There are over a thousand livestock auction and sale barns in the U.S. where cattle are marketed. Unfortunately, some of them have been featured on the nightly news with poor animal welfare and handling issues.
Speaking at the 2nd International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare held May 19-21 at Kansas State University, Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, Haskell County Animal Hospital, Sublette, Kan., says sale barn workers are commonly pushed to keep cattle moving quickly in and out. Often cull and compromised animals are coming in. “Compromised animals provide unique challenges that are often not handled well,” Sjeklocha says.
Compromised cattle do not need to be coming to the market, Sjeklocha says. Sale barns need to communicate with producers about keeping those animals on the farm or euthanizing them. “They also need to train employees how to deal with it and recognize when an animal won’t make it through the sale.”
If an animal is disabled on arrival, have it inspected by qualified personnel. If it is unlikely to make it through the sale, the sale barn should discuss with consignor that it needs to be taken home or euthanized. “Do not receive or unload it,” Sjeklocha says. “If it’s euthanized, move it away from live animals for disposal.”
If the compromised animal can potentially recover, Sjeklocha suggests to assess the surroundings, provide proper footing, provide ample room for mobility, move only if necessary and use non-abusive stimulus. “Do not use a hotshot.”
If an animal is injured at the sale barn, Sjeklocha recommends addressing the situation immediately. “Aid the animal, report the problem, have an examination by qualified personnel. Determine if recovery is possible or if it needs to be euthanized. Don’t wait and mess around with a situation like this.”
If euthanasia is necessary, euthanasia methods also need to be established at the facility and performed by trained personnel or a veterinarian. The first consideration is human safety whether it’s injury prevention from a compromised animal or injury prevention from euthanasia methods such as using firearms.
Sjeklocha says the facility needs to have plans in place for making immediate welfare decisions such as euthanizing an animal caught in a fence, animal restraint, practicality of method such as firearms, skill of operator (with firearms or captive bolt), the expense (firearms vs. euthanasia drugs via a veterinarian), aesthetics of the methods, and diagnostics (such as in a suspected case of rabies where brain tissue needs to be preserved).