Calming Cattle with a Familiar Face

AUSTRALIA - Re-grouping cattle less than two weeks prior to slaughter may reduce meat quality.
calendar icon 12 December 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

That’s one of the findings from a Beef CRC study which looked at the physiological responses of cattle when their social groups change.

Feedlots often draft cattle for slaughter based on different market specifications; retaining those cattle which don’t meet the required guidelines.

But Dr Ian Colditz, CSIRO Livestock Industries said within two weeks of slaughter cattle enter a period when any stress may compromise meat quality.

“Cattle are very social animals. Separating them or mixing them with unfamiliar animals can evoke a stress response,” Dr Colditz said.

“Their immunity decreases and they are more susceptible to disease. The glycogen they produce breaks down quickly when cattle are stressed. This can affect post-mortem muscle pH levels and meat quality.”

The study was conducted using two groups of Hereford and Angus steers. They were transferred from their property of origin after weaning and backgrounded on pasture before entering the Beef CRC’s ‘Tullimba’ feedlot. The cattle were fed for 70 days on a standard feedlot ration.

The experiment was designed to keep the cattle as two separate groups and at four, two or one weeks before slaughter, mix or regroup the animals into pen units comprising cattle from both breeds.

Dr Colditz said meat and blood samples were collected from the cattle before slaughter and from the chilled carcasses and a range of measurements analysed.

The biggest effect was in the group of steers regrouped one week before feedlot exit.

“This group had significantly higher meat compression values than the control steers. Increased compression and shear force values are objective measures of meat toughness and are usually associated with consumer perceptions of tougher meat,” Dr Colditz said.

“Minimising the exposure of cattle to stressors during this period seems appropriate if you want to maximise beef quality,” he said.

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