Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Effect of on- and off-Farm Factors on Animal Stress and Meat Quality Characteristics

Written By

Muawuz Ijaz, Mubarik Mahmood, Muhammad Kashif Yar, Muhammad Bakhsh and Sana Ullah

Submitted: 27 November 2021 Reviewed: 25 March 2022 Published: 03 June 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.104669

From the Edited Volume

Animal Husbandry

Edited by Sándor Kukovics

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Animal handling is a growing issue of concern in many countries around the world. Developed countries in particular show keen interest in the way animals are produced for processing. In such countries, animal welfare is increasingly becoming a primary matter in the process of keeping animals either as pets or for food and at homes or on farms. Not only are they protecting the rights of these animals but compromised handling of animal has negative effects on the carcass and overall meat quality characteristics. Poor quality animal and meat will have poor processing properties, functional quality, eating quality, and more likely to be unaccepted by consumers. Lesser attention has been paid by most developing countries on this issue. By this book chapter, it is expected that developing countries also take interest in proper on-farm and pre-slaughter handling of animals due to their beneficial effect on meat and carcass qualities.


  • pre-slaughter handling
  • meat quality
  • DFD
  • PSE
  • meat industry

1. Introduction

Many physical and psychological stresses, the animals face before slaughtering. Physical stress includes high temperature, noise, less and disturbing space while psychological stress comprises social breakdown, pungent smell and new place [1]. Pre-slaughter stresses also come from mechanical injuries, starvation, lake of water and feed, loading and unloading of the animals which result in poor meat quality [2]. Apart from these stresses, meat quality is also affected from animal genetics, weather condition and environment [3].

Animal carcass and meat quality are linked with animal welfare. The welfare of an animal was defined by [4] as its condition as regards its efforts to cope with the environment. If an animal faces any type of difficulty and is not satisfied with its environment, the animal welfare is said to have been violated. At a farm level, environment, labor, any pathogen and other animals at the place have great effect on the carcass and meat quality. For example, if the food and environment of the animals is not clean and animals show some disease signs, it will directly affect their health and growth, resulting the less meat production and even the carcass can be wasted by meat inspector. Animal welfare is not merely defined by the good health, fitness and normal production, it is very difficult to measure the satisfaction of animal with its environment.

Warriss [1] stated the meat quality on functional and conformational basis. The required characters in a product are functional qualities and to fulfill the consumer need to that product is referred to as conformational qualities. Meat quality components include yield, gross appearance, wholesome, palatability and ethical concern [5]. The animal body which has been slaughtered for meat purpose is denoted by carcass. The poor quality of the carcass will definitely show bad meat appearance and quality. Smith and Grandin [6] reported that meat quality can be improved by proper handling and a good profit is achieved. In this chapter, pre-slaughter handling of animals and its effect on the carcass and meat quality will be studied.


2. Methodology

In many developing countries, animal welfare is compromised and a major concern on farms. Not only they compromised on the rights of these animals but poor handling of animal has negative effects on the carcass and meat quality attributes. Animal those are poorly handled either on farm or before slaughtering, their meat has poor processing properties, functional quality, eating quality, and more likely to be unaccepted by consumers. A little attention has been paid on such big issue of livestock. Consequently, keeping in view this scenario, the current manuscript has been developed to highlight the issue and spread the awareness by explaining effect of stress on carcass and meat quality. Therefore, it is expected that developing countries also take interest in proper on-farm and pre-slaughter handling of animals due to their beneficial effect on meat and carcass qualities.


3. Contributing factors to animal stress

3.1 On-farm factors

3.1.1 Use of growth promotors or hormone implant

Metabolic modifiers enhance the animal body condition and health. Dikeman [7] referred those metabolic modifiers are those substances which improve animal growth rate, feed efficiency, dressing percentage, shelf life, palatability, nutritional composition and meat quality and they are given to animals in the form of feed, injection or implants. Almost every country except EU, use these modifiers in meat producing animals. Their effects on meat quality of ruminants especially on beef cattle can be studied in [7, 8, 9, 10] reported that steroid implants could increase the dark cutting frequency of meat. Although, there is low dark cutting of meat by 35% average in heifers and 69% in steers if we implant the growth promotors to 100 or more days [9].

3.1.2 Effect of animal gender

Heifers are more prone to dark cutting than steers [11, 12, 13]. Estrogen makes “fighting” or guarded nature of the animal [11, 12] found that heifers show more excitable nature than steers. Kenny and Tarrant [14] reported that high pH meat is produced in result of mounting behavior during the estrous period. Therefore, it is suggested to prevent estrus in meat heifers and these comprise spaying, progestins administration and GnRH immunization [15, 16]. Scanga et al. [9] reported that spayed animals had low occurrence of dark cutting. Bass et al. [17] reported that heifers do not show much difference in glycogen level due to acute and short type of physiological reaction, while the steers have chronic stress. So, during regrouping and other activities, glycogen depletion is increased with higher pHu and dark cutting.

