Out of sight is out of mind, especially when it comes to bruises on market dairy cows.
But it is impossible to hide from the fact that too many of these animals are bruised. The 2007 National Market Cow and Bull Beef Quality Audit indicates that just over 63 percent of market cows, including dairy market cows, show evidence of bruising.
The good news is that bruising has dropped nearly 25 percentage points in the eight years since the last audit was completed in 1999. "We're doing a better job of handling cattle," says Ryan Ruppert, director of Beef Quality Assurance programs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Prior audits highlighted the issue and the industry responded.
However, there's more to do. This carcass defect still presents a significant financial loss. And it's a serious welfare issue for everyone. As a dairy producer, you don't just market milk - you provide a key portion of the country's beef supply, too.
Here's why you must address the issue of bruising on your operation.
It may be impossible to completely eliminate cattle bruises. But there's plenty of room for improvement, especially when you look at where most bruises occur, and it becomes obvious that improved cattle management and handling can bring about positive results.
A 2004 University of Wisconsin study and the 2007 National Market Cow and Bull Beef Quality Audit both found that the majority of bruises occur in the round, followed by bruises in the loin area, ribs and chuck.
"Inadequate stall size in older facilities is a major issue in my opinion," says Kurt Vogel, interim manager of the University of Wisconsin's Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory, who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy. That's why it's so important to examine your facilities and retrofit or correct problem areas promptly.
Cattle handling also has a huge impact on bruising. Rough handling, forcing cows through tight areas, along with slips and falls, greatly increase injury odds and subsequent bruising. Also remember that skinny cows tend to bruise more easily due to reduced cushion.
Bruises don't heal overnight. Plenty of new and old bruises are evident when animals reach the harvest floor. This indicates bruising does not occur at a single point, but happens throughout the system. Every point in the food chain has a responsibility to do what's right, says Dan Hale, extension meat specialist at Texas A&M University. Correct action begins on-farm and carries through to the marketing channel.