Dirty livestock could cost us valuable market access

Q&A: Clean livestock policy
New advice leaflets for farmers on presenting clean cattle and sheep for slaughter were launched by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed at the Ploughing.

Why do we need a clean livestock policy?

Clean cattle at slaughter minimises any risk to human health.

It is needed to maintain the highest standards in safe meat production.

It leads to more efficient processing, and enhances Ireland’s reputation as a leading export-driven food producer.

It instils greater consumer confidence.

Sending dirty cattle to slaughter increases the contamination risk from harmful bacteria such as E coli 057, salmonella and campylobacter, putting our customers’ health at risk.

Sending dirty cattle to slaughter increases the contamination risk from harmful bacteria such as E coli 057, salmonella and campylobacter putting our customers’ health at risk.

Dirty cattle cost money and risk our valuable beef and hide markets. Beef producers who deliver clean cattle for slaughter are playing their role in the production of a safe food that consumers can have confidence in.

What is the current system?

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has implemented a clean livestock policy since 1998.

At slaughter plants, the department uses three categories to score cattle on their cleanliness on arrival at the lairage.

Category C is unacceptable — cattle unfit for slaughter because of hide condition. Cattle must not be presented in this condition; it is the responsibility of the food business operator to take the required remedial action. 

There is an onus on farmers, hauliers, and factory operators to ensure animals entering the slaughter plant are clean. The target should be to maximise cattle in category A.

The department applies a similar system to categorise sheep at slaughter plants.

A spokesman for Meat Industry Ireland said processors do everything possible to ensure hygienic preparation of carcases in the plant, and have adopted various new processes and techniques over the years to assist this. 

However, if animals are not presented as clean as possible, then the challenge and the risk is increased.

How can I improve cattle cleanliness?

Where possible, feed higher dry-matter diets.

Reduce the amount of wet silages, roots, and molasses pre slaughter, and avoid any sudden changes to the diet.

Avoid overstocking and under-stocking of cattle on slats, and keep any solid areas in the shed free from dung build up. When using straw bedding, bed regularly using adequate amounts. Sheds should be well ventilated, to keep cattle clean and dry.

Trim their tails and along their backs at housing time.

Keep animals dosed and worm-free to minimise scouring. Diets should be well balanced for vitamins and minerals.

Before selling, do not mix unfamiliar groups of cattle. Remove any low dry-matter feeds in the final 48 hours and replace them with straw or high DM silage. Do not restrict water or starve cattle in the final 24 hours.

Cattle that are very dirty should ideally be moved to dry straw bedding in the final two to three weeks.

When transporting, avoid loading cattle that are very wet, or loading in wet vonditions. 

Covered trailers should be well ventilated to avoid stock sweating. Do not use sawdust on the trailer floor.

Hauliers should pen cattle correctly and check them regularly during transit.

Vehicles should be cleaned and disinfected between loads.

What are the key clean livestock husbandry practices with sheep?

Sheep producers must recognise that the animals that they supply for slaughter are used for human consumption. Sheep farmers are food producers and have a role to play in presenting clean and dry sheep for slaughter.

Tail-dock lambs in the first seven days of life.

Implement an effective parasite control programme to reduce scouring from internal parasites.

At grass, move finishing lambs to clean pasture when conditions become muddy.

Avoid use of excess nitrogen fertiliser, or very lush grass, during the finishing period, to reduce scouring.

Move feeders regularly to avoid poaching and muddy areas around feeders.

Raise drinking troughs, and provide a hardcore area around drinkers to keep these areas mud-free.

Avoid routine free access mineral supplements; treat animals for specific mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

Use only well ventilated sheep housing for finishing sheep. In straw bedded sheds, use adequate straw and replenish it regularly.

In slatted sheds, ensure that slats do not get blocked, and that there is no build-up of faeces.

Do not overstock pens, and allow adequate space at feeding troughs.

Crutch and dag lambs before turning them onto roots or forage crops.

Allow sheep to adjust to this new diet by restricting access and providing a grass run-back or free access hay.

If supplementing with concentrates or hay, move feeding points regularly, to avoid poaching/muddy areas.

Ensure that sheep always have a dry lying area.

On free draining soils, the crop itself may provide this.

However, on heavier soils or during wet weather, a grass run-back or straw bedded area should be provided.

Avoid sudden finishing diet changes, to prevent dietary upsets and scouring.

Carefully manage the build-up to high levels of concentrates.

Avoid feeding low dry matter diets (low DM silage, beet etc.) Feed rations that are properly balanced for fibre, energy and protein.

Avoid feeding excess salt in finishing diets, as this increases water intake and urine production.

The use of ammonium chloride at 0.5% of the finishing diet will protect against urinary calculi.

If feeding high starch diets, avoid finely ground ingredients; feed a percentage of the cereal as whole or cracked.

Avoid unnecessary pre-sale mixing of groups of sheep.

Crutch/dag dirty lambs prior to transport. For at least eight hours pre-slaughter, house sheep on straw bedding or clean slats and withdraw feed.

Do not restrict water, where this housing period is longer than eight hours.

Ensure sheep are dry. For transport, use only well ventilated and roofed (waterproof) transport vehicles, clean, dry, with absorbent materials on the floor.

Use partitions/ dividers to confine animals. Where decks are being used ensure that faeces/urine from the higher decks do not soil sheep on the lower decks.


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