Healthier animals arrive at slaughter plants: audit

Data shows a three percent improvement in beef cows and 16 percent in beef bulls body condition from the 2007 audit

Cows and bulls in the United States travel an average of nine hours on their way to slaughter plants, according to the 2016 National Market Cow and Bull Beef Quality Audit released last week.

Among many topics within the survey, the audit included trailer and travel information for cows and bulls via potbelly trailer, the most common mode of transport.

Canada exported 215,884 cows and bulls to the United States last year, according to Statistics Canada. Cow and bull meat is commonly used for hamburger, sausage and trim.

McKensie Harris, a graduate student at Texas A & M, said in a Sept. 7 webinar about the audit that cows and bulls tend to travel farther from point of origin than do fed cattle.

For the audit, data was collected from 18 commercial packing plants in the United States that process cows and bulls.

It evaluated one-third of carcasses processed during one full day of production.

It also evaluated transport trucks and cattle upon arrival at plants.

In one case, animals were in a trailer for nearly 40 hours before arriving at the plant, and some travelled distances exceeding 2,250 kilometres.

“If we think of that in the grand scheme of things, that is a very long time for those cattle to be on trucks being transported,” said Harris.

“So unless those cattle were given some rest time on the road, stopped for water, that may be a quality concern that we can talk more with when we talk to transporters.”

Canada is in the process of updating its livestock transport regulations and is expected to shorten the time allowed for transport without rest.

The U.S. audit also examined load density. Harris noted the American livestock handling guidelines call for mature animals to have 10.7 to 15 sq. feet of space on a transport truck.

Audit results showed general compliance but some exceptions.

“On an average, we are doing just fine. We did, however, see some that only had 6.4 sq. feet of space, so there is still some concern on whether those animals have enough space during transport and what we can do as haulers to make more accommodations.”

Harris also said cows and bulls should be in separate compartments when in transport. Slightly more than 64 percent of loads that were audited had cows and bulls in the same compartments on trailers, which tends to result in more bruising.

The audit indicated improvement in cattle soundness upon arrival at plants compared to 2007 results, particularly in the dairy cow category.

The 2016 audit showed 76 percent of dairy cows at the plant were considered fully sound compared to 51.4 percent in 2007.

The most recent audit showed 87 percent of beef cows, 83 percent of beef bulls and 77 percent of dairy bulls were fully sound upon plant arrival compared to 84 percent, 67 percent and 78 percent, respectively, in 2007.

Improvements were also seen in the body condition of beef and dairy cows over the 2007 audit results, said Harris.

In 2007, 22 percent of dairy cows and 10 percent of beef cows were considered too thin, while in 2016, those numbers dropped to nine percent and 7.6 percent, respectively.

Also noted was reduced frequency of knots and injection site lesions on carcasses, which Harris attributed to greater producer education and use of neck injections as opposed to shoulder, top butt and round.

The 2016 audit showed 44.6 percent of livers were condemned at slaughter, almost 30 percent of those because of abscesses.

As well, 17.4 percent of cow carcasses contained a fetus and of those, 47 percent were classified as late fetuses, which meant more than 150 days along.

“Producers should utilize technologies such as palpation, ultrasound … to test those cows before marketing,” said Harris.

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