Pre-slaughter transport and handling of animals are accompanied by many stressful events, which affect animal welfare and meat quality [1
]. Pre-slaughter handling involves a number of critical points which include loading of animals at the farm, transport from farm to abattoir, unloading of animals at the abattoir, and slaughter [2
]. A study by Gebresenbet et al.
] revealed that loading and unloading are among the main activities that cause an increase in heart rate of cattle. Stress is an invariable consequence of transporting animals destined for slaughter from the farm to the abattoir [3
]. However, stress during transport can be minimized by improving facilities, vehicle designed, and handling methods. As is also widely known, pre-slaughter stress commences during loading of animals onto a vehicle that sends them to abattoirs [4
]. Transport time is also known to have an impact on transported animals. A study by Gebresenbet et al.
] showed that concentration of plasma cortisol (stress hormone) decreased with an increase in transport time while lactate and creatine kinase (CK) increased significantly (p
< 0.001) after 6 h of transport time.
During transport and handling, animals are sometimes faced with unfavourable conditions, which compromise their welfare and meat quality [5
] such as food and water deprivation, unfavourable temperature or ventilation, aggressions and physical shocks which cause hunger and thirst, heat stress and pain [7
]. To some extent, mortality of animals during transport may be an indication of their welfare and transport conditions [8
]. People occasionally hit animals and cause great pain and injury mostly because they consider the animals as commodities and not as sentient beings that feel pain and stress, or because of lack of knowledge about animals and their welfare [10
Inappropriate handling, improper use of sticks by handlers, violent impact of the animals against facilities or impact with other animals are potential bruising events [11
]. Handling animals without the practice of using sticks results in better welfare and less risk of poor carcass quality [8
]. Poor handling or a physical blow that leads to bruising or other animal injury can lead to parts of the carcass being condemned or the meat being dark [12
]. Such meat, they say, does not appeal to consumers and spoils quickly. A study in Canada [13
] revealed that 15% of the cattle showed severe bruising while 78% of the carcasses exhibited bruising of some sort. Indicators of an animal having difficulty coping with handling or transport are changes in behaviour, which show that some aspect of the situation is aversive [14
Assessment of culled cattle in holding pens at 21 slaughter facilities in the United States recorded an overall incidence of 1.1% non-ambulatory cattle [13
]. Estimated number of starved cattle slaughtered at federally inspected facilities showed that the incidence of non-ambulatory cattle was between 0.7% and 1.1% [15
]. The same study [16
] recorded an aggregated sum of beef and dairy cattle that could not stand and walk in the years 2003 and 2004 to be 0.04% and 0.38%, respectively. According to [16
], causes of non-ambulatory cattle differ by region, herd size and herd management. Main causes of non-ambulatory conditions in cattle are injuries related to dystocia, fractures, muscle and ligament damage, infectious diseases such as toxic mastitis, lymphoma, peritonitis, and metabolic disorders such as acidosis [16
The abattoir system in the developed world is quite different from that in the developing world. While the abattoir system in the developed world provides services that are geared towards meat quality, the abattoir system in the developing world typically may not always consider animal welfare and meat quality issues [17
]. Cattle destined for slaughter at the Kumasi Abattoir are transported from Burkina Faso (800–1000 km), Mali (1500–2500 km), Niger (1800–2500 km), Yeji (180–250 km) in Brong Ahafo and the three northern regions of Ghana [17
]. The animals are bought from individual farms, small and big markets and are sent to a collection centre before onward transportation to Kumasi. At the farm, the animals are treated humanely as they are precious assets to the family that owns them. As soon as they are bought from the farm, they are treated as a commodity. During loading and unloading, the animals are subjected to lashes (whips) with sticks and ropes that compromise their welfare and meat quality. Some of these events were observed during the study.
The vehicles used to transport the animals are mostly unsuitable for such a purpose and this could induce stress on the animals. The vehicles do not have loading ramps and majority of them are not suitable for animal transport because, for instance, they do not have top covers to protect the animals from the vagaries of the weather. Many animals are often crammed into vehicles without due consideration of appropriate loading densities. This brings about bruises, downed or crippled or non-ambulatory animals and damage to animal hides. During transportation, the animals are exposed to extremes of temperature, rain and humidity because they are not offered any form of protection against the weather. The vehicles used are mostly not designed for animal transport. Most of the vehicles have exposed tops making the animals liable to extremes of the weather. The movement of the animals from the cattle market at the abattoir premises to the lairage and subsequently into the abattoir is often marked by inappropriate handling. They were stoned, beaten with sticks and ropes and other inhumane treatments. Lairage times vary and while some animals spend less than five (5) min in the lairage, others are moved straight from the cattle market into the abattoir for slaughter. There is insufficient knowledge among stakeholders that bad handling of animals can impinge on their welfare and meat quality. This knowledge gap led to the present study.
The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of transport and pre-slaughter handling on welfare and meat quality of cattle.
