Did you know that bruising costs the cattle industry $117 million dollars annually? The Beef Check-off Program and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are working to educate producers on better animal handling to reduce loss due to bruising. One issue which gained media attention in recent years was handling of non-ambulatory or downer cattle. Downer cattle are not allowed to enter the food chain. Downer animals should be moved using sleds rather than dragging them or lifting with chains and heavy equipment which is more likely to cause additional injury. The most common cause of cattle becoming down is calving paralyses. Generally, this means the cow has calved, or given birth to a calf, which was too large for her to deliver without problems. Despite the cause of the cow becoming down, all downer animals should be provided with feed, water, and shelter. Additionally, downer animals should be rolled, that is to say repositioned, every 6-12 hours to prevent muscle deterioration and prevent ulcers. All downed animals should be euthanized within 24 to 36 hours if there are no signs of improvement. Emaciation or debilitation from a disease that may result in the animal being too weak to transport, relief of animal suffering, and no known treatment or the likelihood that the animal will not recover are all considerations for euthanasia of a downer animal.
Downer animals are prevented from entering the food supply at the processor. State and federal inspectors who inspect animals prior to harvesting and if the animal is found to be a downer, that carcass is condemned. If an animal is not a downer but shows suspicious behavioral symptoms, that carcass is tagged suspect and is held until additional testing of the carcass is performed and results evaluated. No unhealthy animals are allowed to enter the food chain.