Cattle arriving at packing plants with bruises result in economic losses related to beef quality and create animal-welfare concerns, and recent research from Kansas State University shows the prevalence of bruising remains relatively high.

Dan Frese, DVM, outlined results of that research during the recent Cattle Transportation Symposium in Fort Collins, Colo. Frese is completing his PhD studies at K-State and manages his family’s cattle-feeding operation.

Bruises can occur in the feedlot, but transporting cattle to the packing plant can lead to bruising, with horned cattle often suspected of contributing to the incidence of bruises.

To evaluate those relationships, the K-State researchers observed carcasses from 4,287 feedlot cattle a commercial beef packing plant in southwest Kansas. They recorded whether or not each animal had horns and measured the length of any horns. They evaluated bruising by location and severity, using a “Harvest Audit Program” that divides the carcass into 9 anatomical regions.

Among the beef-breed cattle in the study population, only 6 percent had horns, but the bruising prevalence was 51 percent. Among Holsteins in the study, 11 percent had horns and 70 percent had bruises. Of the total number of bruises, 25.6 percent were rated as severe, 35.6 percent were moderate and 38.8 percent were minor.

The study results suggest that horns might not be the major source of bruising in finished cattle, and some other factors during transportation could be involved. Frese says 61.8 percent of the bruises occurred along the dorsal midline, or the backs of the cattle, where horns probably were not the cause. That portion also yields the most valuable cuts of beef, and about one-third of the bruises occurred on the rib and loin areas.

Researchers speculate that overhead clearance for cattle entering the “belly” portion of a trailer could be too low for large cattle, potentially resulting in bruising. During open discussions at the symposium, a representative of a livestock-trucking line said his company has modified its fat-cattle trailers to allow more clearance for large cattle entering the belly section.

The K-State team plans to conduct more bruising research this summer, and look at possible relationships between the location an animal occupies in the trailer and the incidence of bruising.