In Chile, cow carcasses present the highest bruise prevalence compared with other cattle categories; however, the causes of the bruises are frequently unknown. In this study, 52 cull cows were transported to the slaughterhouse in three batches under identical transport conditions. A combination of direct observation and video analyses was used to determine moment, pre-slaughter stage and cause of potential bruising events during the period from loading on the farm until stunning at the slaughterhouse. After slaughter, number of bruises, location on the carcass and characteristics of the bruises were assessed. Seventy-eight bruises were observed on 37 carcasses. Fifty-two bruises were linked back to their causal event. Results showed that 46% of these bruises were a result of interactions between animal and facility, and most of them were inflicted in the stunning box, 27% of the bruises originated from animal–animal interactions and were mostly inflicted during lairage, another 27% was a result of human–animal interactions and were mostly inflicted during loading and unloading of animals. The percentages of potential bruising events resulting in a bruise were 43%, 9% and less than 1% for animal–facility, human–animal and animal–animal interactions, respectively. Most bruises on the back site were inflicted when the animal was in the stunning box (91.2%), whereas bruises on the pin site were mostly (75%) inflicted during loading at the farm. One may conclude that in relative short journeys (⩽4 h) directly from farm to the slaughterhouse and long lairage times (>12 h), most bruises are the result of circumstances at the slaughterhouse. A substantial amount of these bruises could be avoided by proper animal handling and adequate stunning facilities.