Making Better Euthanasia Decisions

Project Title

Assessment of Animal Condition and Welfare Outcomes to Improve Timely Euthanasia in Feedlot Cattle


Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein (AAFC Lethbridge)

Grant Dewell, Rene Dewell, Suzanne Millman (Iowa State University), Daniela Melendez (AAFC Lethbridge) , Calvin Booker and Tye Perrett (Feedlot Health Management Services).

Status Project Code
In progress. Results expected in January, 2026 ANH.17.20


Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle calls for timely euthanasia, when needed, and provides guidelines about how to do it properly. But the euthanasia decision-making process often isn’t clear for employees. Without clear protocols, feedlot staff may be reluctant to euthanize cattle even when they need it – cattle are valuable, and stockpersons take pride in caring for animals; euthanizing an animal is unpleasant and may be viewed as a personal failure, even when it’s the most humane course of action. As a result, some cattle may linger for too long in the chronic pen.


  • Describe the behaviour of hospital pen cattle and use it to determine the relationship between the primary diagnosis and appropriate care and timely euthanasia,
  • Document the occurrence of disposition outcomes (DO; died, euthanized, harvest, railed) according to primary diagnosis,
  • Determine the relationship between DO, primary diagnosis and animal and managerial risk factors,
  • Calculate estimated costs associated with weight loss, DOF, drug costs, labor and death, and
  • Create extension tools for management of compromised cattle to train the beef industry.

What they will do

These researchers will evaluate animal feeding, lying, drinking, interactions, etc. in a commercial chronic pen at dawn, morning feeding, midday resting, afternoon feeding and dusk for a year. Animal behavior will be related to the reason they were pulled to begin with (e.g., lameness, respiratory, digestive problems, thin, poor-doer), as well as to when and how they are disposed of (returned to pen, death, euthanasia, emergency slaughter). They’ll also look at seven years of data collected from cattle in chronic pens at Canadian commercial feedlots (dates pulled, animal characteristics, illness, how long they were chronic, disposal, etc.). Costs associated with weight loss, days on feed, drug costs, labor and death will be calculated for each disposition outcome and primary diagnosis compared to the average market price for healthy cattle within the same feedlot. This project will help refine and validate a euthanasia protocol for commercial feedlots. The end goal is to develop a producer decision tree to identify animals with a poor prognosis that justifies euthanasia.


In the words of one of the reviewers for this proposal, “Good judgment comes from experience. Most experience comes from bad judgment. Being able to make better euthanasia decisions would benefit staff training, cattle, and shorten or eliminate the “bad judgment learning curve”.