Temple Grandin, the renowned livestock behaviorist, began gathering benchmark data in 1996 for what would become the pioneering animal welfare audit developed for the American Meat Institute (AMI). At the time, employees at only 30% of the packing plants she audited could stun 95% of the cattle on the first try. Nearly all meet or exceed that level today. That’s the power of effectively auditing for specific outcomes related to animal welfare.

“Auditing prevents bad from becoming normal,” Grandin says. That means that auditing must be continuous. Otherwise, “People slip back into old, bad practices and they don’t realize it.”

Addressing participants of the recent International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium at Kansas State University, Grandin said that to be effective, animal welfare audit standards must be simple. That’s true whether the audit is for a packing plant, a feedlot, stocker outfit or a cow-calf operation.

“Use traffic laws as an example. A stop sign means stop, not slow down,” Grandin explains. “We need to use the same approach in developing animal welfare standards.”

Likewise, guidelines describing the standard must be clearly understood.

“A guideline must have clearly written standards that aren’t subject to different interpretations by different people,” Grandin says. “Ban words like properly, adequate and sufficient.”

That’s one reason why objective, numeric scoring systems attached to specific guidelines are useful.

“There’s an old saying in quality assurance that you only manage the things you can measure,” Grandin says. She adds that such scoring also enables monitoring progress once changes are made.

Rather than measure many different variables, Grandin says effective animal welfare audits revolve around critical control points (CCPs) robust enough to encompass numerous variables. Another way of looking at it is identifying the most important things that can be measured.

The slaughter audit portion of the AMI animal welfare audit serves as an example. “It measures a small number of CCPs that will objectively locate many different problems affecting animal welfare,” Grandin emphasizes.

The AMI audit criteria include:

  •  The percentage of animals stunned on the first attempt (at least 95%);
  •  Percentage of animals insensible on the bleed rail (minimum of 499 of 500);
  •  Percentage prodded with an electric prod(must be less than 25%);
  •  Percentage that vocalize (must be a maximum of 3%);
  •  Percentage that slip and fall (maximum of 1% that fall, and 3% that slip).

These are core criteria. Each can be scored numerically and objectively, and each must be met in order to pass the audit.

For the record, there are three types of variables to consider in animal welfare guidelines. The first comprises animal-based outcome measures. The second are prohibited practices, such as tail docking at dairies. The third are input-based, such as a minimum required amount of bunk space per animal or a minimum required level of reserve water capacity per animal. For the farm and ranch, Grandin says most of the focus should be on the first category.

Lameness is an example of an effective outcome-based CCP that’s feasible in a ranch welfare audit. As Grandin points out, lameness can result from a variety of potential issues related to animal welfare – poor housing, rapid growth, poor leg conformation, poor hoof care, foot disease or injuries, to name a few.

So, a lameness standard in a ranch animal welfare audit might allow a maximum of 5% lame cows. That’s the standard Grandin suggests in her ranch guidelines at Grandin Livestock Handling Systems ( www.grandin.com).

Along with scoring lameness, Grandin says other ranch CCPs include cow body condition and injuries.

In a feedlot setting, Grandin says the three areas where animal welfare is most likely to be compromised are muddy pens, heat stress and cattle handling. Of those, she says cattle handling is the easiest to fix because it’s a people problem.

“Cattle handling can be evaluated with outcome-based measures, which will detect both people training issues and equipment problems,” Grandin says. The CCPs for cattle handling can be used for working cattle at the ranch or processing at feedlots.

In training people inexperienced to handle livestock, Grandin finds about 20% are naturals. Another 10% should have nothing to do with livestock because they either can’t understand how improper handling can cause animal distress, or they actually enjoy inflicting pain.
The remainder can be trained, but must be supervised and retrained continuously.

Oh, and that horrendous stunning performance observed at packing plants in 1996? It boiled down to equipment failure due to lack of maintenance. The only way this was discovered across the industry was via the animal welfare audit. Once identified, it was easy to establish programs to ensure that stunning equipment was kept in working order. The result was that animal welfare improved.