2.1. The Study Area
The Kumasi Abattoir Company Limited (K.A.C.L) was established in 1997 with grants from the Government of Ghana and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and commenced its operations in 1998. The Abattoir is located at a suburb called Kaase in Kumasi. Kumasi Abattoir is located on latitude 6°43'55''N, longitude 1°31'28''W and at an altitude of 274 m. There is a cattle market at the Abattoir premises about 150 m away from the Abattoir. At the cattle market, there are kraals which are used to house the animals while they are being sold. There is a holding pen for the cattle which are destined for slaughter. The holding pen which is about 10 m away from the slaughterhouse is used to keep cattle overnight until the next morning when they are slaughtered. There is a lairage which is supposed to be used to rest animals for some time before slaughter. There is a defunct waste treatment plant and an abandoned fish pond about 100 m away from the slaughterhouse.
The company slaughters cattle, pigs, sheep and goats for processing and packaging for the targeted Ghanaian market. The company has 151 regular employees and 15 casual employees. The original daily slaughtering capacity of the Abattoir was 200 cattle, 100 pigs, and 250 sheep and goats. The production facility has been redesigned to enable the company to slaughter an additional 200 cattle daily. This was achieved by converting one of the slaughter lines meant for the slaughter of sheep and goats into another cattle line and developing a singeing platform with the support of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to take care of the singeing of sheep and goat carcasses [19
2.2. Data Collection
In this study, the bases of sampling were interviews, field measurements, and observations of activities during animal transport and slaughter operations. For better planning of field work and proper design of questionnaires, preceding exploratory visits and interviews with key people at the Abattoir were made.
2.3. Interview of Stakeholders
Face-to-face interviews were conducted of dealers (merchants), middlemen (landlords), and butchers to investigate how transport and pre-slaughter could affect welfare and meat quality of cattle. The dealers’ work is to go to the points of purchase, buy animals and transport them to the Abattoir. The middlemen’s work is to receive and sell the animals brought to the Abattoir by the dealers, while the butchers’ work is to buy, slaughter the animals, and sell the meat.
2.4. Measurement of Cattle Behaviours and Methods of Handling
A pre-feasibility study was done to observe and record the behaviour of the animals as they were being moved by cattle handlers from the cattle market until they were slaughtered in the abattoir. To record behaviour of the animals, a video film was shot at random on 200 animals. Ten animals were sampled each day for 20 days. The selection of the different behavioural observations was partly based on literature and partly on preceding exploratory work. Behaviours and handling methods observed and recorded are shown in Table 1
Definitions of observed behaviours.
Definitions of observed behaviours.
|Easily pulled||The number of animals allowing themselves to be moved from the Cattle Market into the Abattoir by cattle handlers.|
|Beatings (whips) ||Animals which failed to move voluntarily were whipped/ lashed by cattle handlers with ropes and sticks or clubs until they moved.|
|Charging at handlers ||Sometimes as the animals were being moved by cattle handlers, they charged at the handlers.|
|Defecation and urinating||Due to inappropriate handling by cattle handlers, animals mostly defecated and or urinated.|
|Ear erection ||Some animals due to agitation and stress, raised their ears while they were being moved by cattle handlers into the Abattoir.|
|Foaming ||Some animals foamed at the mouth due to stress from handling by cattle handlers as they were moved into the Abattoir.|
|Forcing animals to fall down ||When some animals got to the entrance of the lairage or the entrance of the Abattoir, they resisted entry and the cattle handlers had to physically restrain those animals and force them to fall down before dragging them into the Abattoir for slaughter.|
|Head swings ||Some animals swung their heads from one side to the other as an indication of being traumatised while they were being moved into the Abattoir.|
|Horn pulling||Sometimes some animals which failed to move voluntarily as they were sent into the Abattoir had to be held by the horn by cattle handlers and pulled.|
|Jumping ||Sometimes some animals while in their natural environments, exhibit play behaviours such as jumping but when they are inhumanely handled, they jump as well in distress.|
|Kicking ||Animals which were traumatised and were temperamental, tried to kick the cattle handlers with their hind legs while they were being moved into the Abattoir for slaughter.|
|Crippled during handling ||Animals which became lame and could not continue walking due to inappropriate handling by cattle handlers as they were being moved into the Abattoir were counted and recorded.|
|Leg pulling||Some animals instead of being pulled by ropes attached to their horns were pulled by ropes attached to their leg(s) because those animals stopped, lay down and would not move.|
|Lying down and refusing to move||Sometimes some of the animals lay down and refused to move during handling.|
|Moving without pulling||Some animals moved voluntarily into the Abattoir without being pulled by cattle handlers.|
|Panting||At certain times, some of the animals panted for breath while being moved by cattle handlers into the Abattoir due to stress from inappropriate handling.|
