Reduce Carcass Bruising Costs

Bruised carcasses from improper handling cost everyone in the livestock production chain money. The nature of the business, moving various ages and classes of livestock from Point A to Point B, will result in some carcass bruising. There’s bound to be a certain amount of jostling, nudging and stress anytime cattle are confined. And it doesn’t take much, for example, to bruise the vulnerable pin bones of older cows. But in most cases the type of injury that results in reduced carcass value can be prevented.

Often rough handling or improper maintenance of loading and handling facilities are to blame. Al Rogerson, vice president of beef operations at Lakeside-Centennial Corp. in Brooks, Alta., estimates 10% of the 240,000 head that pass through its packing plant each year have some degree of bruising. These minor and major bruises could result in anywhere from a $.02 to $.05 a pound price discount. At a moderate-sized plant like Lakeside-Centennial that could rack up about $200,000 in lost meat quality, annually. Often it’s the packers who have to swallow this loss in carcass value or meat yield. But the cost of rough handling eventually returns to the home roost.

Producers or feedlot owners routinely shipping bruised livestock will soon find poor prices or no markets for their cattle. And rough truckers are quickly identified. It’s not only for the humane treatment of livestock, but it’s also in everyone’s best economic interest to handle livestock with common sense and sensitivity.

Watch Loading Facilities

Most carcass bruises are found on the back. Often injury is sustained in the high-value rib or loin area. Many bruises are caused by chute or truck gates set too low; the cattle hit their backs as they’re loaded. Sometimes poorly secured gates will drop, hitting an animal. Misuse of whips and canes, or crowding cattle against protruding pieces of metal or sharp wood edges such as gate latches or broken boards, also are common sources of carcass bruising.

Degrees of Bruising

Carcass bruises are generally categorized as torn or damaged. A torn carcass is a relatively minor bruise, no larger than the palm of the hand, that creates a bloody discoloration on the fat, but hasn’t affected the meat. The fat can be trimmed off, but leaves a less desirable cut of meat at the wholesale or retail level. The bruise usually results in the packer absorbing a minimum $.02 a pound, or a $6 or $7 discount for the side of beef. If a palm-sized or larger bruise extends into the muscle, packers have a damaged carcass on their hands. There are some markets for low-value bruised meat, but often it is trimmed and included in waste product rendering. Bruised meat results in a discount of at least $.05 a pound, and could represent a $30 or $40 loss in value, especially if both sides of the carcass are damaged.

Clean Treatment

Poor inoculation hygiene can also result in abscesses and devalued carcasses. Bacteria can be introduced into the muscle by a dirty needle. Damage meat tissue will be discounted.

Stress, Another Factor

Livestock that are agitated into a panic just prior to slaughter will produce what’s known as a dark cutter carcass.Stress, created by the excitement of being moved, mixing up with other livestock, and rough handling, causes a chemical change in the blood which produces a dark color in the meat.It’s an undesirable characteristic that reduces the appeal, as well as the keeping quality of meat. The value of a dark cutter carcass can be discounted by as much as $.30 a pound or up to $200 per animal. Mixing strange cattle before slaughter results in fighting, which will increase dark cutters. Aside from rough treatment, some classes of livestock such as virgins bulls, are also particularly vulnerable to dark cutter.

Reducing excitement and commotion, through properly designed facilities and sensible handling, is an effective way of preventing stress-related dark cutter carcass.

Bruises Aren’t Imaginary

Damaged carcasses are quickly identified in the packing plant. Bruise losses are often noted on invoices and severe injuries are sometimes photographed.It’s not too difficult to trace the injury back to the source. Often the packer absorbs a first-time loss, and in severe cases they’ll go back to the supplier to negotiate some type of price adjustment.

Bruising represents a very real cost,” points out Al Rogerson. ” A minimal amount is bound to occur. But the industry shouldn’t tolerate any type of livestock treatment, either deliberate or through negligence, that causes suffering or injury to cattle.

It has been demonstrated time and again that livestock can be moved safely, humanely and efficiently. Properly designed facilities must be used, and managers need to insist that their properly trained staff follow recognized handling procedures.