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Benchmarking and analysis of current pre-slaughter management factors and their influence on welfare and meat quality outcomes in fed beef cattle


Several factors related to pre-slaughter management of fed beef cattle and their impacts on welfare and meat quality have been identified and discussed thoroughly in previous literature. However, a full catalog of these factors and indicators used to evaluate their impacts on cattle welfare is missing. Additionally, benchmarked data for these factors and welfare and meat quality outcomes, and an analysis of their relationships on a large scale is underrepresented in current literature. The objectives of the first chapter of this dissertation were to catalog pre-slaughter management factors, identify indicators used to evaluate their impacts, and ultimately gain a further understanding of the relationships between pre-slaughter management factors and cattle welfare. This review included an in-depth analysis of 69 studies from across the globe that identified factors related to transportation and handling using behavioral and physiological indicators to measure welfare that were the most researched throughout the studies. The discussion of this review also identified pre-slaughter factors that require benchmarking and/or more research on their potential impacts on cattle welfare. Thus, the objectives of the second chapter in this dissertation was to benchmark pre-slaughter management factors at a collection of commercial fed cattle processing facilities. This data collection took place at five commercial processing facilities in the West, Midwest, and Southwest regions of the United States from March 2021 to July 2022. Data were collected on a total of n = 637 slaughter lots representing n = 87,220 head of cattle. Transportation factors such as distance travelled and the time cattle waited on the truck to unload after arriving at the facility, space allowance in lairage for cattle, lairage duration and cattle mobility was recorded. Environmental factors were later recorded from an online weather service, and cattle characteristics and several meat quality factors including bruising, quality grading, carcass weight and dark cutting were obtained from plant records. Descriptive statistics were calculated for both the lot and individual animal level depending on the variable. Cattle travelled on average, 155.8 ± 209.6 km (Mean ± SD) to the processing facility from the feedlot, waited 30.3 ± 39.7 minutes to unload at the plant and were held in lairage for 200.7 ± 195.0 minutes. The mean lairage density was 3.1 ± 2.0 m2/animal, and a majority of cattle (91.8%, n = 77,645) were scored as having normal mobility. Carcass bruising prevalence was 69.7% (n = 57,099), and of those that were bruised, 65.2% (n = 39,856) had multiple bruises. Having this baseline benchmarking data outlines not only areas that need further improvement, but also areas in this sector that the industry has already improved upon. This benchmarking data also identified the need for additional analysis on the relationships between these factors and outcomes. Therefore, the objective in the final chapter of this dissertation was to assess the effects of these factors on select welfare and meat quality outcomes in fed beef cattle. Using the same data set and methods as in the second chapter, any slaughter lots with no response variables or < 75% of predictor variables present were excluded. A total of n = 619 slaughter lots representing 84,508 head of cattle were used for further analysis. Descriptive statistics for this subset of data and linear and logistic regression models were performed to assess relationships. Statistical significance was determined at P < 0.05. Predictor variables of interest included plant, breed, sex class, operation shift at the plant, distance travelled, truck waiting time to unload, lairage duration and space allowance, THI, and wind speed. Outcome variables of interest included mobility, bruising, dark cutting, quality grades, and hot carcass weights. All outcomes of interest were associated with several pre-slaughter factors of interest, particularly plant and cattle breed. Increased odds of impaired mobility were associated with increased distance travelled (1.001, 1.000 – 1.001; OR, CI) and truck waiting time (1.003, 1.001 – 1.004; OR, CI). Increased odds of carcass bruising were associated with decreases in distance travelled (0.997, 0.996 – 0.998; OR, CI), but increases in space allowance in lairage (1.035; 1.017 – 1.053; OR, CI). Cattle that experienced increases in lairage duration were associated with decreased hot carcass weights (P < 0.0367) and increased odds of cark cutting (1.034, 1.001 – 1.068; OR, CI). Additionally, cattle that were slaughtered during the first shift of operation at the plant were associated with decreased odds of being bruised (0.806, 0.772 – 0.842; OR, CI), being classified as a dark cutter (0.416, 0.336 - 0.514; OR, CI), and having a poorer quality grade (0.777, 0.657 - 0.920; OR, CI). Results from these studies identify areas where further and more detailed research is needed to fill knowledge gaps and fully understand these relationships. This research also has the potential to aid in informed decision-making regarding cattle management during the pre-slaughter period and further educate the industry on sustainable management practices.


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dark cutting
meat quality


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