|Raising of tail ||Some animals due to agitation raised their tails while they were being moved by cattle handlers into the Abattoir.|
|Resistance to be lazooed ||Before each animal was moved into the Abattoir for slaughter, it was tied by the horns with a rope. Some animals resisted these restrictions by running away from the cattle handlers.|
|Resistance to be pulled||Some of the animals resisted pulling by cattle handlers from the cattle market into the Abattoir.|
|Retreating ||Due to fear and inappropriate handling by cattle handlers, some animals moved backwards while they were being moved into the Abattoir for slaughter.|
|Running ||Some animals ran when being moved by cattle handlers into the Abattoir.|
|Slapping ||Sometimes the cattle handlers had to use their bare hands to slap recalcitrant animals which offered some resistance to pulling.|
|Sniffing ||Due to fear and inappropriate handling by cattle handlers, some animals sniffed while they were being moved into the Abattoir for slaughter.|
|Stoning ||Hitting animals with stones when animals failed to move voluntarily |
|Stretching ||Some animals stretched their bodies by extending their forelegs forward and their hind legs backwards and arched their bodies due to stress from inappropriate handling by cattle handlers.|
|Stamping of feet||Due to fear and inappropriate handling by cowboys, some animals remained stationary and kept stamping their feet on the ground while they were being moved into the Abattoir for slaughter.|
|Tail pulling/twisting and, Stumping on tail||Animals which lay down and refused to stand up while they were being sent into the Abattoir had to have their tails pulled, twisted or stamped upon by the cattle handlers before they stood up and began to move.|
|Vocalisations ||At certain times, some of the animals vocalised not because they were badly handled or stressed (vocalisation level 1) while others vocalised because they were inappropriately handled by cattle handlers (vocalisation level 2).|
2.5. Measurement of pH of Meat from Poorly-Handled Cattle
By visual observation, meat from 50 poorly-handled cattle was sampled for determination of pH value. Fifty meat samples were excised from the left longissimus muscle
between the 11th and 12th ribs of each of 50 cattle postmortem. Ten meat samples were taken each day for 5 days. Each sample was taken immediately after slaughter, placed in an air tight bag (a sandwich sealer), and put into an ice chest [20
]. Ice blocks were placed on the meat samples and then sent to the Biochemistry Laboratory at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology for pH readings to be taken. Transportation of the samples to the laboratory took about 30 min. Two (2 g) of each sample was taken and homogenised in 20 mL of distilled water (1:10 ratio) [21
]. The spear tip electrode (Model: PE- 06HD, OCS GMBH/TOP MESSTECHNIK, Deutschland) of a pH metre (Model:PH-212, OCS GMBH/TOP MESSTECHNIK, Deutschland) was dipped into the mixture to read the pH. For each sample, pH was determined at various time intervals of 0 (immediately after slaughter), 6, 18, and 24 h after slaughter. Sections of each excised meat sample were kept refrigerated at +4 °C for determination of pH at the specified times.
2.6. Measurement of Cooking Loss of Meat from Poorly-Handled Cattle
Samples were taken from longissimus in the same way as elaborated under Section 2.5
. At the laboratory, 15 g each of the fresh meat samples was weighed, put back into the self-sealing air tight bags and cooked for 35 min in a hot water bath (Büchi Waterbath B-480, Switzerland) at 75 °C. After cooking, the samples were cooled to room temperature in a bucket containing ice.
Each of the samples was re-weighed after cooling to room temperature and cooking loss was calculated as the weight lost during cooking divided by fresh sample weight and expressed as a percentage. Determination of cooking loss was adopted from [22
] with some modifications. The modifications were made because the fresh samples had to be transported over a distance (about 30 min), from the Abattoir to the laboratory where the cooking loss determination apparatus was set up.
2.7. Measurement of Carcass Bruising
To investigate carcass bruising, 500 carcasses were evaluated at random for bruises according to the Finnish Meat Research Institute’s carcass-evaluation system [23
]. Three evaluation categories used in this system were: “none”, denoting a clean non-bruised surface; “slight” denoting a reddish area with damage on the surface and “severe”, meaning the bruise is reddish, deep and bleeding damage can be observed on the surface.
2.8. Measurement of Proportion of Non-Ambulatory Cattle
Cattle that were non-ambulatory and were drawn by cart to the abattoir to be slaughtered were counted for a period of one week of 7 days. The researcher sat at the gate of the cattle market and counted the number of non-ambulatory animals drawn by cart into the abattoir. The proportion of non-ambulatory animals was calculated as the ratio of the total number of non-ambulatory animals drawn by cart to the total number of animals moved from the cattle market into the abattoir for slaughter expressed as a percentage.
2.9. Data Analysis
Data analyses of the face-to-face interviews and the correlation co-efficients for percent cooking loss and ultimate pH were done with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS Version 16). Microsoft Office Excel 2007 was used to generate the charts for the pre-slaughter handling methods of animals and the behaviours expressed by those stressed animals. Excel was also used to generate the charts showing percent normal, moderate DFD, and DFD meat, ultimate pH of meat against time postmortem, and the charts showing the relationships between percent cooking loss and ultimate pH.