Chilling and electrical stimulation of beef carcasses

Effects of chilling and electrical stimulation on carcass and meat quality attributes of selected breeds of cattle with different carcass weights

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Animal Products, Quality and Value-adding

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Prof Edward Webb

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Mr Babatunde Agbeniga MSc
Dr P.E. Strydom PhD

Year of completion : 2018

Aims Of The Project

  • To compile a comprehensive literature review on current chilling and electrical stimulation guidelines
  • To compare chilling and electrical stimulation of selected cattle breeds of different carcass weights and to evaluate the effects of different chilling regimes and different stimulation procedures on carcass and meat quality attributes
  • To make recommendations to the meat industry on acceptable ways of chilling and stimulating carcasses in order to obtain the best quality carcasses and meat

Executive Summary

This research focused on acceptable ways of chilling and electrically stimulating beef carcasses in order to obtain the best quality meat, given the current use of growth enhancing molecules (beta-adrenergic agonists) and the current increase in carcasses size to curve the negative impact of escalating maize prices on the economics of intensive feed of beef cattle.

The literature survey suggest that low voltage electrical stimulation (LVES) is safer and more practical in South African abattoirs compared to high voltage electrical stimulation (HVES). The current research indicates that low voltage electrical stimulation has beneficial effects on meat quality of beef carcasses. Furthermore, early post mortem LVES is more beneficial compared to LVES after evisceration in terms of most meat quality attributes. Shorter duration LVES (30 sec.) was more beneficial compared to long duration LVES (60 sec.). Current chilling regimes of larger carcasses demonstrate that the effects of beta-agonist treatment on beef tenderness becomes negligible with increasing carcass size, provided that such carcasses are electrically stimulated early post mortem. Optimum carcass stimulation and chilling regimes were proposed for commercial beef abattoirs in South Africa.


Scientific publications (ISI peer reviewed)

  1. Agbeniga, B. & Webb, E.C. (2018). Influence of carcass weight on meat quality of commercial feedlot steers with similar feedlot, slaughter and post-mortem management, Food Research International, 105,793-800. (IF=3,086)
  2. Agbeniga, B. & Webb, E.C. (2018). Effects of timing and duration of low voltage electrical stimulation on selected meat quality characteristics of light and heavy bovine carcasses, Animal Production Science, (Accepted with minor changes).

Scientific conferences

  1.  B. Agbeniga, E.C. Webb, P.E. Strydom & L Frylinck, 2016. Effects of low voltage electrical stimulation and carcass size on meat tenderness and drip loss of beef carcasses treated with Zilmax®, 49th SASAS Congress, Cape Town, (Oral presentation).
  2. B. Agbeniga & E.C. Webb, 2015. Effects of duration of electrical stimulation and carcass weight on carcass pH, temperature profile and shear force of Zilmax treated beef carcasses, 48th SASAS congress, Zululand, (Oral Presentation).

Industry lectures

  1. Webb, E.C. (2016) Growth enhancers, residues and beef quality, Red Meat Abattoir Association Conference, Spier, Western Cape,
  2. Webb, E.C. (2016) Abattoir management and carcass and beef quality, Devon abattoir workshop, Protea Hotel, 22 July 2016.
  3. Webb, E.C. (2015). Factors that affect beef carcass and meat quality, North West RPO Koopmansfontein,  October 2015.
  1. Webb, E.C. (2015).Growth efficiency in feedlot cattle, Cattleman’s conference, South African Feedlot Association, March, Kiewietskroon.

Popular Article

Interactions between early and delayed electrical stimulation and carcass size on pH, temperature decline and instrumental shear force of meat samples from Zilmax treated cattle


The time of application and duration of electrical stimulation (ES) on light and heavy carcasses from Zilmax treated animals, poses new challenges in the meat processing industry in South Africa. Owing to the use of Zilmax, larger carcasses are now being processed at abattoirs that were built to accommodate smaller carcasses. This poses new challenges in terms of optimization of conversion of muscle to meat using ES and appropriate chilling regime. In this study, the effects of early or delayed low voltage electrical stimulation (LVES) (110V) applied to light and heavy carcasses of Zilmax treated cattle were evaluated for pH and temperature decline, and the resultant effects on instrumental shear force. One hundred and forty-nine Zilmax treated cattle (mainly steers) were assigned to 10 different treatment groups according to the combination of their carcass weight (≤ 130 or ≥ 145kg side), time of stimulation (early stimulation-3 min post mortem [p.m.] or late stimulation-45 min p.m.), and the duration of stimulation (30 or 60 sec). Analysis revealed significantly (p < 0.05) faster pH decline and the lowest pH in carcasses stimulated before evisceration, at all times of measurement compared to carcasses stimulated late or non-stimulated controls. The time of ES application exerted the greatest influence on the pH profile while duration of stimulation showed minor influence. Heavy carcasses in the early stimulated groups had the lowest rigor- and ultimate pH. Regarding temperature decline, heavy carcasses had the slowest decline (p < 0.05) and the highest carcass temperatures at all times from 45 min to 24 hr p.m. Time of ES application and duration of ES did not affect carcass temperature. In terms of shear force, carcasses stimulated at 3 min p.m. had the lowest (p < 0.05) shear force at 3 and 14 days p.m. compared to carcasses stimulated at 45 min p.m. and controls respectively. Heavy carcass groups, stimulated early, with the lowest rigor and pHu, had the lowest shear force at 3 and 14 days p.m.

Effects of electrical stimulation and chilling on beef quality

Results of our recent study indicates that the time of application of electrical stimulation has an important influence on carcass pH and temperature profile, and in combination with carcass weight, has a large influence on the tenderness of beef. LVES provides a practical way to manipulate glycolysis in order to improve beef tenderness, but it appears that this treatment should be applied early post mortem in ordser to be efficient. Although there has been some suggestions to apply LVES later, the present results show that early post mortem application of LVES produced the lowest shear force, mainly due faster pH decline in combination with high initial carcass temperature.

Previous research suggested that at high muscle temperature combined with low pH, heat shortening may occur, leading to lower beef tenderness. Our results indicate that LVES treatment early post mortem passed through the heat shortening window (above 350C) within 2 hr p.m. when the pH was less than 6. This finding clearly demonstrates that the proteolytic activity was not exhausted by the low pH and elevated initial temperature in the early stimulated carcasses.

Carcass weight also played a part in improving tenderness in the early stimulated carcasses. In addition, Zilmax is known to reduce tenderness in meat but the application of ES could improve tenderness by the early activation of the calpain system. It is important to note that ES-treatment improve but do not completely overcome the negative effects of Zilmax on tenderness. In this study, we found that the combination of early ES and carcass weight significantly lowered the shear force in the heavy carcass groups. Research by Webb and Morris on Zilmax treated cattle also show that heavier carcasses from zilmax treated cattle produced more tender meat.

On the other hand, carcasses stimulated late and the controls had slower pH decline at all times of measurement, which was also reflected in lower tenderness scores at both day 3 and 14 post mortem.

Results on the duration of electrical stimulation indicates that 30 seconds or less (15 seconds) provide most beneficial results, which agrees with a number of other international studies.


It is concluded that the application of low voltage electrical stimulation early p.m (3 min p.m) brought about a significantly (p < 0.05) lower shear force in carcasses from Zilmax treated cattle compared to the ones stimulated late (45 min p.m) and the un-stimulated controls. Heavy carcasses (≥ 145kg) from the early stimulated groups had the lowest shear force values at 3 and 14 days p.m despite passing through the heat shortening window, which was due to lower initial pH and higher initial muscle temperature. More proteolytic activity in the heavy carcass groups was suspected to have contributed to the low shear force values and although, slightly higher (at 5.6 and 5.9 kg) when considering a threshold of 4.9 (Shorthose et al., 1986). It is acceptable, considering the fact that the animals were treated with Zilmax which is known to reduce tenderness.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Prof Edward Webb on

Effects of growth enhancers on residues in lamb

The effects of steroidal growth implants and β- adrenergic agonist, alone, or in combination on feedlot performance and residues in lamb

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research Focus Area: Animal Products, Quality and Value-adding

Research Institute: University of Pretoria

Researcher: Prof Edward Webb

Title Initials Surname Highest Qualification
Dr A.L. Le Riche BVSc, MScAgric
Dr Shaun Morris BVSc(Hons), MScAgric

Year of completion : 2017

Aims Of The Project

  • To investigate the feedlot performance of feedlot lambs treated with different steroidal growth implants, alone or in combination with oral beta-agonist supplementation
  • To investigate the effects of different steroidal growth implants, alone or in combination with oral beta-agonist supplementation on the residues in the meat
  • To investigate the effects of different steroidal growth implants, alone or in combination with oral beta-agonist supplementation on carcass and meat quality

Executive Summary

The objective of this study was to compare four commonly used growth promotants in a commercial sheep feedlot. The steroidal growth promotants chosen for this trial were Ralgro (zeranol), Revalor G (Rev G; TBA/oestrogen- 17β), Revalor H (Rev H; TBA/oestrogen- 17β) and Zilmax® (zilpaterol hydrochloride). The growth promotants were compared with one another and within three sex groups, namely ewe, ram and wether (castrates), to determine which molecule or combination of molecules, if any, had the most benefit and profitability when measured against a control group.  Sheep were stratified based on initial weights and then randomly allocated to treatment groups in a completely randomised control study. All sheep originated from the same farm, and they were of  similar age, breed,  transport method,  processing method, feed ( the only difference being  the groups receiving Zilmax® during the last 18 days of feeding, making provision for 3 days withdrawal), weather conditions, housing and time on feed. A time constant termination date was used in this study, in order to measure the performance of lambs in treatment groups over time.

The experimental groups were compared over a 10 weeks feeding period according to growth and carcass parameters. The parameters that were measured were gain, FI (feed intake), FCR (feed conversion ratio), ADG (average daily gain), WCM (warm carcass mass), DP (dressing percentage), CL (carcass length) and CC (carcass compactness). Data was recorded in an Excel spread sheet and checked for accuracy. The effect of experimental treatments on growth and production parameters were analysed by means of the GLM ANOVA procedure in SAS (2006). Differences between treatment means were tested at the P<0,05 level of significance by means of the Bonferroni multiple range test in order to correct for unbalanced data (missing values). Correlations between variables were analysed by means of the Pearson product moment procedure in SAS.

Data was analysed within weeks, treatment phases and also over the entire experimental period. Effects of sex, steroid treatment and beta-agonist treatment and interaction effects were calculated. In terms of growth and slaughter parameters the use of zilpaterol hydrochloride alone proved most effective. The latter can be explained by the repartitioning effect of the BAR which increased protein accretion as a result. Benefits gained were not always statistically significant, however taking cost of treatment into account, there is a definite financial significance when choosing which combination of growth promotants to use. Muscle and liver samples were collected for residue analyses, which indicated no significant residue’s in any of the treatment groups. The current data indicate that the use of the various combinations of growth enhancing molecules in sheep pose no risk to consumers in terms of the presence of residue’s, provided that the molecules are used according to prescribed procedures and dosages.

Popular Article

In South-Africa, the finishing of cattle in a feedlot, has, over many years, become part of the value chain of marketing beef. Huge amounts of money have been made available for research to find the most cost-effective ways of producing high-quality beef (Le Riche, 2014). Relatively little research in intensive, sheep production for South-African conditions has been done up to now, leaving a number of questions regarding the safe use of certain growth-promoting agents.

Traditionally sheep were finished extensively on the veld as this was thought to be the least expensive option. Alternatively, farmers bought in lambs from others who did not have enough grazing and finished them on harvested corn fields. This is also an inexpensive option as the corn residues are readily available after harvesting. These practises, however, give rise to seasonable availability of lambs with resultant huge fluctuations in lamb meat prices. Furthermore, the national sheep herd has decreased significantly over the last decade. There are various reasons for this. Drought and the resulting reduction in grazing, being one, and the substantial stock losses due to theft and predators, to name but two, being another (Mokolo, 2011).

Whenever a product is in short supply its price escalates. As a result of this, lamb has become an expensive. There, however, remains a HUGE demand for lamb as it constitutes a major source of protein for a significant part of South-Africa’s population. The constant production of lamb, that meets market specifications has thus become more and more important (Buttry & Dawson, 1990).  In an effort to make lamb more readily and constantly available and also more affordable, lamb feedlotting is increasingly being used as a method for increasing the amount of meat being produced. Due to the current high cost of feed and the labour intensive nature of such ventures, the profit margin of a sheep feedlot can be very small.

At the present time it costs about R 326.00 to FINISH a lamb that is market ready within 70 days, (cost of the lamb excluded) (Le Riche, 2014). The total profit made on such a lamb after all production costs have been deducted could be as little as R24 – 00. The profit margin is dependent on the meat: feed price ratio. In an article by Voermol Feeds (2010) it is stated that feed conversion ratio is considered to be the critical aspect of feedlot profitability. Any reduction in feed intake or increase in feed efficiency, without compromising carcass quality, is economically important (Snowder & Van Vleck, 2003)  Thus the lamb that converts feed the best (in other words the lamb that produces the most kilograms of meat, per kilogram of feed consumed), is the most profitable lamb. One could say that , an increase in profits constitutes a decrease in input cost and/or an increase in production output. Cost of feed is an important input cost, whilst growth rate and carcass composition is an important production output (Buttry & Dawson, 1990; Snowder & Van Vleck, 2003).

There is a need to balance more efficient food production, with positive public perception. This has become a great challenge. Professionals in the industry have to determine which products and methods could be optimally used to the benefit of the producers, without gaining negative opinions from the public sector and it  has to go hand in hand with maintaining a high level of consumer safety (Buttry & Dawson, 1990).

Optimal feeding conditions that promote high voluntary intake, added to a high quality, properly balanced ration should promote profitability. The high cost of quality feed is, however, making it even more important to research the responsible, effective use of different types of growth promoting agents, alone or in combination. These products have the potential to:  1) produce animals with a higher meat: fat ratio; 2) to keep the feeding time down to a minimum and to thus reduce the impact on the environment; 3) to increase the ability to supply the protein needs of an ever-growing population.

The use of BAR agonists in ruminant production animals as a growth ENHANCER has been the subject of many heated debates and much media publicity. The reason for this is the very real potential that some of these products, clenbuterol, to name one, can have serious toxic effects in human consumers. (Stachel et al., 2003). BAR agonists used as growth promoting agents, work on the basis that they reduce body fat whilst increasing muscle hypertrophy, without causing significant alterations in organ and bone mass. They are therefore also known as repartitioning agents (Beermann, 2002). Repartitioning literally means the channelling of energy away from storage cells in the liver and adipose tissue towards muscle tissue. The sensitivity of liver and adipose tissue towards insulin is lessened whilst it is increased in muscle tissue (Beermann, 2002).

Their pharmacological action leads to an improved ADG, improved gain efficiency (G: F) and increased hot carcass weight in both feedlot beef and lambs (Reeds, 1991; Beermann, 2002; Estrada-Angulo, et al., 2008). This effect is seen with no SUBSTANTIAL increase in daily DMI.

When age comparison studies were carried out, maturity of muscle tissues proved to be a critical factor with regards to efficacy .It would then make sense that receptor presence and availability would be important in the physiological effect of this drug as mature muscle would have a higher density of receptors available (Beerman, 2002). The lack of response or reduced response in young animals would also act as proof that young muscle fibres lack enough Beta adrenergic receptors, according to Beerman, (2002).

BAR agonists, such as Zilmax® function by stimulating mainly β2- AR. This causes muscle hypertrophy and hyperplasia, lipolysis and reduced lypogenesis as well as the indirect effect of lowered insulin sensitivity. According to Baxa (2010), it does have beneficial effects to treat animals with anabolic steroid implants first, following with the oral application of ZH. Cattle that received this combination treatment showed additive improvements to lean carcass mass and performance, such as ADG and FCR.

Growth enhancers such as hormonal implants and repartitioning agents such as zilpaterol hydrochloride  are used in intensive production systems to reduce the cost of production by decreasing the feeding time, improving feed conversion and increasing the carcass slaughter weight (Pritchard, 1998; Duckett & Andrae, 2001).This should prove to be true for both cattle and sheep feedlots. According to Casey (1998) the efficacy of β- receptor agonists are determined by the relationship between the chemical structure of the compound, the theoretical number of receptors that need to be stimulated to elicit a response and the resultant effect when the β2 receptors are stimulated.


In sheep the best reaction is obtained when Zilmax® is fed during the last 18 – 25 days (usually 21 days) of finishing, leaving time for a three day withdrawal period before slaughter. Previous studies indicate that a minimum of 48 hours was necessary in cattle, to reach a minimal residual level. It can be expected that sheep would generally react in the same manner. At present, the acceptable dosage for ruminants is 0.15 mg/kg/day which cconstitutesa dosage of 70 g/ ton of feed in sheep.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project – Prof Edward Webb on