The Slaughter Restraint
Provide proper fitting restraint
Sheep and goats require equipment designed to fit their smaller bodies. Frequently they are handled and slaughtered in equipment designed for cattle 10 times their size. This is not only inefficient but unsafe for the animals and workers. Goats are especially talented at slipping through or under cattle equipment and giving employees a chase. Sizing equipment to the appropriate dimensions is key.
Calm, controlled approach whether a crowd pen or a chute
Generally, the most calming entrance to the processing room and to the slaughter restraint is a chute with solid sides that prevent stressful distractions and keep both workers and animals secure and safe. The chute floor should be a non-slip surface that is clear of supports or protruding edges that could cause stumbling or injury.
The entrance to the restraint should be similar to the chute, and the animal should enter willingly, without prodding. Any motion of the restraint should be quiet and keep the animals secure. In most cases restraining the animal in an upright, comfortable position before slaughter is preferred.
The device needs to apply sufficient pressure to provide the sensation of being securely held, but not excessive pressure that would cause pain or discomfort. Head-holding devices if used should avoid excessive bending of the animal’s neck.
Working with the Equipment
Equipment needs to be easy to operate and clean, designed to last, and meet U.S. regulatory standards, while providing for the highest level of animal welfare for small-scale slaughter. The equipment featured has no electrical or hydraulic requirements. It can be used on the farm where permitted, and in small slaughter facilities. A conservative production line speed is about 15 animals per hour with an experienced work crew for similar simple systems.
The featured design is for sheep and goats up to 200 pounds.
- The animal is directed to follow its peers through a chute and into the restraint. For lower volumes the animal can be lead or positioned manually.
- The animal walks over the center track, which is designed to be unobtrusive and provides a comfortable guide for proper positioning.
- Using a lever, the operator raises the animal into the slaughter position assisted by a passive lift cylinder. With its weight supported and its legs off the ground, the animal becomes calm and relaxed.
- The equipment is designed to operate quietly, which minimizes stress on the animals.
- The knife and other activities are kept out of the sight of the animal by the solid walls of the restraint.
When designing your restraint consider adjustable sides for animals of varying sizes up to 200 pounds. Make the unit portable with standard available spare parts.
Timing is important
The slaughter needs to be performed within 30 seconds of the animal entering the restraint to prevent the animal from feeling isolated and stressed. The knife must be properly sharpened—the sharper the knife, the better the cut. At a minimum, the straight blade should be twice as long as the width of the animal’s neck. This prevents pain during the cut. Excessive bending of the neck is unnecessary and should be avoided as it may cause pain or agitation.
A swift cut with a precisely sharpened knife is best, resulting in the same type of sharp cut we humans sometimes experience – where it is only the sight of blood that makes us realize we have been cut. Ideally, a swift, sharp cut will not be painful due to the release of endorphins and hormones.
Custom 14 inch knives are available through Spirit of Humane that meet all requirements for live, humane slaughter. The knife needs to be long enough to make the cut in one stroke. 14 inches is an adequate length for small ruminants and may work for cattle. Cattle must have a head restraint. Hand holding is only possible with small ruminants. Full tang for strength and durability. $90 (U.S.) plus shipping. Send us a note or call if interested.
The mobile unit featured is designed for producers to replicate in collaboration with their regional meat safety officials for custom, state or USDA inspected slaughter. It utilized an insulated van body. It is practical for small volumes. Larger units have been designed for higher volume. See Resource section. Download a handout containing more information about the unit (684k pdf). More information on mobile slaughter units can be found in the Resource section.
Partial funding of the Spirit of Humane process was provided by a North Central Region SARE Producer Grant (www.sare.org) and the Browse & Grass Growers Cooperative.