular basis. There was a one time effort to improve handling and then management’s attention was shifted to other parts of the plant. They failed to maintain good handling practices even though the financial loss was well documented.
In many other slaughter plants and feedlots, the author has observed a gradual deterioration in handling practices after a one time training session had improved handling. In some cases, the deterioration occurred slowly and the people did not realize how poor their practices had become because they had nothing to compare their performance to. The author conducted a survey in 1996 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture of handling practices in 21 beef and pork plants. Seven (33%) of the plants were rated a serious problem for abusive use of electric prods (Grandin, 1997a). In one plant, bulls were paralyzed with an electric prod. The survey was an announced USDA visit and bad practices were observed because management had come to view these practices as “normal.”
Auditing of the critical control points of handling will help maintain handling standards to insure good animal welfare and help preserve meat quality. Grandin (1998a) developed an objective scoring system for handling and stunning at slaughter plants. The system is simple so that it can be easily implemented. It was essential to find the important critical control points, but not have too many things to measure. The variables measured are 1) Percentage of animals stunned correctly on the first attempt, 2) percentage of animals insensible on the bleed rail, 3) percentage of cattle that vocalize (moo or bellow) during movement through the chute and restrainer, or the percentage of time that pigs are squealing in the stunning area, 4) percentage of animals electric prodded and 5) percentage of animals that slip or 6) percentage that fall (Grandin, 1997b). A minimum of 100 animals are scored in large beef and pork plants and 50 animals in small plants with a line speed of less than 100 per hour.
To keep the auditing process simple, each variable is scored on a yes/no basis for each animal. For example, vocalized, yes or no, electric prodded - yes or no. Attempting to determine the intensity of a cattle vocalization is not practical under commercial conditions.
Vocalization in both cattle and pigs is correlated with physiological measures of stress (Dunn, 1990; Warriss et al., 1994b, Lay et al., 1992, Weary et al., 1998 and White et al., 1995). In pigs, the intensity of squealing was related to poorer pork quality (Warriss et al., 1994). Vocalization scoring provides a simple way to identify problems with excessive electric prod use or other problems with equipment or handling. Data from both Grandin (1998b, 2000b) indicate that plants which have more than 3% of the cattle vocalizing during handling usually have a problem such as excessive electric prod use or a poorly maintained captive bolt stunning. Vocalization scoring is only done when animals are being moved through the chute stun box or restrainer. Animals standing undisturbed in the holding yards are not scored. Vocalization scoring also provides an easy way for a plant to audit its own handling practices. Excessive use of electric prods will usually be reflected by a higher percentage of cattle vocalizing. People auditing vocalization must be observant because sometimes the aversive event associated with vocalization is not readily apparent. At one beef plant, some cattle vocalized loudly in a conveyor restrainer. The restrainer was in good repair, but a local welding shop had built replacement conveyor slats wrong. They had a variation in height of over 2 cm from one slat to the next. This welding shop mistake created sharper corners that stuck into the cattle.
Watts and Stookey (2000) report that there are genetic differences in the tendency of certain genetic lines of cattle to vocalize. All the beef slaughter plants that minimized electric prod use, had a first shot stunning score of 95% or better, had non slip flooring and no problems with their restrainer such as sharp edges had a vocalization percentage of 3% or less of the cattle (Grandin 2000b). Three percent is the minimum passing score on the American Meat Institute guidelines (Graindin 1997b). Watts and Stookey (2000) are concerned that a plant could get an acceptable vocalization data percentage with one group of cattle and fail with another. The author has collected vocalization in over 50 beef plants on more than 4000 cattle. There were only two groups of 50 and 100 cattle that had more than 5% of the cattle that spontaneously vocalized while moving through the chutes when there was no aversive event such as an electric prod used associated with the vocalization. One group was 19 mature cull bulls that were handled together in a single group. The other group were black fed heifers of unknown genetics which had no visible Brahman characteristics. If an auditor encounters a group of cattle that appear to be vocalizing without an aversive event present, it is recommended to score several more groups of 100 cattle from different origins. In the plant with the black heifers, the vocalization percentage dropped to less than 3% when other groups of cattle were scored. It may not be advisable to apply the 3% pass rate to mature bulls handled in groups.
It is likely that cattle which vocalize without an associated obvious aversive event are cattle that are more easily stressed. The author has observed in both feedlots and plants that highly vocal cattle also tend to get more agitated and struggle more during handling in squeeze chutes in feedlots. These cattle will need careful handling to reduce stress because cattle that become agitated during handling are more likely to have meat quality problems or lower weight gains (Voisinet et al., 1997ab).
The author has also observed that pigs with an excitable temperament are more likely to squeal when slapped on the rear. These pigs are more likely to pile up during handling and they are more likely to balk or backup in a race. The author has also observed that these more vocal pigs are often prone to high levels of PSE. A plant that has a high percentage of overly vocal animals can still use vocalization scoring to monitor handling quality within their own plant. Plants that audit vocalization on a regular basis have found that it is a simple measure that has helped them to maintain quiet careful handling. Auditors must also be observant to insure that a condition doe not exist which could prevent an animal from vocalizing. If a plant restrains sensible animals by paralyzing them with an electric current, they may not be able to vocalize. Immobilization with electricity is highly aversive to animals and detrimental to their welfare (Grandin et al., 1986; Pascoe 1986, Lambooy, 1985). The use of electricity to immobilize a sensible animal would make vocalization scoring impossible. It is the author’s opinion that for welfare reasons, electrical immobilization conscious animals should be prohibited.
