Background on the Humane Slaughter Process

larrychuteIn recent years, consumers around the world have become concerned with animal welfare, both on the farm and at the time of slaughter.

For those of us raising pastured animals, the lack of humane slaughter facilities to properly complete the process for our special animals is very apparent.

With few options for humane slaughter, we were forced to develop our own equipment. With years of experience both as sheep and goat farmers, and useful skills from many other jobs over the years, we felt we could undertake this work.

Thankfully, we were able to work with professors Temple Grandin of Colorado State University and Joe M. Regenstein of Cornell University to design a low-cost restraint system that realizes the goal of humane slaughter.

Meeting Humane Standards on a Small Scale

Many American industry trade associations have put out guidelines for animal welfare on the farm and during slaughter. The American Meat Institute, representing meat processors, the Food Marketing Institute, the trade association of the supermarket industry, and the National Council of Chain Restaurants have specifically addressed slaughter, including religious slaughter, with a set of requirements that are scientifically grounded.

These standards encourage a very high expectation for slaughter—standards that can be difficult for small operators to meet without expensive equipment designed for much higher production speeds.

These requirements highlight the need for on-farm and small slaughterhouse equipment that meets these and even higher-level certification standards at a reasonable cost. The goal of Spirit of Humane is to meet the more stringent requirements from groups such as Humane Farm Animal Care and Animal Welfare Approved along with the requirements of religious communities.

Meeting Religious Slaughter Requirements

For the last five years Spirit of Humane has been working with the Muslim and Jewish religious communities to satisfy their specific requirements, which are based on hundreds of years of tradition and legal scholarship.

Because these communities prefer to work with unstunned animals, it is even more important to keep the animals calm and do the slaughter properly, with attention to detail, so that the full benefits of this type of high-quality slaughter can be obtained. These benefits include rapid loss of consciousness, the potential release of endorphins so the animal dies on a high, followed by insensibility in less than 30 seconds.

For those interested in religious food regulations, including the laws associated with religious slaughter, we recommend an article on kosher and halal food regulations by Prof. Regenstein with his wife Carrie and Dr. Muhammad Chaudry, the President of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, based in Chicago.

Initiating Humane Animal Slaughter

Humane slaughter involves more than a quick, painless death for the animal. If the only concern was an instant death, most federally and state-approved slaughter methods would be adequate. Except in rare situations, an instant death for the animal is seldom the issue.

Whether the animal is transported from the farm, a commercial feed lot, or even walked to the slaughter facility, as is the case in many countries, the transition has begun from production to processing. At this point, whether the ownership of the animal changes or not, the producer usually gives up control of the process to the trucker, facility handlers and the slaughter workers. If this transition is not handled with high expectations for humane and quality care and processing, the highest producer’s standards will be undermined.

The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals I think it is worse than pain…Even an animal who’s completely alone and giving full expression to severe pain acts less incapacitated than an animal who’s scared…and an animal in a state of panic can’t function at all. (Temple Grandin, Animals in Translation)

Keep the animals within a familiar group. The reduction or elimination of fear is basic and this needs to begin at the moment of separation from the animal’s home, whether that is a meadow, barn, feedlot, prairie, desert or mountain environment. During this transition period, it is important to keep animals within a familiar group. Studies have shown that sheep recognize over 1,000 members of their flock. Stress is reduced if members of their home flock or herd are allowed to remain together for as long as possible. The ability to touch each other, to be in physical contact, is reassuring to flock and herd animals such as sheep and goats whereas isolation is extremely stressful.

Be aware of normal animal behavior. The animal will follow a flock member or another of its own kind at a comfortable pace with casual touching of the animal ahead and behind. The animal may show signs of being curious about its surroundings or follow as if in a trance when in a chute.

Sheep and goats will frequently vocalize to each other when calm and curious and this is not a sign of stress as it is with cattle vocalization. Sheep will normally find comfort in each others presence and being in physical contact. If there is balking or backing up at the entrance to or within the chute, the environment should be checked for what might be distracting or frightening from the animal’s perspective. This is also true when moving sheep through new areas, unfamilar gates or loading for transport.

Provide a comfortable environment. Remember—sheep, goats, and cattle are prey animals. Instinctively they will be alert to differences in their environment to prepare for flight from danger—the eye of the cougar, the bite of the wolf. Everything from jiggling chains to puddles of water to wind-blown trash can be perceived as a threat by the animal as it approaches the processing site.

See our Guide to Humane Animal Handling for more detailed information.