Outline of cattle welfare critical control points on feedlots, ranches, and stocker operations

(Updated July 2013)

Grandin Livestock Handling Systems
2918 Silver Plume Drive, Suite C3
Fort Collins, Colorado 80526
(970) 229-0703


Beef Feedlot

  1. Heat Relief - Panting cattle are heat stressed. The need for shade or sprinklers will depend on the geographic area. Heat stress reduces weight gain. More likely to occur in cattle fed beta-agonists such as Zilmax (Zilpaterol) or Optaflexx (Ractopamine).
  2. Mud Control - Mud over the top of the hoof is a welfare concern. Stress from mud reduces weight gain. Muddy cattle have a higher pathogen load. Score cattle for soil and mud on their bodies.
  3. Cattle Handling Practices - See feedlot audit form for scoring system for handling.
  4. Clean water troughs - Required for both welfare and food safety reasons.
  5. Euthanasia of disabled animals per American Association of Bovine Practitioner's guidelines. Non-ambulatory cattle should be euthanized at the feedlot with captive bolt, gunshot or other approved method.
  6. No dehorning or cutting of horn tips at the feedlot.
  7. No knife castration at the feedlot. Knife castration on extensive pasture operations is acceptable. Knife castration in the feedlot causes santiary problems. If castration is required use the high tension bander. Bands must be checked for tightness. If possible calves should be obtained from suppliers who will castrate them at an early age. Recent research has shown that banding heavy bull calves causes stress. It must never be considered as a painless low stress method.
  8. Non-slip flooring in all handling, processing, sorting and loading areas.
  9. Branding - No branding at the feedlot unless required by law.
  10. Abnormal elongated hooves from feeding too hot a ration are not acceptable. Double the normal hoof length. If more than 1% of the cattle in any single pen in the feedlot are lame, stiff, or reluctant to move there is a problem that must be corrected. These lame animals often have feet that look normal.
  11. No aborting of heifers in the second half of pregnancy at the feedlot.
  12. Bellowing calves are an indicator that the animals were not preweaned at the ranch. If possible calves should be obtained from suppliers who will prewean and vaccinate them 5 to 8 weeks prior to shipment from the ranch of origin.
  13. Lameness caused by beta-agonist feed supplements such as Zilmax (Zilpaterol) or Optaflexx (Ractopamine). The feet will look normal and in extreme cases the outer hoof shell has detached. Lameness regardless of the cause should be scored and measured. Lameness should not exceed 5% of the cattle. Lameness can also be caused by other factors such as poor flooring. Lameness is a serious animal welfare issue because sore feet cause continuous long term pain.

Three most important critical control points for feedlot cattle are:

  1. Rough handling and excessive use of electric prods. Evaluate with scoring system that is on the feedlot audit form.
  2. Heat stress and the need for heat relief. Critical limits have to be set based on research. Preliminary research indicates that shade or sprinklers may be needed in some parts of the U.S.
  3. Control of Mud. Mud that goes over the top of the hoof is a welfare concern and reduces cattle weight gain. Muddy cattle are a food safety issue. Cattle should be scored for the percentage of soil and mud on their bodies.

Beef Ranch (Cow calf and stocker pasture Operations)

  1. Body Condition Score of Cows - Ninety percent of the cows should be maintained at a body condition score of greater than 2. The minimum acceptable body condition score is 2. Emaciated skeletal animals must be euthanized on the premises. A score of 2.75 on the Elanco Dairy chart is equal to a beef 2.
  2. Euthanasia - Severely debilitated, non-ambulatory or emaciated animals must be euthanized on the ranch per the American Association of Bovine Practitioner's guidelines. Permitted methods are gunshot, captive bolt or other approved method.
  3. Non-Ambulatory Animals - Dragging of non-ambulatory animals is not permitted. Euthanasia on the premises is strongly recommended.
  4. Cancer Eye - Any animal with ocular neplasia (cancer eye) that has invaded the facial tissue must be euthanized on the ranch or stocker operation.
  5. Calving Management - Per FASS (Federation of Animal Science Societies) (2010) guidelines.
  6. Cattle Handling - Use the scoring system on the feedlot audit form.
  7. Castration - Per FASS (2010) guidelines, as early as possible.
  8. Dehorning - Horns should be removed before calves are 4 months old. Removal of horns from older animals requires local anesthesia (American Humane Assoc. 2000).
  9. Branding - Should be avoided unless required by law. No face branding.
  10. Ear Marking - Cutting the animal's ear or dewlap for identification purposes is not permitted. Small notches made with a punch are permitted.
  11. Weaning - Calves should be preweaned and vaccinated 5 to 8 weeks before they leave the ranch of origin. Shipment of bellowing calves should be avoided. Low stress fence line weaning is recommended.
  12. Protection from Extreme Weather - Depending of the location of the ranch cattle may need shade, windbreaks or other devices to protect them. In northern areas, ranchers should make plans on how to protect their cattle from severe winter storms.
  13. Spaying Heifers - Anesthetics are required for flank spaying of heifers. Other less invasive methods of spaying which do not require a flank incision are recommended.
  14. Acclimate cattle to Handling - Calves destined for a feedlot should be acclimated to people on foot, on horseback and to vehicles. This will help keep them calmer during handling at the feedlot and slaughter plant.
  15. Lameness Scoring of Cows - Lameness should not exceed 5% of the cows.
  16. Coat Condition Scoring - This is especially important for organic systems where parasiticides are not allowed. Score cattle for bald spots, grubs, and other skin problems. Scoring systems will need to be developed.


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Click here to get more information on T. Grandin (2009) Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach, CABI Publishing..