Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Why it’s important for livestock to be clean when going to slaughter

“Livestock producers are ultimately meat producers”. 

When our national selection specialist Steve Powdrill articulated that sentence during filming for a video in 2014, he was talking about the importance of ensuring that producers don’t hold on to their lambs longer than necessary in the hope that the price might change for the better.

The reason why was simple. Not only does it cost producers extra in feed to hold onto their lambs, but that feed is converted to extra fat which needs to be removed – at an additional cost – at a later stage.

The message shining through was that the industry needs to work together to ensure the best end-product is delivered at the lowest cost. The consumer gets an excellent product, and in turn is likely to buy it again, and the producer gets a better return on their bottom line.

In recent weeks that message has been voiced again, only this time it’s the issue of livestock cleanliness at the point of slaughter that has highlighted it. In mid-January AHDB Beef & Lamb released two videos (one for cattle, the other for sheep) which demonstrate the danger of dirt and faeces being transferred from the hide or wool of an animal onto the meat during processing and how this risk can increase with dirtier stock.

In order to be able to demonstrate this effectively in the videos, we received special dispensation from a vet to allow animals which would ordinarily be deemed unacceptably dirty to be processed for filming.

The cattle video compares three animals going down the production line from the point of slaughter. Beast 1 is clean and well presented for slaughter, Beast 2 is dirty but well-clipped and Beast 3 is dirty and requires intervention before slaughter.

One of the first cuts on the beef production line is along the brisket, and therefore this is one of the areas that needs to be clean. As the carcase meat is exposed it becomes vulnerable to anything present on the outside of the hide, as shown below.



This is repeated as the carcase goes through further processing, with beasts 2 and 3 repeatedly putting the meat at risk of contamination.

By the time the three carcases are at the end of the production line there is another clear difference between them, and this is where it has a direct impact on the producer. Beasts 2 and 3 have more contaminated meat on them, which is trimmed off. This reduces the weight of the carcase and therefore the price paid to the farmer.

If intervention is undertaken at the abattoir prior to slaughter, such as clipping, then this can be charged back to the producer too.

It is important to recognise the danger that clipping livestock, and cattle in particular, presents to farmers when it comes to handling animals. Additional information on good cattle handling is available from our BRP document Improving cattle handling for Better Returns.

But by producing livestock farmers are producing meat, albeit at an early part of the process, and it’s important that the industry works together and does all it can to ensure the safety of the meat to prevent it becoming associated with an outbreak of a food-borne illness.