3.1.3 Effect of animal age

The age of animal at slaughtering time has significance impact on meat quality along with animal breed, feeding plan, growth rate and live weight. As concerned with cattle, the meat color darkens with the age [18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23]. As the mature animal grows, myoglobin level increases which outcomes in dark color of meat [24, 25, 26, 27]. Higher level of intramuscular myoglobin increases red color and reduces lightness of meat [28, 29]. On the other hand, the level of glycogen only increases the muscles oxidative capacity [30]. With the animal age, ultimate pH of muscle increases, thus darkening the color of meat.

3.1.4 Human-animal bonding

In the occurrence of dark cutting in ruminants, human behavior and gentle management play a key role. Lensink et al. [31] and Lensink et al. [32] reported that calves’ meat showed a lighter color and lower pHu if they treated with positive human-animal bonding on farms than those treated with negative human-animal bonging. Lensink et al. [32] stated that gently handled animals were less nervous and showed more muscular glycogen as compared to those who treated roughly. Individual animal temperament and interaction with humans are noted and the difference is measured on farm and before slaughtering. Animals with high temperament are prone to stress. So, to minimize the stress and the risk of dark cutting, good animal handling practices should be applied.

3.2 Off-farm factors

3.2.1 Effect of climate condition and season

Dark cutting is prevented by the control of predisposing factors. The control environment is a difficult task. The cold or hot weather conditions before slaughtering deplete the muscle glycogen resulting in the increase of dark cutting [33]. Rainy cold season dissipates body heat of the animals [9] and it has stressful effects during the transport or at meat processing plants. Apart from wet or cold weather, warm season has great concern with dark color of meat [34, 35, 36, 37, 38]. Knee et al. [39] stated that during spring season, lambs show higher level of glycogen. On the other hand, [9] found the significance increase in dark cutting at the temperature of greater than 35°C due to low intake of feed during the hot weather. To minimize the stress of climate and season, trees, sheds or fences can be applied.

3.2.2 Marketing condition

The animals buying from markets have more occurrence of dark cutting than those receiving from farm to directly processing plants [40]. On the other hand, Warner et al. [41] reported no difference in dark cutting between those two groups, however, corticosteroid level in blood increased and muscle glycogen decreased with those treated saleyard management. Warren et al. [40] also verified the same case with animals coming though saleyard and directly from a farm. The traveling time, loading, unloading and water availability are other factors to be noted.

Apart from marketing system, dark cutting can be developed due to stressful activities before slaughtering of animals as these practices deplete muscle glycogen. To avoid fighting and other unknown damage, cattle are kept separately from new ones [42]. Mounier et al. [43] found an increase in dark cutting occurrence in those animals who were mixed with unfamiliar ones. Stress should be avoided before slaughtering and if stress happens accidently, it should be removed in a reasonable time.

3.2.3 Transport conditions

Due to improper handling, noise, weather conditions, loading, unloading, overcrowding and water and feed scarcity, transportation affects badly to meat and carcass quality [44, 45]. Tarrant et al. [46] reported that transporting stress can be minimized by some resting time on long traveling, adopting good handling techniques and loading ramps. Ferguson et al. [47] stated that short journey (less than 400 km) has no considerable effect on meat and carcass quality. Chulayo et al. [48] reported that as the transport distance crosses 400 km range, an additional stress affects the animal body leading to poor meat and carcass quality.

Warren et al. [40] said that there is higher occurrence of dark cutting in nervous cattle than those of calm ones. Schwartzkopf-Genswein et al. [49] advised that transporting vehicles should be divided into portions as in this way, small groups of animals are loaded, transported and unloaded. Grouping of animals with different sexes and from different farms should not be done [37, 40, 50]. The effect of pre-slaughter animal handling on meat and carcass quality is described in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Pre-slaughter animal handling and its effects on meat quality and carcass. The figure was adopted from the table of a review [51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58].


4. On-farm factors affecting meat quality

It is necessary to get the data and history of concerned animal which helps in determining the meat quality. Poultry and pork (non-ruminants) are more susceptible to meat quality defects as compared to beef and mutton (ruminants). Individual breed also varies to bear stress. For example, female, young and muscular breeds are more prone to stress as compared to other ones. Tarrant [46] said that transportation, morbidity and mortality have more effects on young calves. Layers are slaughtered at the later age of life, so their meat is tougher than broiler meat.

