Why are compromised cattle arriving at auction marts?

Study compiles data on the numbers and assesses health problems to determine where improvements are required

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Researchers are working with Alberta auctions and abattoirs to understand what happens to compromised cattle arriving at their facilities.

“It really is a sensitive issue,” Agriculture Canada researcher Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein said at the International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium held earlier this year in Manhattan, Kansas.

“I think the best thing we can do for the industry is to show what is actually happening with compromised cattle.”

The study, which started last March and ends next year, collects information on a host of problems known to show up when cattle have reached the end of their productive lives.

Seeing cattle that are unable to get up, crippled, sick or emaciated at a public auction is a negative picture for the industry.

“Every time we load something on a trailer to be marketed, we have to be very conscious about what we are putting on that truck,” she said.

It is a very visible part of the industry. Auctions are public markets, and one smartphone video of stumbling or injured cows creates an outcry.

Shipping unfit animals is a welfare concern, but firm data is needed to measure the extent of the problem and decide where help can be offered.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency defines a cow as unfit when transport would lead to undue suffering. The animal can be transported only to a veterinarian.

Compromised means reduced capacity to withstand transport, but special provisions allow transport if undue suffering is avoided.

Producers may argue that the cow looked fine when loaded, is still worth some money, would be a waste of meat if it wasn’t processed or it did not have far to go.

The main objective is to assess the number arriving in bad shape and document what is wrong with them.

Researchers will study beef and dairy cattle slaughtered at provincial and federal abattoirs and cattle for sale at auctions. They will also note if the animal was sold or euthanized.

Facilities were selected according to their willingness to participate, sales volumes and geographic location.

Many did not want to take part, but the Livestock Market Association agreed to support the project with funding from Alberta Farm Animal Care, Alberta Beef Producers, the National Cattle Feeders Association and Alberta Milk.

Four large and four small auction markets have been selected to collect sample sizes of 2,500 head per yard.

Risk factors such as feeder cattle versus cull cattle, breed and distance travelled will be taken into account.

Researchers hoped to interview truck drivers, but schedules often did not work, so travel distances will be obtained from livestock manifests that accompany every load.

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