Cattle vocalizations are associated with handling and equipment problems at beef slaughter plants

Applied Animal Behaviour Science, volume 71 (2001) pages 191 - 200

Temple Grandin
Department of Animal Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado U.S.A. 80523


Vocalization of cattle in commercial plants is associated with observable aversive events such as prodding with electric prods, slipping in the stunning box, missed stuns, sharp edges on equipment or excessive pressure from a restraint device. A total of 5806 cattle were observed during handling and stunning in 48 commercial plants in the United States, Canada, and Australia during the calendar year of 1999. Each animal was scored as either a vocalizer or a non-vocalizer. In 20 plants (42%), 0-1% of the cattle vocalized, in 12 plants (25%) 2-3% vocalized, in 12 plants (25%) 4-10% vocalized, and in four plants (8%) more than 10% vocalized. In three plants repeated use of an electric prod on 95% or more of the cattle that balked and refused to move was associated with vocalization percentages of 17, 16, and 12%. In five plants, the percentage of cattle that vocalized was reduced by making modfications to plant equipment. Reducing the voltage on a rheostat controlled electric prod reduced the vocalization percentage from 7 to 2% in the first plant. In three other plants, the incidence of cattle backing up and balking was reduced by illuminating a dark entrance or adding a false floor to a conveyor restrainer. A false floor eliminates the visual cliff effect. The percentage of cattle that vocalized was reduced from 8 to 0%, 9 to 0%, and 17 to 2%. Since balking was reduced, electric prod use was also reduced. In the fifth plant, reduction of the pressure exerted by a neck restraint reduced the percentage of cattle that vocalized from 23 to 0%. In the five plants where modifications were made, a total of 379 cattle were observed prior to equipment modifications and 342 after modification. The mean percentage of cattle that vocalized was 12.8% before the modifications and 0.8% after the modifications (P < 0.001). Vocalization scoring can be used to identify handling and equipment problems that may compromise animal welfare.

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