Balking behavior incidence in cattle at the processing plant and carcass implications
Balking behavior in the cattle processing line can pose welfare issues as electric prod use to coerce forward movement is implemented. Temperament differences have been shown among breed-type categories, within breed-type categories, among crossbreds, and between genders. Objectives in this study were to determine if breed-type predominance, based on coat color, or gender, had an effect on balking behavior and if that behavior affects carcass economics. A total of 6,510 balking observations over 7 random dates in one year were recorded at the entrance to the restrainer in a high-capacity processing plant. Balking scores were assigned on a scale of 1 - 5 by a trained, consistent observer. Thirteen color combinations and 16 feedlot sources were represented at random collection dates and times. Holstein cattle balked more (P < .0001) than all other colors which were similar. Gender differed in balking incidence with heifers balking more (P = 0.05) than steers, and pens containing both steers and heifers balked intermediately. The feedlot source affected (P < .0001) balking behavior, with balking score means ranging from the lowest at 1.1 to 2.3 as the highest mean. Balking behavior was negatively correlated (r = -0.18, P < .0001) with dressing percentage. Mean pen weight and dressing percentage were also affected (P < .0001) by feedlot source. Mean pen weight was affected by color. Holstein cattle had greater (P < .0001) pen weights than all other colors which were similar. Steers had heavier (P <.0001) pen weights than mixed pens, with heifers having the lowest pen weight (602.8±15.4 kg, 546.1±0.59 kg, and 541.1±.36kg, respectively). Dressing percentage was affected (P <.0001) by coat color and gender (P = 0.01). Steers had the greatest (P = 0.01) dressing percentage at 64.8±0.1 versus heifers at 64.3±0.3 with mixed pens being intermediate at 63.4±0.5. Our results suggest an association with dressing percentage and balking behavior, and dressing percentage is affected by coat color and gender.
Keywords: behavior, balking, welfare