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Gentle touching in early life reduces avoidance distance and slaughter stress in beef cattle

Probst, Johanna; Spengler Neff, Anet; Leiber, Florian; Kreuzer, Michael and Hillmann, Edna (2012) Gentle touching in early life reduces avoidance distance and slaughter stress in beef cattle. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 139, pp. 42-49.

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Document available online at: doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2012.03.002


This study investigated the effect of gentle touching applied during the early life of suckler beef calves on avoidance distance on-farm and stress reactions at the abattoir. Twentyseven Limousin crossbred calves were assigned to a treatment (n = 13) or a control group (n = 14) balanced by sex and day of birth. Gentle touching, using the TTouch© method, began on the second day post partum and was continued on the following 2 days. Additional touching was conducted on 3 non-consecutive days during the following 3 weeks in the home pen. Each treatment lasted for 10 min and was repeated once after 30 min. Individual avoidance distance was assessed 6 times. Following this test, all voluntary approaches towards the test person were recorded. All animals were slaughtered at 10 months of age. Behaviour was observed during lairage and in the stunning chute. Blood samples were taken during exsanguination at the abattoir, and concentrations of cortisol, lactate and glucose were analysed.
Samples of the Musculus longissimus dorsi were subjected to cooking loss measurements, Warner Bratzler shear force and meat colour traits. The treatment calves showed smaller avoidance distances (P < 0.001) than the control calves. The treatment cattle showed less avoidance behaviour in the stunning box (P < 0.01), and the cortisol level of the touched animals tended to be lower (P = 0.055). The Warner Bratzler shear force of the cooked muscle was lower in the touched than in the control animals (P < 0.05). In conclusion, the treatment animals were less fearful towards humans and showed less stress-related behaviour at the abattoir. Fewer stress related reactions at the abattoir can be the reason for improved tenderness of touched animals’ meat. We conclude that early gentle touching of beef cattle has long-term persistent effects, reduces fear towards humans, and may increase meat quality.
© 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

EPrint Type:Journal paper
Keywords:Tiergesundheit, Transport und Schlachtung, Kälberhandling, animal behaviour, Human–animal relationship, Suckler beef calves, Tactile stimulation, Early handling, Meat quality, sustainability assessment
Agrovoc keywords:
Subjects: Food systems > Food security, food quality and human health
Animal husbandry > Production systems > Beef cattle
Animal husbandry > Health and welfare
Research affiliation: Switzerland > ETHZ - Agrarwissenschaften
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Animal > Animal breeding
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Animal > Cattle
Related Links:http://www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/applan/article/S0168-1591(12)00085-8/abstract, http://www.fibl.org/en/switzerland/research/animal-husbandry/animal-husbandry-research.html
Deposited By: Probst, Johanna
ID Code:20783
Deposited On:24 Apr 2012 20:19
Last Modified:31 Mar 2023 09:17
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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