Many factors to blame for cattle ‘shrinkage’

By Gary Sliworsky, Ag rep, Emo

Many factors are responsible for the loss of weight or “shrink” of calves and feeder and slaughter cattle during marketing.
Shrinkage directly affects the income of all cattle producers.
Some shrinkage occurs naturally. For example, cattle will lose two percent of their body weight overnight.
When marketing cattle, shrinkage can be reduced through better handling techniques, attention to environment and diet, market planning, and an appreciation of animal psychology.
Shrinkage is the amount of weight an animal loses during sorting, transporting, standing, weighing, or any situation that may cause a degree of stress.
It is the difference between the gross body weight before handling and the net sale weight.
The majority of shrinkage occurs within the first few hours of handling, sorting, loading, and standing.
When in transport, the degree of weight loss levels off until it is triggered again by unloading, sorting, standing, mixing, and fasting.
There are two physical types of shrinkage which occur. The first is excretory shrinkage, which is the loss of contents in the belly, digestive tract, and bladder.
This type of shrinkage is common and occurs during the first few hours of transport, or when cattle are taken off food and water.
Small amounts of excretory shrinkage do not harm animals. Acceptable levels of excretory shrinkage are from two-six percent of initial live weight.
Livestock usually recover quickly from excretory shrinkage once provided with rest, food, and water.
The second type of shrinkage is tissue shrinkage. Livestock will suffer tissue shrinkage when the belly, digestive tract, and bladder are empty and the animal is dehydrated.
The body then will start compensating for the loss by drawing moisture and nutrients from the carcass tissues.
Tissue shrinkage occurs as a result of extensive sorting, standing, and trucking or when cattle are held off feed and water for long periods of time.
This type of shrinkage has a detrimental effect on the immediate health and recovery of the animal. Within 24 hours, important bacteria and protozoa die off in the rumen, rendering it delicate and unable to completely digest food.
When cattle are exposed to stress factors, both excretory and tissue shrinkage start to occur at the same time.
Buyers and sellers of cattle agree that combined shrinkage over six percent is both costly and unnecessary.
Livestock suffering from excessive shrinkage may require from one-six weeks to recover.

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