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Beef cattle - key welfare issues

Housing

Some people assume that all beef cattle are kept outside in fields. However, many cattle need to be housed during winter, when the weather is bad and the grass is not growing. Some may be reared entirely indoors. We have particular concerns about:

  • Cattle being tethered during winter housing
  • Poor housing conditions, which can lead to respiratory (lung) problems, particularly in young cattle.
  • Lack of space and poor lighting.
  • Fully slatted flooring which can be uncomfortable for cattle.


Very good management and well-maintained housing is important to avoid welfare problems.


Diet

We have concerns that some beef cattle may not receive an adequate diet. For example, intensively-reared bulls may not receive enough fibre, leading to metabolic diseases. It's very important to ensure that all beef cattle, whether indoors or outdoors, have adequate access to feed (especially fibre) and clean water.


Selective breeding

Some continental beef cattle breeds have been bred to be more muscular in order to increase the amount of meat available. A combination of calves growing very large during pregnancy and the mothers having narrow pelvic canals can result in problems giving birth. Repeated caesareans may be needed to allow them to calve. Breeds that cannot give birth without regular assistance have to be questioned on welfare grounds.


Management

We're concerned that:

  • in some cases animals which are kept outside during winter (‘outwintered’) may not be inspected regularly enough and sick animals may not be spotted immediately.
     
  • analgesia (pain relief) is sometimes not used for procedures such as dehorning mature animals. We believe that pain relief is very important during surgical procedures and for a period afterwards.
     
  • lack of separate pens for sick animals on some farms and poor/lack of handling facilities. Electric goads are sometimes used to help move cattle, which we believe indicates that there is something wrong with the handling facilities, whether they're on the farm or in the abattoir.


Find out how you can help improve the lives of beef cattle.