The methods employed to handle animals and livestock can dramatically affect their level of stress, fear and agitation, which directly affects the quality of meat they produce.
There are three equally important, interdependent factors that directly affect the stress, fear and agitation levels of animals and livestock – handler, livestock and handling facilities.
Handlers need to be well versed when it comes to animal and livestock behaviour. Herd animals such as cattle, sheep and goats are wired to follow one another and if they are separated, they will become highly stressed and attempt to find their way back.
It is therefore paramount that handlers instruct herd animals to follow one another in a line when moving from one place to another, rather than separate them into groups.
Handlers should also be aware of the flight distance concept, which refers to the circle of safety around an animal. They need to know how and when to enter the circle so as to prevent stress and instead direct animals and livestock towards the desired location.
Animals and livestock are much more sensitive to noise than humans, they hear high pitched noises that humans cannot hear, so even those noises that we perceive as quiet can be quite detrimental to animals and livestock and invoke stress.
Handlers must therefore speak to animals and livestock in a calm, quiet manner, and avoid whistling and cracking whips. These actions can cause excitement, agitation and stress and should be avoided.
It is important to stop any stress-inducing noise immediately, and cease all handling procedures for a few minutes. This will allow time for heart rates to drop closer to normal, making the animals and livestock easier to handle.
Handling facilities must be designed in a manner that allows for good stock flow and prevents confusions and injury. Furthermore, any area of the handling facilities that require maintenance must be attended to immediately. This will reduce the incidence of injury, which can often invoke stress and make the handling process much more difficult.
It is also advised that noise minimising features be installed on all equipment situated inside the handling facilities to prevent abrupt banging and clanging noises.
It is extremely important to handle animals and livestock in a manner that reduces stress, fear and agitation as animals will produce meat of a much higher quality.
The glycogen stores in the muscles of stressed animals and livestock are depleted, which often results in the production of meat that is darker, firmer and dryer than meat from those animals who endure stress free handling.
Photo: a Creative Commons (Attribution 2.0) image from Warmphoto’s Flickr photo stream