How can poor handling affect meat quality?

By following workplace procedures you will:

  • make sure animals are handled humanely and safely
  • prevent injury and stress
  • make sure welfare requirements are covered.

Good handling helps to produce a quality product. Poor handling of animals can cause stress and/or injury to animals. Stress or injury to animals will significantly affect the quality of the end product.


Stress on animals through poor handling can make meat tough and can also cause a condition called ‘dark cutting’ with high levels of pH (lactic acid levels).

Dark cutting will affect the meat quality in a number of ways:

  • meat becomes darker
  • meat becomes tougher
  • meat will lose flavour
  • shelf life of the product will be shorter.

Stress can also result in pig meat having defects such as PSE (pale, soft, exudative) or DFD (dark, firm, dry).  Stressed stock may also produce meat that while normal in colour is tougher and produce excessive drip.

Bruising and injury

Injury to animals can occur during transit, when they are being trucked, when they are moved around at the abattoir, or in lairage facilities. Lairage facilities are holding facilities and may include pens, yards, paddocks or sheds. The types of injury that can result include:

  • bruising
  • fractures or breaks
  • woulds, cuts, lacerations

Bruising is evidence of poor animal welfare practices and is most commonly associated with poor handling of livestock. Bruising on cattle is usually on the shoulders,  hips, hindquarters and top of the back. For lambs bruising is usually on the hind leg and foreleg. For pigs, bruises can be less common, but are often found at the femur and hind leg regions.

Bruising is most likely to occur during transport. It is important that when being transported the animals need to be stocked reasonably in the vehicle to avoid slipping, falling and crashing into each other.

Other injuries that impact on animal welfare and meat quality include:

  • bone damage
  • joint or ligament injury
  • injection site blemishes

The cost of bruising and injuries

Injuries such as cuts and bruises require trimming. After the injured animal has been slaughtered, the affected area must be trimmed before any boning and slicing can take place.  Millions of dollars are lost to the industry every year as a result of injury to animals. This is because injury can reduce the yield from carcases and extra time needs to be spent trimming the carcase.  In addition hides are often damaged and these cuts and nicks in the hides/pelts dramatically reduce the market value of these products.