The author also has developed a simple squeal scoring system for pork slaughter plants (Grandin, 2000a). The percentage of time that the entire stunning area is quiet is calculated by counting the number of stunner cycles were all the pigs were quiet. As each pig is stunned, the auditor checks yes “heard a squeal” or no “room quiet.” Large plants which have worked hard to reduce electric prod usage have been able to achieve percentages of 52% and 80% of the time quiet. Prior to working on improving handling the percentage of time that the room was quiet was 0 to 5%.
There are two factors that account for the big improvement, being held accountable for their practices by a major customer and the requirement to do self-audits. Many plants do regular self-audits and send them into the McDonald’s system. After all, one manages the things that they measure. Data coming in from the year 2000 McDonalds and Wendy’s audits indicates that plants that conduct regular self-audits have maintained their handling quality. Continuous measurement is essential and plants that do not do self-audits have slipped in performance
The author has conducted cattle handling demonstrations at about 20 feedlots. An easily achievable electric prod use percentage is 1% of the cattle prodded. It is important to get the electric prod out of people’s hands. A flag on a paddle stick should be the primary driving tool for the handler to carry. The electric prod should remain on the vaccine table and only be picked up and used on an animal that refuses to enter the squeeze chute.
Individual cattle IDs which were tracked with a computer make it possible to document losses caused by poor handling. Will Pace. Agrinfolink presented data at the National Institute of Animal Agriculture meeting that indicated that cattle transported by one driver consistently had 1.5% more weight loss. It is likely that rough handling or poor driving may have contributed to this loss. Instrumenting a truck to electronically record the incidence of rapid breaking and guide acceleration could be easily done to trace weight. Sudden movements of a truck can throw cattle off balance. Pace (2000) also reported that 80% of consumer complaints about tough beef could be traced back to one producer who had wild cattle.
Systems of financial incentive must have accurate measurements of losses. Without continuous measurements an incentive system will not work. The author has observed that handling improved when companies became vertically integrated. However, this improvement will only take place if accurate information on losses from bruises, PSE, dark cutters or injection site damages is communicated throughout the system. Computerized systems for tracking losses and individual electronic or bar code identification of animals will facilitate monitoring of losses. Changes will not occur until the measuring tools are in place.
The author has observed that paying feedlot processing crews on a piece work basis encourages rough, careless handling and sloppy administration of injections. Feedlot processing crews should be given financial rewards for doing their jobs correctly. However, the variables being measured must be chosen carefully. For example, if a crew is paid solely on the quality of growth promotant implant administration in the ear, they may be tempted to squeeze the cattle excessively in the hydraulic squeeze chute or use devices to hold the head that will interfere with proper injection technique.
Moving objects such as a loose dangling chain end, seeing moving people up ahead and flapping objects should be removed. They attract the animal’s attention and it may balk and refuse to move. Animals notice small visual details that most people ignore. Shiny sparkling reflections off shiny metal or wet floors can also cause balking. Moving a ceiling lamp to eliminate a shiny reflection will also reduce balking. To have really quiet handling, all the little distractions that cause balking must be removed (Grandin 1996-1998e).
On most squeeze chutes, the author recommends removal of long neck extender bars from the headgate to provide access to the neck for injections. If cattle are handled quietly before they get up to the squeeze chute, they can be easily backed up in the headgate to make their necks easily accessible for injections. Backing the animal up in the headgate will also hold its head still for ear implants. Some squeeze chute operators will deliberately catch the animal’s jaw in the neck extender bars. They do this to get the neck in an accessible position for injections. This will result in 50% or more of the cattle vocalizing. Catching the jaw can also injure the animal’s jaw or make it sore. Animal’s that have been hit on the head by either the neck extender bars or the headgate remember the aversive experience and will often balk and refuse to enter a squeeze chute again in the future. It is also likely that hitting the animal’s jaw may cause pain which may inhibit feed consumption. Cattle that walk quietly into a squeeze chute can be easily caught right behind the jaw with a headgate that does not have neck extender bars. The head will be held still for implanting and the neck will be accessible at the first drop down bar for injections.
Cattle that walk quietly into a squeeze chute are also less likely to get severe shoulder injuries. Some squeeze chutes have a spring loaded headgate to absorb the shock of an animal hitting it. On a hydraulic chute, the pressure must be set correctly to avoid injuries. Cattle should be able to stand in a squeeze chute without straining, grunting or vocalizing. The pressure relief valves should be set so that the squeeze chute will automatically stop squeezing at a reasonable pressure. When cattle are calm, less pressure will be required to hold them.
Practical experience in large pork slaughter plants indicate that certain genetic lines of lean hybrid pigs are easier to drive and less likely to pile up and squeal during handling if a person has walked through their pen every day during finishing. Experiences prior to slaughter will affect ease of handling. Contact with people in these pens will produce less excitable pigs (Grandin, 1987 and Grandin et al., 1986). Geverink et al. (1998) and Abbot et al. (1997) both report that moving pigs out of their finishing pens produces animal that are easier to drive.
To provide good meat quality, an animal that is reasonably easy to drive and move must be presented to the slaughter plant.
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