Welfare of Cattle during Slaughter and the Prevention of Non-Ambulatory Cattle

Temple Grandin
Department of Animal Sciences
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523

Journal of the American Society of Veterinary Medicine, 2001, Vol 219, pp. 10-15
Animal Welfare Forum Bovine Health

I am often asked whether cattle know they are going to die at a slaughter plant. Most people assume that animals experience things the same way we do. Early in my career, I answered this question by observing cattle being moved through chutes at a feedlot for vaccinations and then on that same day watching cattle being moved up the chute at a slaughter plant. I observed that their behavior was the same in both places. If they knew they were going to die, they should become more agitated at the slaughter plant. Improving handling and keeping animals calm by using behavioral principles will help improve cattle welfare during slaughter.

The things that scare cattle are not the same things that scare us. Little details that people do not notice frighten cattle. A paper cup dropped in the entrance of the chute will make cattle balk and turn back. Bright contrasts of light and dark or a small swinging chain on a gate will often make cattle stop. They are also reluctant to enter dark places. Adding a light at the entrance of a restrainer often makes it possible to greatly reduce the use of electric prods, because the cattle become willing to enter.

The above two paragraphs are from the introduction of the paper I presented at the welfare forum. Another topic discussed in the paper is the importance of getting people to recognize that using behavioral principles to handle cattle is more efficient than using force. During 1999 and 2000 welfare audits conducted by McDonald's Corporation and Wendy's International have resulted in great improvements in handling and stunning. Continuous auditing is essential to maintain high standards. Handling has a tendency to become rough and careless unless it is continually monitored.

Another section of my presentation covered Kosher and Halal slaughter. When ritual slaughter is being discussed the variable of the throat cut must be separated from the variable of how the animal is restrained and handled. The animal should be held in a comfortable upright position. Some plants which do ritual slaughter use cruel methods of restraint such as hoisting an animal by one back leg. South American plants are especially bad.

The second half of my presentation was on the issue of non-ambulatory cattle. The emphasis must be on good management to prevent non-ambulatory cattle. I have observed that 90% of the non-ambulatory "downer" cattle originate from 10% of the bad dairies. Marketing systems which hold people accountable for losses will help prevent downers.

For a copy of my complete paper, write to me at the address that is at the beginning of this summary.

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