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Literature review of welfare aspects and carcase
Good animal welfare is compatible with increased productivity. Research should continue, prompted by addressing both productivity gains and product losses rather than by animal welfare concerns alone, despite their obvious close relationship. Attention to animal welfare issues and visible implementation of good welfare practices will increasingly become a prerequisite for access to markets for Australian products.
In this report, animal welfare is considered principally in terms of the major causes of product losses from farm to feedlot, saleyard, wharf or abattoir and ways to maximise product quantity and quality. An applied approach has been adopted deliberately.
Substantial losses in product quantity and quality occur between mustering and the final destination. Dehydration of carcass tissues can have the greatest effect and usually reduces weight much more than catabolism (time). Feeding roughages will partly reduce weight losses due to catabolism. The time between mustering on-farm and final destination or slaughter, and the duration of resting periods before slaughter, are key determinants of product losses. Keeping the time from mustering to slaughter as short as possible acts to maximise carcass weight, but may not allow sufficient resting time for animals to maximise tenderness and minimise the number of dark-cutting or high pH carcasses.
Horns are the major cause of bruising in cattle. The contributions of transport and handling are difficult to define, and will become clearer as fewer and fewer homed animals are slaughtered. Dehorning and weaner education are key ways to reduce product losses. Good stock handling is paramount. Minimum design standards and use of animal behaviour principles are essential for stockcrates, yard facilities and ramps.
Under Australian conditions, the duration of the resting time and severity of stress are two of the major pre-slaughter determinants of meat quality. Fasting, feeding and diet are much less important. This is in contrast to overseas research which shows that the social and physical activity among groups of bulls, or groups of heifers in oestrus, and the mixing of pampered animals are the most important factors. As more non-pregnant females are slaughtered in Australia, with consequently more females in oestrus during the selling process, the physical interaction associated with oestrus could assume greater importance as a cause of dark-cutting. The importance of animal behaviour and the temperament of individual animals on meat quality have still to be established conclusively. Inherent susceptibility and predisposing factors (animal and management) to stress and bruising also are inadequately defined.
Direct-to-abattoir selling systems reduce losses in both product quantity and quality. There is no information on the effect of various mustering methods, although selfmustering systems are the least stressful and other on-farm/pre-transport procedures generally have little effect on product losses. Short travelling and very frequent resting periods are harmful.
Pre-slaughter management practices generally affect product quantity and quality much more than animal factors (for example chronological age, genotype) except social interaction among bulls or among heifers in oestrus and pregnancy in females. The most damaging pre-slaughter facrors are dehydration and stress immediately before and during slaughter.
Electrical stimulation affects meat quality more than animal factors but it cannot reverse the damaging effects of pre-slaughter stress. The general complaints of toughness and lack of consistency in quality (including toughness) in Australian beef cannot be, and are not being, ignored. The introduction of Tendertec and video image analysis will not solve this problem and other action is essential.
The increase in our knowledge of the effects of transportation on livestock, coupled with a greater awareness of animal welfare, have markedly improved the handling, loading and transport of animals. The establishment of good communication links and co-operation between all sectors, especially between the producer, transporter and processor, are keys to further improvements.
This page was last updated on 11/11/2014
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