Key welfare issues for beef cattle

Here are some of the main concerns we have about the welfare of beef cattle in the UK.

Beef cattle housing

Good management and well-maintained housing is important for avoiding welfare problems with beef cattle. 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 isn't growing. Some may be reared entirely indoors. 

We have particular concerns about:

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

Beef cattle diet

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

Selective breeding for beef

Some continental beef cattle breeds have been bred to be more muscular in order to increase the amount of meat they can produce. 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. We're concerned for the welfare of breeds that can't give birth without regular assistance.

Beef cattle management

When it comes to managing beef cattle herds, we're concerned about:

  • Lack of regular health checks - in some cases, animals kept outside during winter may not be inspected regularly enough and sick animals may not be spotted immediately.
  • Pain relief - this isn't always 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 - these are sometimes used to help move cattle, which we believe suggests that there's something wrong with the handling facilities, whether they're on the farm or in the abattoir.

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