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CALGARY, Alta. - A study by the U.S. National Cattlemen's Association has suggested that up to 14 million pounds of meat goes to waste each year as a result of bruising - much of it caused during tran...

CALGARY, Alta. – A study by the U.S. National Cattlemen’s Association has suggested that up to 14 million pounds of meat goes to waste each year as a result of bruising – much of it caused during transport.

It’s a stat that Dr. Martin Appelt, humane transportation specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), refers to as “mind boggling.”

The 1999 study found that only 12 per cent of cow carcasses processed were not bruised, and one third of bruised animals required substantial trimming. It’s unclear just how much of that bruising can be attributed to the transportation of livestock, but experts say it stands to reason that trucking causes its share.

“One overlooked factor is the variable of truck driver,” livestock transport expert, Temple Grandin wrote in a paper on the causes of cattle bruising. “Poor driving habits, such as slamming on the brakes and sudden acceleration can increase bruising because cattle are thrown off balance. Check to make sure that a truck driver is not the cause. Suspect a truck driver if some of the cattle from Feedlot B have bruises and other loads of cattle from this same feedlot have low levels of bruising.” (For her full report, visit

While much of Grandin’s research is conducted south of the border, her Canadian counterparts see similar cases here as well.

“Sometimes we see bruises associated with certain truck drivers and certain trucking companies,” admits Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed, a CFIA veterinarian. At a recent Livestock Trucking Workshop sponsored by Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC), she told livestock transporters that “You need to re-train these drivers.”

Obviously, poor driving habits, such as cornering too fast and braking too hard, can cause meat bruising. However, there are other possible causes as well, Van Donkersgoed says. She says other causes of bruising during transport can include: whacking the animals with hockey sticks during loading (a pretty lousy alternative to electrical cattle prods which are now widely discouraged); slamming gates on the animals’ behinds while loading; steep ramps and narrow entryways; narrow or low gates; and slippery floors.

She says trucking companies must identify where bruising is occurring in order to rectify the situation.

Van Donkersgoed stresses that when loading and transporting livestock, “slower is faster.”

Truckers should be trained to understand livestock behaviour and minimize the amount of handling required. Well-designed ‘liners and loading facilities also go a long way towards reducing bruising, she adds. Some of her suggestions include:

* Refusing to transport aggressive cattle. “They stir up the whole bunch,” she insists, adding producers should get rid of aggressive calves to prevent them from causing more damage down the road;

* De-horn calves;

* Keep trucks and ‘liners in good repair;

* Unload promptly when reaching the destination;

* Use ‘liners with non-slip floors;

* Provide padding on sharp corners in cattleliners and chutes;

* Elevate the dock to the height of the ‘liner;

* And, most of all, drive with care. “And don’t stop at every Tim Horton’s along the way!” she says.

It’s also important to note that certain types of cattle are more prone to bruising. Cattle with horns may cause more bruising than de-horned cattle and Holsteins are more susceptible to bruising than beef cattle, she points out.

“Dairy cattle need more floor space because they don’t have the same amount of fat and muscle tissue,” adds Appelt. He says that for every 10 cattle loaded, one should be removed from the trailer when transporting dairy cattle.

“I would really encourage you to measure the vehicle compartments and use loading density tables,” he adds. (See the attached chart for recommended loading densities).

Besides bruising, there’s another good reason not to overcrowd livestock during transport. Appelt says overcrowding causes tissue shrinkage which results in weight loss of up to 12-13 per cent.

“Even with a nine to 10 per cent weight loss, you are talking days or weeks to get that weight back,” Appelt insists. That’s a point worth making to the next producer who asks you to overload your ‘liner.

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