Poor beef cattle handling can cost £160 per beast

Dark cutting beef can reduce beef carcase values by as much as 50p per kilo, according to EBLEX figures.
The darker colouring on the meat is usually caused by stress around the time of slaughter, with an increased flow of hormones produced as a result of increased anxiety. This can be caused by the mixing of unfamiliar animals, including during transportation and in the lairage, leading to fighting and mounting behaviour. A seasonal change in temperatures, catching cattle before they have grown a winter coat, together with a drop in dietary energy from late season grass, can add to the problem.

While all cattle can be affected, bulls are most susceptible so warrant particular care.
EBLEX research on the issue, carried out with the University of Bristol, developed some best practice guidelines for producers and processors to minimise the chances of producing dark cutting meat. And, at current market values, adopting such measures could save up to £160 per carcase.

“Mixing unfamiliar animals in the 24 to 48 hours prior to slaughter can lead to fighting and mounting behaviour,” said Dr Phil Hadley, EBLEX senior regional manager for the southern region.

“Our research shows that the costs of ignoring this type of behaviour could have a significant impact on margins for those in the supply chain, seriously affecting the appearance and quality of the meat. Careful cattle handling is key to maximising returns.”

Advice to help avoid dark cutting meat includes:

Never mix bulls with unfamiliar animals at any time in the two weeks prior to slaughter
Never hold bulls with unfamiliar animals in farm rearing pens or raceways, loading pens or transport compartments, lairage pens or raceways
Consider rearing bulls in relatively large groups of 40 or more despite more variable growth rates to allow sufficient numbers to be drafted for slaughter with the least possible need for mixed consignments
If regrouping, and therefore mixing, of bulls is essential for good husbandry, or if mixing occurs accidentally, keep animals in their new social groups for a minimum of two weeks before sending them for slaughter
If individual bulls have to be removed from a pen and kept separate for a time, never return them to their original group. Instead, put them into a new group of younger, smaller animals where the size difference will prevent bullying of the single animal
Never move groups of bulls to new pens unnecessarily and, wherever possible, avoid frequent weighing and re-tagging or clipping out within a week of slaughter
Always make water available to bulls right up to the time of loading for slaughter, handle them quietly, set off immediately they are loaded, keep journey times to a minimum, and preferably, slaughter them promptly on arrival at the abattoir.

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