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Associations between Animal Welfare Indicators and Animal-Related Factors of Slaughter Cattle in Austria

Three cattle welfare indicators (lameness, dirtiness, and abomasal disorders) were evaluated in 412 slaughter cattle in a cross-sectional study in Austria. The aims of this study were (1) to evaluate the prevalence of lameness, dirtiness of slaughter cattle, and abomasal disorders; and (2) to determine the association between these welfare indicators and animal-related factors (e.g., housing type, carcass weight, transportation and waiting duration of the animals).

The lameness prevalence was 0.73%, the abomasal disorders prevalence was 52.43%, and 88.59% of all cattle were contaminated. The latter result indicates that the cattle were kept in a dirty environment. The occurrence of abomasal disorders was associated with cattle housing systems (p ≤ 0.00) and slaughter weight (p = 0.03). The odds for abomasal disorders were 28.0 times higher for cattle housed on slatted flooring compared to cattle kept in a tethered system. The chance for occurrence of abomasal disorders was 3.6 times higher for cattle with a low carcass weight compared to cattle with a high carcass weight. Furthermore, significant associations were found between dirtiness (also referred to as cleanliness or contamination) and husbandry system, sex, and breed. Cattle housed in deep litter boxes had 40.8 times higher odds of being contaminated compared to cattle in a tethered housing system. Cows (odds: 32.9) and heifers (odds: 4.4) had higher odds of being contaminated with feces compared to bulls, whereby female calves (odds: 0.09) and male calves (odds: 0.02) had significantly lower odds of being contaminated. Furthermore, the breeds Brown Swiss (odds: 0.26) and Holstein-Friesian (odds: 0.14) had a significantly lower chance of being contaminated compared to Simmental cattle.

Other collected factors, such as production system, transportation duration, life days of the cattle, average daily weight gain, carcass classification, and fat coverage, showed no association with the collected welfare indicators. The study presented here indicates that welfare indicators evaluated for slaughter cattle are suitable to assess cattle welfare, and improvements in husbandry may positively impact both the abomasal physiology and cleanliness of cattle.

J. Burgstaller, T. Wittek, N. Sudhaus-Jörn, B. Conrady, Associations between Animal Welfare Indicators and Animal-Related Factors of Slaughter Cattle in Austria, Animals 12(5) (2022) 659.

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