Finished cattle have outgrown the trailers used to haul them. That’s the consensus of packers, truckers, feedyard managers, and now documented through research conducted by Kansas State University (KSU). This has created a significant animal welfare and product quality issue and dramatic financial losses industrywide.
“As an industry, we knew the problem existed, but our research now shows us the cause and what needs to be done to fix it,” says Dan Thomson, KSU veterinarian and a leader in animal welfare and beef cattle production.
The bruising is due to a lack of adequate clearance inside most cattle trailers. The majority of bruises to the strip loin are created when cattle enter or exit the belly compartment of the trailer. “The good news is this is a fixable problem,” Thomson says.
The recent KSU study explores the relationship between bruising sustained at unloading and carcass bruising in finished cattle. “Bruising occurred in 68% of carcasses,” says Tiffany Lee, KSU veterinarian and Ph.D. candidate.
“Cattle today are just bigger,” Thomson says, citing improved genetics that provide the animals more frame and feed efficiency, as well as the fact the industry is feeding them to heavier end-points.
Cargill Meat Solutions followed up with their own evaluations. “Due to their height, the majority of Holstein steers we see coming into the plants today are likely to hit that gate,” says Casey Mabry, alliance manager for Cargill. “Beef cattle have a tendency to jump down into the belly from the ramp, and they hit that gate, too.” The gate into the belly of cattle trailers, Mabry estimates, is a $35 million industrywide problem.
“Typically 15 cattle are in the belly,” Mabry says. “Of those, 35% to 40% were bruised. Cargill sees an average of 2% of carcasses with bruises to the strip loin, which requires trimming 5 lb. to 6 lb. of meat from the carcass’ most valuable cut. Mabry estimates these losses to the strip loin on Cargill’s total slaughter amount to an average of $1.50 per head for all the cattle they process each year. “For Cargill, that’s a potential $7 million deal,” he says.
But it isn’t all about money, says Cargill’s global leader for animal welfare and husbandry, Mike Siemens. “We have a responsibility from a sustainable, moral and ethical standpoint to do everything we can to improve animal welfare,” he says. “We’ve identified an opportunity for welfare improvement and are aggressively working with our industry partners to identify and implement a solution.”