Feeding and stress management strategies (on farm and at transport) that can alter meat quality, as perceived by consumers (appearance, eating quality, shelf-life, credence attributes).
This good practice implemented at cattle transport developed by ASOPROVAC, Spanish Association of Beef Producers, grouping 70% of the country's production and with more than 3,000 associates throughout the national territory. The guideline was published the 20th of May of 2020 with the collaboration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain.
Meat quality can be altered if animals are under stress situations before slaughter, which includes transport to the slaughterhouse and loading and unloading operations. In addition, improper handling and driving practices can affect the quality of the final product due to the injuries that animals may suffer during transport. It produces economic losses because of confiscations, different contusions, mortality, loss in live weight, reduction in carcass weight and alteration of the meat organoleptic variables among others.
High temperatures and humidity rates create an unfavourable environment for the loss of body heat, forcing animals to physiological methods to stimulate the loss of body heat through evaporation, such as increased heart and respiratory rates. This dehydration can reduce not only the live weight of the animal, but also the weight of the muscles, organs and skin, which causes important economic losses. Maintaining body temperature in low temperature conditions is energy consuming for the animal. The exhaustion of glycogen stores can affect meat quality and shorter useful life due to deterioration.
The good practice consist in a practical guideline (in Spanish) with main recommendations to prevent thermal stress at cattle transport. It provides ready to use information related to the space in the lorry per animal and temperature regulation and control (trip planning including stops and contingency plans, currents of air, fans, humidifiers, sensors, bedding material, etc.). The guideline also provides several tips to minimize thermal stress in winter and in summer. For example, with extreme weather conditions, the transport should be postponed and scheduled when weather conditions allow it. In winter, is necessary to be especially careful with smaller animals and the importance of feeding the animals to avoid the exhaustion of glycogen stores to maintain body temperature. Other tips include closing vents and avoiding currents of air but ensuring sufficient ventilation and bed management. In summer, planning the load and the trip adapting it to the less hot hours of the day. On very hot days, density should be reduced by up to 30% and minimize stops duration. At stop and rest points, park the truck in shady, well-ventilated areas and check the animals, drinkers and fans operation. On long trips, special care must be taken with the quality and quantity of the water and ionic solutions can be used.
The main benefits of following this guideline are that avoids the economic losses associated with the loss of quality of the meat before slaughter (PSE and DFD meat and shorter useful life due to deterioration), and the appearance of diseases and injuries during the journey.
Regulation (EC) 1/2005 establishes the obligation for livestock transporters to receive adequate training on animal welfare in transport. This guide could be of interest to include in these trainings.
The main challenges to implement recommendations were the adaptation of trucks and of carrier’s operations. The key success factors for implementation are carriers’ training and involvement.
Three main lessons learned for implementation are:
1. Thermal stress is one of main problems associated with the transport of animals
2. The quality of the meat can be damaged if the animals are under stress situations before slaughter
3. Expenses can be offset by higher meat quality.
Impact on farm performance
Impact on socio-economic resilience
Transportation costs may increase due to lower animal density, more stops, energy costs (ventilation / heating), larger amount of litter. On the other hand, expenses can be offset by higher meat quality in the case of slaughterhouse transport and prevention of injuries and/or illnesses in the case of transport to other farms.
Impact on animal health and welfare
Improves animal welfare during transport, reduction of associated diseases.
Impact on production efficiency and meat quality
Avoid impacts on meat quality: PSE and DFD meat, shorter useful life due to deterioration, injuries that animals may suffer during transport.
Impact on environmental sustainability
More CO2 emissions if number of trips increases.
Animal Transport Guidelines Project. http://www.animaltransportguides.eu/materials/