Transportation stress influences cattle carcass quality
Carol Ryan Dumas
Proper handling of cattle during loading and transport to slaughter facilities can alleviate dark cutting beef, bruises and damaged limbs and ensure carcass quality. The University of Idaho's Beef Quality Assuarnce program spells out what producers and feedlots should and should not be doing when moving cattle to slaughter facilities.
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Beef carcass quality at harvest is influenced by cattle handling during loading and transportation off the farm and feedlot as they are shipped to slaughter.
If things go the wrong way, it negatively affects carcass quality, resulting in carcass defects or downer cattle, said Benton Glaze, University of Idaho beef specialist, during a University winter beef school in Twin Falls on Dec. 3.
Dark cutting beef or bruises that require deeper trimming cost the beef industry money, $6.08 and $4.03 per animal harvested, respectively, according to the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit. And downer cattle, unable to stand or walk, can’t be processed at all.
Dark cutting beef, discriminated against in the market, is caused by stress. It results when glycogen is depleted from the muscles of stressed animals and lactic acid takes over causing deep-colored beef, Glaze said.
Producers can prevent dark cutters by handling animals slowly and quietly, not mixing strange cattle or different classes together, reducing or eliminating the use of electric prods, and unloading cattle promptly at the harvest facility, he said.
Bruising and damage to joints are also concerns for the industry. While the Beef Quality Audit found the incidence of bruised carcasses declined from 35 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2011, that’s still almost one-quarter of all carcasses harvested, he said.
Minor bruising was found to require an additional 0.67 pounds of trim, major bruising required 1.5 pounds of trim and critical bruising required 3.2 pounds of trim. Damaged limbs accounted for a loss of 14.4 pounds per animal.
A Canadian study on bruising found the highest incidence of all levels of bruising was in the round, at 36 percent, and the loin, at 30 percent. The location of critical bruising was found in the chuck, rib, loan, and round, suggesting whacking of the animal with paddles in the alley, as well as truck and facility issues, Glaze said.
Factors for the bruising included the sex of the animal, the number of animals per load and the feedlot of origin. Installing cushions in trucks decreased the bruising 10 percent. Fixing or cushioning corners in facilities and chutes can also help alleviate bruising, he said.
To lesson bruising, producers should check narrow gates and fix protruding gate latches, boards and sharp corners. They should also follow good handling protocols and adjust flipper gates, one-way, gates, vertical gates, and gates and decks in trucks.
They need to load trailers and trucks properly — ensuring trucks are backed up to the chute squarely, safety gates are in place and ramps are set properly — and adhere to recommended load sizes based on animal weight and size.
For more information, visit Idaho Beef Quality Assurance: