Animal welfare as a craft

Craftsmanship. The term fits Ameco like a glove. But that doesn't mean that time has stood still for this beef producer. Ameco likes to be ahead of the curve. Ameco attaches great importance to animal welfare during the production process.

16-04-2021

Craftsmanship. The term fits Ameco like a glove. But that doesn't mean that time has stood still for this beef producer. Ameco likes to be ahead of the curve. Ameco attaches great importance to animal welfare during the production process.

The basic rules for animal welfare during the production process are established in a European regulation for animal welfare. But Ameco goes even further: for example, the company uses video surveillance to continuously monitor behaviour; it actively trains its employees to understand animal behaviour and has set up the shed where the cattle arrive after transport in a special way.

Mike Aalst tells us how very special this is. Mike is an Animal Welfare Officer (AWO) at Ameco. "We were the first meat processing company in the Netherlands to the use ideas of Temple Gradin, the American zoologist and animal rights activist, in the waiting pen."  Gradin, who is a professor at the University of Colorado in the United States, says that her own experience of autism and giftedness helps her to empathise with cattle. Her assertion is that much more attention should be paid to the natural behavior of cattle, also in slaughterhouses.  If we understand the world of bovine animals better, we will be able to adapt the animal's surroundings to suit its visual orientation.  If we understand how a bovine animal experiences its world, it will be easier to recognise stressful factors in the shed and remove them. One of her discoveries is the curved waiting pen.

Mike: "The interested observer will notice that Ameco makes good use of Grandin's ideas in the waiting pen. At first sight, the concrete walls along the walkway for the cattle look rather cold, but they offer little or no distraction. The curve in the waiting pen restricts visibility and the cattle remain calm. It also takes advantage of animal instinct by giving them the feeling that they are walking in a circle back to their starting point”. Cattle can only see about 30% of what most people can see.  However, they have a 3300 field of vision. Ruminants have a heightened sensitivity to light and darkness. Their eyes need more time to adjust to differences in light. The passageway also has a slight elevation. "Cattle prefer to walk uphill," remarks Mike.

Ameco employs four Animal welfare Officers: these employees specifically focus on safeguarding animal welfare. Before they come to work in the shed, employees are required to complete the SVO vocational training course in 'Animal Welfare' (Food). Employees who are appointed as Animal Welfare Officers deepen their knowledge of the subject by following a course of study at the University of Bristol. Mike: "It is essential to understand natural animal behaviour; participation in the course of study at Bristol helps us to better anticipate the behaviour of the animals in our sheds."

Mike's words give an insight into the sense of responsibility shared by Mike and his colleagues:  "We need to consider every aspect and do everything we can: after all, we are working with live animals." There is a short silence. "Have you noticed that you can hear very little noise other than that made by the cattle? Noise is avoided because it can cause stress."

We need to consider every aspect and do everything we can: after all, we are working with live animals.- Mike van Aalst

Knowledge and optimum design have proven to be the best combination for safeguarding animal welfare. Mike: "They definitely reinforce each other." Mike is very positive about the effect: "We receive the cattle in an ultramodern environment which is designed according to the latest insights into animal welfare. This helps our shed employees and Animal Welfare Officers to do their jobs better." A glance at the waiting pen shows this to be true. The cattle walk independently, there is little or no need to urge them on. Mike concludes: "The keyword is 'tranquillity': we achieve this by having knowledgeable employees and a well-designed environment.  This ensures that we can do our work with respect for the animal”.

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