The growing and feeding system are great concern to meat quality as almost all animals are raised on farms. Argüello et al. [59] found that the kids grown on milk replacer had less water holding capacity and were lighter as compared to those grown by their dams. Sink and Caporaso [60] said that in flavor intensity of mutton, animal nutrition plays a key role and this flavor can be increased by the addition of legumes and grains. Vitamin E has a good role in raw and cooked muscles in terms of meat color, protein and lipid oxidative stability [61]. The fat is yellow if the animal is reared on grasses. If the animal is slaughtered after some medication or drug treatment, their residues can be found in the carcass. Such carcass is not suitable for processing as it will have low nutritional, hygienic and organoleptic quality.


5. Off-farm factors affecting meat quality

Animal farms are usually far away from main markets and meat processing plants. So, they are transported to other places with their loading and unloading and both should be carried out in a gentle way. Good loading and unloading techniques have been stated by [62]. Environmental stress is the main issue in transportation which have to face the animals such as high or low temperature, humidity, overcrowding and noise [63]. Meat quality is highly affected by over speed of vehicles, sudden breaks and long travel times. Appropriate measurements should be carried to minimize stress level.

Sometimes, animals are carried to markets where they face different type of stress in the form of hot or cold weather, noise, novel environment and new social grouping. Starvation and dehydration may be faced if feed and water is not given for a long time. Their skin can show different degrees of bruising. McNally and Warriss [64] stated that bruising prevalence varies from 2 to 8%. Adzitey and Nurul [62] addressed the possible measurements to reduce marketing stress and definitely pale soft exudate and dry firm dark. The pH values of meat for normal, PSE and DFD meat are shown in Table 1.

Normal6.4 pH at 45 minutes[65]
5.5 final pH[65]
PSELower than 6 value of pH at 45 minutes[66]
5.3 final pH[66]
DFD6.4 pH at 45 minutes[67]
Final pH higher than 6.0[43]

Table 1.

The range of pH values of normal, PSE and DFD meat.

Feed and water should be offered to animal when they are transported and marketed. Council of Europe [68] said that proper feed and water should be offered to the animals at appropriate intervals during transportation. Without feeding and watering, they should not be left in this condition more than 24 hours of time. Although, if the destination is near and unloading will be done in sensible period, this time can be increased. It is essential to provide them feed and water and if it is not fulfilled, depletion of muscle glycogen and weight loss can be occurred. Overfeed and water enhances gut fill, processing period and contamination and it should be avoided.

Before the slaughtering of animal, they are kept in the lairage which is a collection center of different animals. It is meant to recovery from stress and physical examination of the animal. If the animal is retained here for a longer time, some water and feed are also offered. Lairage is also a place to enhance meat quality of animals. On the other hand, it is a reservoir of pathogens as carcass contamination is increased by longer holding period [69]. Carcass and meat quality is damaged by electrical goads, beating and microbial contamination. So, the lairage measurements need to be improved according to animal desire.

Stunning is the last step of pre-slaughter handling of animals and it is done to make animal unconscious and insensitive. The equipment used for stunning has great concern with carcass and meat quality. Electrical stunning with high voltage can causes vertebral rupture, blood splash and low meat quality in pork [70]. Calkins et al. [71] stated that blood splash in pigs are due to electrical goads. To minimize stress level, well trained staff and stunning tool should be used.

Carcass and meat quality is affected by poor and inappropriate pre-slaughter handlings at the time of animal growing, loading, transferring, marketing, unloading, lairage and stunning [72]. Some of the concerned effects are; mortality of animals, low carcass yields, blood splash, broken bones, bruises, pathogen contamination and PSE and DFD. The color of normal, PSE and DFD meat is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

The visual color of normal, PSE and DFD meat [the images were taken from PhD thesis of first author i.e., of Muawuz Ijaz].


6. Conclusion

All the activities and procedures that animals go through before slaughtering are referred to as pre-slaught handling. When animals are transported and marketed from a farm to a slaughter house, these actions and processes are applied. To grow an animal to a specific age and weight, it requires much struggle and time and any abrupt change before slaughtering will definitely disturb the animal, affecting the carcass and meat quality, which leads to economic losses to the meat industry. Therefore, special focus should be emphasized during on-farm and pre-slaughter animal handling to ensure animal welfare and primal quality of meat.


Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Written By

Muawuz Ijaz, Mubarik Mahmood, Muhammad Kashif Yar, Muhammad Bakhsh and Sana Ullah

Submitted: 27 November 2021 Reviewed: 25 March 2022 Published: 03 June 2022