The Animal Care Wednesday Webinars kicked off another year on January 6th. This year’s theme is “Husbandry Practices in the Spotlight.” The first webinar focused on the well-being challenges that arise when livestock are taken from the farm for processing to a harvest facility of any size.
Erika Voogd, President of Voogd Consulting Inc., provides global assistance to the Meat Industry specializing in Animal Welfare, Food Safety, HACCP, Quality Assurance, Sanitation, and USDA Regulatory Compliance. She presented seven key areas of consideration addressing “The Perfect Harvest: Livestock Readiness and the Right Slaughter Plant”.
Livestock Readiness and the Right Slaughter Plant
Livestock may spend their life at a farm, or multiple farms, before they are big enough to be harvested for meat. All the experiences an animal has throughout its life impact how it will react when it is taken to a slaughter plant; and these reactions can have real impacts on the quality of the meat from that animal. Several considerations need to be remembered each time the animal is handled to help ensure the highest quality meat and the highest level of welfare for the animal.
- Prepare livestock – build trust and confidence in the animals by teaching them to accept handling by regularly going in and out of their pressure zone (a.k.a. flight zone) asking for calm movement. It is especially important to spend some time with pasture raised livestock that have had minimal contact with people before you load them up and send to a slaughter plant. When animals have not had human interaction, they will overreact in the close-quarters of the trailer and facilities used at plants. Some smaller meat lockers may have limited facilities to deal with these wilder animals, and nevertheless, these animals become dangerous to all employees working with them once they leave the farm. Voogd reminds producers that you spend 18 months to over 2 years raising this magnificent beef animal and it can go crazy just before slaughter causing extreme bruising, blood splash, or even dark cutting beef (or Pale Soft Exudative pork). All that hard work goes out the window when the quality of the meat is now negatively impacted by inadequate handling.
- Distractions – evaluate all of the facilities the animal will be moving through such as, alleys, chutes, and gateways. Simple things like shadows, garbage, clothing, or poor lighting may cause animals to stop or turn around. Many times animal flow can be improved by simply removing the object or adding solid barriers, adding lights or shades, or preventing air flow or noise in certain areas.
- Slipping and falling – confident footing is key to helping animals remain calm during handling. Maintaining facilities and taking actions to improve footing during poor conditions (ice, water, and mud) will minimize slips and falls. However, handlers also need to slow down and allow animals enough time to move across slippery surfaces or around sharp turns in a facility.
- Humane issues, Food Safety and Inspection Service and plants – audits and assessments have provided continuous improvements in many of the areas of animal well-being at slaughter plants. The main areas that plants encounter issues are slips/falls and stunning.
- Handling and stunning non-ambulatory animals – weak, injured, severely lame animals, or down and recumbent animals (downers) cause unique challenges in all situations, especially when moving an animal to or through a slaughter facility. Slaughter plants, even small-town plants, should make sure they have the proper equipment to handle a non-ambulatory animal and have employees trained on how to handle the situation.
- Stunning accuracy – effective stunning procedures are a key step to achieve a humane death of the animal. The main challenges come from poor maintenance of the equipment, handling problems during the restraint of the animal just prior to stunning, or the fact that the animal is too large for the slaughter plant’s facilities. Depending on the type of stunning being performed, different improvements are suggested.
- Sensibility – sensibility deals with whether an animal is conscious or unconscious. If an animal is stunned ineffectively, then it may wake up too quickly before it is properly rendered dead, which usually entails cutting the animal’s throat to initiate the bleeding out process.
To hear all of Erika Voogd’s tips, please check out the recording of the webinar at the animal care resource website. The slides from her presentation are also posted for viewing and note taking while listening to the webinar.