The present study investigated the effect of gentle touching applied during the last 5 weeks before slaughter in finishing cattle on behaviour towards humans, stress indicators and beef quality. Three experiments were carried out. Experiments 1, 2 and 3 employed eight Limousin crossbred bulls, eight Piemontese crossbreds (six females, two steers) and ten Limousin crossbreds (three females, seven steers), respectively. In each experiment, half of the animals were equally assigned to a treatment and a control group, respectively. The treatment consisted in a standardised gentle head-neck-region touching and started 5 weeks before slaughter and was continued once a week in experiments 1 and 2 and twice a week in experiment 3 during the following 5 weeks. Avoidance distance tests (ADT) were performed two times in each experiment, once before the treatments started and a second time after handling treatments had ended. Blood samples were taken during exsanguination and concentrations of cortisol, lactate and glucose were analysed. In samples of the Musculus longissimus dorsi, meat colour, cooking loss and shear force were determined. Across all experiments, avoidance distances in treatment animals were reduced after treatment application compared to control animals (interaction of ADT number×treatment: F1,24=18.33, P0.1). However, lactate concentrations in exsanguination blood tended to be lower in treated than in control animals (F1,22=3.47, P=0.075). There was no treatment effect on either cooking loss (F1,22=1.10, P>0.1), or meat colour (L*: F1,22=0.09, P>0.1; a*: F1,22=0.05, P>0.1; b*: F1,22=1.74, P>0.1), or shear force (F1,22=0.02, P>0.1). In conclusion, gentle treatment in the period before slaughter resulted in decreased avoidance distance towards humans and in a slight reduction of stress at slaughter as indicated by the trend in lower lactate concentrations in exsanguination blood. However, this late-life treatment was less efficient in improving meat quality different from what had been shown for early-life gentle touching.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
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