Behavior of feedlot cattle is related to carcass quality
Stressed animals are costly to raise and associated with poorer meat quality.
Observed behavior of feedlot cattle while they were entering the work chute, while they were in the chute, and their exiting of the chute compared to carcass data and quality attributes was related to marbling and tenderness scores according to scientists from North Dakota State University. There were 183 cattle in the study that represented a diverse group of breeds and originated from different farms.
Chute scores were assigned to the cattle every 28 days throughout the 188 day period they were on feed. Personnel handling the cattle and determining chute scores were the same throughout the trial. Over time throughout the trial, cattle exited the chute slower and were calmer while they were in the chute. The researchers indicated this was because the cattle became more accustomed to the working chute and its surrounding environment. Cattle that exited the chute at a faster rate during the first weigh period had tougher steaks than cattle that exited at a slower rate according to instrumental tenderness. Steers that exited the chute faster at the end of the trial had less marbling and less internal fat.
In general, feedlot cattle that exited chutes at a faster rate were found to be not only more excitable but associated with tougher steaks according to previous research at Texas A&M. Other studies have found cattle that exit chutes at a faster rate acting in an excited manner in the feedlot had poorer performance in terms of gain compared to cattle that exit the chute at a slower rate and were calmer. Handling animals that are more excited can also increase labor and time required to handle the animals as well as increase the need for equipment repair. Other costly attributes of cattle that are more excitable is an increased incidence of dark cutters. Dark cutters have elevated pH levels and an undesirable dark color to their muscle color which results in huge discounts to the value of the carcass. Although the North Dakota State University study did not have any cattle that resulted in dark cutters, they did report cattle that were more excited at all time points while in the head chute had higher pH levels at 36 hours postmortem. This indicates they used up more of their stored energy prior to harvest.
Overall, there can be benefits to handling cattle in a calm manner to keep them from being excited when working them in the chute, moving them from pen to pen, or loading and unloading them. These benefits can range from improved gain to improved meat quality attributes.