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Field Metrics for
Packing Plants and Feedlots

Feet and leg issues should be prevented before they become an industry issue.

“There have been lightyears of improvement in packing plants,” said Temple Grandin, professor of livestock behavior and welfare at Colorado State University. “The 1980s and 1990s were truly horrible.”

Temple Grandin

The biggest issues Temple Grandin sees coming up are feet and leg issues, which really go back to the cow-calf producers.

She said a USDA baseline study looking at the percentage of beef plants that stunned 95% or greater with the first shot in 1996 showed only 30%, but it improved drastically and by 1999 reached 90%. In 2009, it was 100%. The USDA survey in 1996 was prior to industry-wide auditing, but then individual restaurants like McDonald’s started auditing, and now major customers continue audits. Continuous auditing for measurable traits maintains good performance.

Her main points of measurement include stunning, electric prod use, vocalization, and slipping and falling. Even the worst plants have improved, and she even noted she didn’t think her clients could get so good at meeting the requirements. How have these changes come about? Major drivers of change, she noted, are video auditing, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service enforcement, more audits and inspection by meat buyers, and smartphones with video capabilities. Many plants needed just small changes to make a big impact.

Handling has also improved at the feedlot level. Stockmanship matters, and she’s observed that about 20% of people are natural stockmen, about 70% require continuous supervision, and 10% should not be stock people. Never overstaff and overwork employees, and top management needs to be committed to good handlings, she recommended.

She has noted that more beef welfare issues now must be fixed in breeding or management. There are higher death losses in fed cattle arriving at plants, and lameness is increasing. Additionally, cattle are coming into feedlots with greater flight zones due to the cattle not being exposed to people on foot, or having been bitten by dogs before.

The biggest issues she sees coming up are feet and leg issues, which really go back to the cow-calf producers. She is seeing more collapsed ankles, post-legged cattle and corkscrew feet. This was a big issue in the 1980s in the pig industry.

“We need to head this off at the pass. It’s not an issue yet, but it could be,” she asserted.

In a survey of leg conformation in cattle arriving at Colorado and Texas feedlots, which looked at 2,886 cattle, 86% had sound mobility. It was noted that cattle originating from northern areas had more scissor-claw abnormalities compared to Texas cattle from small ranchers and auctions. These issues were noted before they were being fed, so concentrate in diets had no factor on these feet and leg issues.

“We must measure things to prevent bad from becoming normal,” she warned. She noted that another graduate student looked at four major bull semen websites, and only 19% of bull pictures had fully visible feet and lower legs. Cow-calf producers need to be looking at feet and legs, she said, recommending the use of leg conformation charts.

Watch for additional coverage of the 2016 ISBCW in the Angus Journal and Angus Beef Bulletin. Comprehensive meeting coverage is archived at

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