There are some very well managed feedlots that have been feeding beta-agonists and the cattle have had good mobility at the packing plant. Feedlots that have avoided problems may do the following:

• Sort cattle and avoid feeding beta-agonists to really large cattle. Do not feed it to cattle with health or foot problems. They sort on arrival and before feeding beta-agonist to create uniform groups.

• Careful feed mixing. Feed at the lower range of the 60 mg to 90 mg dose window per animal, which is listed on the label. Extensive testing of feed samples from the bunk. No top dressing.

• Add roughages to the diet. At one yard, adding an additional 3% more hay helped prevent problems. Another yard had 17% to 20% roughage in the finishing ration for beta-agonist cattle.

• During hot weather, handled cattle very early in the morning. During the summer, the cattle arrived at the packing plant in the morning when it was still cool.

• Practiced low-stress, calm cattle handling methods.

In conclusion, problems with stiff, sore-footed cattle must be stopped. The industry can’t allow stiff, lame cattle to become a new “bad becoming normal.” Two meat companies have already initiated scoring programs on incoming cattle for lameness and reluctance to move. I suggest the following simple scoring system for both feedlots and packing plants:

0 = Normal – Stands and walks normally, long confident strides, easy to move, vigorous. Beef breeds will have a definite flight zone unless reared in close confinement

1 = Mildly lame – Slightly stiff gait, sore-footed. Keeps up with normal cattle when the group is walking.

2 = Moderately lame – Lags behind and fails to keep up with normal cattle when the group is walking. Head down while moving, stiff gait, sore footed.

3 = Severely lame and reluctant to move – Limping, hard to move, reluctant to put weight on its feet. No flight zone and has difficulty moving. Handlers have to put their hands or driving aids on the animal to induce it to walk.

4 = Downed cattle – Includes cattle that are down and not able to stand, or exhibiting severe damage to hooves such as losing an outer hoof shell. I would also include standing “statue” cattle that refuse to move. Score 4 is more likely to occur at the packing plant.

It’s likely that in most groups of cattle fed beta-agonists those individual animals that score 3s and 4s at the packing plant will seldom be seen at the feedlot. At all stages of the handling and transport process, the percentage of mildly lame cattle should not exceed 10% scoring a 1. As an industry we must have high welfare standards.

Temple Grandin is a Colorado State University professor of animal science.


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