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Open AccessArticle

Animal-Based Measurements to Assess the Welfare of Dairy Cull Cows during Pre-Slaughter

Department of Animal Health, Faculty of Agrarian and Animal Sciences, University of Caldas, Manizales 170004, Colombia
Department of Ethology and Wildlife, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, National Autonomus University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City 04510, Mexico
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(10), 1802;
Received: 1 September 2020 / Revised: 11 September 2020 / Accepted: 14 September 2020 / Published: 4 October 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Welfare at Slaughter)
Dairy cows that are selected for culling are a vulnerable group that can experience welfare problems during pre-slaughter. This study was conducted to evaluate the animal welfare of cull dairy cows during pre-slaughter using animal-based indicators in a Colombian commercial abattoir. A total of 137 cull cows (n = 60 Holstein and n = 77 Normandy crosses) from 62 dairy farms were evaluated. Transport conditions, health indicators on arrival, human–animal interaction, physiological stress variables, carcass bruising, and the presence of pregnancy were evaluated. Results showed that 74.5% of the cows showed signs of disease, 98.5% were very thin, 84.7% showed bruising on the carcasses, and 35.7% were pregnant. The results suggest that the cows were unfit for transport before leaving the farms and that their welfare was affected by the stress generated by the challenges of pre-slaughter. There is a need to strengthen the implementation of protocols to assess the fitness of animals for transport, the awareness of farmers about the importance of animal welfare, and the training of handlers participating in pre-slaughter.
Culling is the departure of cows from the herd as a result of sale, slaughter, health, national regulations, salvage, or death. Cull cows are removed from farms with poor health, production, behavior, or other problems, and during pre-slaughter they are sometimes kept without food and water, which compromises their well-being. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the welfare state of culled dairy cows during pre-slaughter using some animal-based measurements and to identify possible associations between them. Data were recorded for 62 different dairy production farms referring to 137 cull cows (n = 60 Holstein and n = 77 Normandy crosses) slaughtered in an abattoir in Colombia (South America). In this study, we evaluated and recorded land transport conditions, the health of animals on arrival to the abattoir, human–animal interaction, stress physiological variables and the association of these variables with characteristic bruises on the carcass, the lairage time, the presence of diseases, and the stage of pregnancy. In total, 98.5% of the cows were very thin, 35.7% were pregnant, and 84.7% had bruising on the carcass. In total, 74.5% had clinical conditions; these included skin lesions (32.4%), mastitis (27.5%), lameness (21.6%), vulvar secretions (8.8%), diarrhea (6.8%), and eye carcinoma (2.9%). The total number of cull cows with bruises during pre-slaughter was associated with lot size, transport time, presence of pregnancy, body score condition, and creatine kinase levels. The results suggest that the cows were not fit for transport because their health was severely affected before they left the farms. The animal-based indicators used in this study are useful for evaluating the welfare of cull dairy cows at abattoirs. View Full-Text
Keywords: culling; fitness for transport; slaughter; well-being; physiology culling; fitness for transport; slaughter; well-being; physiology
MDPI and ACS Style

Romero, M.H.; Rodríguez-Palomares, M.; Sánchez, J.A. Animal-Based Measurements to Assess the Welfare of Dairy Cull Cows during Pre-Slaughter. Animals 2020, 10, 1802.

AMA Style

Romero MH, Rodríguez-Palomares M, Sánchez JA. Animal-Based Measurements to Assess the Welfare of Dairy Cull Cows during Pre-Slaughter. Animals. 2020; 10(10):1802.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Romero, Marlyn H.; Rodríguez-Palomares, Magali; Sánchez, Jorge A. 2020. "Animal-Based Measurements to Assess the Welfare of Dairy Cull Cows during Pre-Slaughter" Animals 10, no. 10: 1802.

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