Notes from the 4th International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare

Cattle at Double D Farms

Recently we attended the International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare at Iowa State University. We joined producers, processors, retailers, government officials, NGOs, animal scientists, veterinarians and students to discuss, debate and learn about the current and emerging welfare issues that face the beef cattle industry worldwide. It was a great couple of days. Below are a few nuggets we learned and would like to share with our customers, followers and friends.

Farm to Fork: A Beef Producers’ Perspective on Beef Cattle Welfare Priorities

Ann Burkholder of Will Feed, Inc., in Cozad, NE, said “Collaboration along the cattle production chain is an important component to reducing stress and improving cattle welfare.” She provided a detailed look at how she and her family maximize performance through good care and handling. She also presented ideas for future research projects regarding beef cattle welfare and performance.

Farm to Fork: A Meat Packers Perspective on Beef Cattle Welfare Priorities

Dr. Lily Edwards-Callaway of JBS in Greeley, CO, said, “Many packing companies undergo multiple third party audits annually as well as conduct extensive internal audits to monitor humane handling within the plant.” She talked about what packing plants are doing to professionalize the livestock handling industry:

  1. Some plants are offering specific training to employees for how to audit animal handling.
  2. Some companies have specific positions for management of livestock handling.
  3. Remote video monitoring is helping plants strengthen training and auditing programs.

She said, “This same focus on animal welfare and husbandry is also apparent in academia as animal science department offerings for courses in animal behavior and welfare are growing.”

The industry is also reaching out to the men and women who raised the animals, and asking the question–in Temple Grandin’s words, “did we give those animals a decent life?” According to Edwards-Callaway, “The growth of on-farm audits and monitoring animal condition coming into the slaughter plants are two ways that packers have started working back into the supply chain to enhance animal welfare.”

A Consumer Look at Beef Cattle Welfare

David Fikes, Vice President of Consumer/Community Affairs & Communication at the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, VA, started his talk by saying, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” He repeated the phrase several times throughout the presentation to really hit on the point that consumers will trust the industry more if we focus on showing them how much we care about the animals rather than focusing on telling them the science or tradition behind our ways. Fikes also said that most consumers just want to know that the animals they are consuming had a good life and just one bad day — the day they died.

Current and Future Beef Cattle Welfare Concerns

Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University briefed us on the major concerns she sees taking shape within the industry. We were happy to hear that humane handling, which used to be the top concern for many experts, appears to be improving. Non-slip flooring, including our Double D Mats are just one small part of the improved humane handling equation that is beginning to emerge.

Knowledge Gaps in the Beef Cattle Welfare Literature – Results of a Beef Checkoff-Funded Literature Review

Dr. Cassandra Tucker of UC Davis presented findings from a study that examined the scientific information about the welfare of beef cattle in the US. She and her team completed the study to identify key gaps in knowledge and priorities for further research. She said they identified two themes: areas for policy-based actions and issues where additional empirical research is needed.

According to Dr. Tucker investment in the following research areas will advance science-based discussion about beef cattle welfare:

  • The effect of technologies used to either promote growth or manage cattle in feedlots
  • Identification of management risk factors for disease in feedlots, including weaning method, pain mitigation, feeding strategies, and housing conditions
  • Trailer design and management decisions about transport
  • Measures that feedlots are taking to keep cattle cool during the hot, dry summer months.

Cattle Transport and Stress

A number of the speakers talked about how much stress the cattle go through in their last 30 days of life between being finished at the feedlot and then being transported and processed at the packing plant. A couple of the presenters showed data about the cortisol levels, heart rate and temperature levels in cattle during these last transports and it was clear that the cattle undergo stress during this time. Keeping cattle comfortable and calm in these last 30 days is very important. Our Double D Cattle Mats could reduce stress by lowering the risk for falls and also by creating a quieter, softer surface for the cattle to stand on in trailers.