Meet Tinker Bell. She was an Angus heifer the grandkids named when they were very small. I still think of her fondly. But there is one thing you should know if you choose to raise a heifer for meat. About the time she is near approaching finishing weight she comes into heat and will begin going on walk-abouts to find Mr. Handsome. This is why so many ranches who are feeding up heifers for meat processing have them spade.
Temperament plays another large roll in profitability if you are raising animals for meat. Stressed animals produce large levels of cortisol which diverts energies from producing meat to creating fat deposits. In cattle it is in the sacrum, back, and heavy marbling. Less meatiness means a smaller carcass and a poor feed to meat ratio. Simply put you’re paying for livestock feed to produce more fat than meat. Less meat in the freezer for you or for your customer with the same cost output puts the books of a ranch or hobby farm in the red.
But there is even more loss as cortisol also affects the color, tenderness, and flavor of meat – not in a good way. This will steer customers away from your product.
Few of you probably process your own meat so for today, let’s talk about what happens when you haul your animal to the processing plant.
Unfamiliar environment is one of the most stressful aspects of pre-slaughter handling procedures. Studies show that pigs held in pens over night had a lower level of cortisol and thyroxine than pigs slaughtered within 2 to 4 hours after arrival. This is the reason why lots of plants hold your animal over night.
To decrease stress even more you can send more than one animal which has been penned with them and they get along well.
Best case scenario, the processor comes to your home and kills the animal in the comfort of its own pen. Very little stress except maybe the introduction of a new person.
Keep in mind that psychological stress is more detrimental to the animal than physical stress such as lack of feed or inclement weather.
Since there is only four large plants that handle over 80% of beef in America and five plants that process 57% of the hogs losses from stress are huge because of the large volume so they take it seriously. Still there is only so much they can do since animals travel great distances to the processing plant.
When Tinker Bell was a bum calf she had this annoying habit of drinking a few sips of milk from her bottle and then spinning around me a few times in her excitement. As you can see I never could break her of the habit. Grain replaced milk but the habit remained. Not so safe a deal when your heifer is over 1200 lbs.
The longer the haul the higher the muscle PH or (acid level) and the darker and firmer the meat. Dark, firm meat, means tougher and less flavor and it is due to longer stress level times. Meat that is darker in color than it should be is called “Dark Cutter”. Dark cutting carcasses have purplish-black rather than bright red lean meat. This darkening usually takes over eight hours. If you have a high strung animal this could include the time spent hauling plus in a strange pen.
This is why they will rest pigs for 6 to 8 hours after the haul and keep them in pens of familiar companions. Some feed sugar on arrival which also lowers stress. I do the same thing when I order baby chicks and they just arrive. They get a good boost of sugar water.
High cortisol levels reduces calcium in the muscle and tends to make the meat tougher. Often this meat is darker, and has more water in it which would lead one to believe it might be juicier but in realty, the water escapes during cooking and leaves the meat dry and tough.
One can influence an animals ability to handle stress by simply handling them often in a calm manner. We gentle our meat animals and when we kill them, the larger ones are thinking they are being fed a treat of grain. The death is instant. The small ones are use to being held. The chickens are killed immediately by removing their heads with my foot in an instant. It is one of the reasons we just can’t eat out with the level of enjoyment others do. Our meat just tastes better because of what we feed them and the low stress levels they incur. Of course we choose calmer animals too.
If your animals need to travel to be processed, then handle them often and rides in the trailer are not a bad idea. I knew a boar hog that loved to travel because it meant he got to go and see sows. I know people who grain their beef in the trailer making it a positive place to be. They leave the door open and the beef learn to wander in and out freely. Of course be sure to situate the trailer so it won’t move. A short trips down the road is not a bad idea on occasion so it becomes a common thing and less stress.
Think about how you could create a better meat quality the next time you have animals you are raising for meat.