Knacker's yard: unloading, handling and holding animals

How to feed, water and hold animals at sites where animals that are not for human consumption are killed, and how the site must be designed.

As a knacker’s yard operator you must make sure that you and your staff hold a certificate of competence (CoC) for each procedure you carry out. You risk losing your licence and could be prosecuted if you do not follow this and other welfare of animals at the time of killing requirements.

You must also make sure that you restrain, stun and kill animals correctly.

Unloading animals

You must:

  • unload and kill animals as soon as possible after they arrive on the site
  • have suitable equipment and facilities to unload animals safely - for example, ramps for animals to walk down must have the smallest possible slope and walls or railings to prevent animals falling off the ramp
  • make sure there are no sharp edges or protrusions which animals could contact
  • make sure the floor is non-slip and have side guards where necessary

Animals in containers

You must treat animals delivered in crates or other containers, especially those with a flexible or slatted base, with care and unload them one at a time. You must keep the containers level. Containers must not be:

  • thrown
  • dropped
  • knocked over

You must have suitable equipment to unload animals safely, like a forklift truck for unloading containers from vehicles.

Prioritising animals for killing

You must immediately kill any animals that meet either of the following conditions:

  • they’ve experienced pain or suffering during transport or after they arrive
  • they’re too young to take solid feed

Sick or injured animals

You must separate animals that are sick or injured and keep them apart from other animals.

If an animal can not walk, you must not drag it to the place of killing. You must kill it where it is or transport it on a trolley if it’s possible to do this without causing pain or suffering.

Moving animals

When moving animals you must not frighten, excite or mistreat them.

You must:

  • move every animal with care and, where necessary, lead animals individually
  • only use a guiding instrument on an animal for short periods of time

You must not handle an animal in a way that causes it pain, such as:

  • leading or driving an animal over ground or a floor, where it’s likely to slip or fall
  • knocking over any animal
  • striking or kick an animal
  • applying pressure to sensitive areas of an animal’s body that would cause avoidable pain or suffering
  • lifting or dragging an animal by the head, ears, legs, horns, tail or fleece or handle them in a way that would cause pain or suffering
  • using prods or other implements that have a pointed end
  • twisting, crushing or breaking the tail of an animal
  • grasping an animal’s eyes
  • dragging an animal which has been stunned or killed over any other animal which has not been stunned or killed

Using electric shocks

You must avoid using goads as far as possible - you can only use them on adult cattle and pigs if they:

  • refuse to move
  • have enough room to move forward

If you do use an electric shock goad:

  • you must adequately space electric shocks
  • you must only deliver a shock to the muscle of the hindquarters
  • the instrument must have been designed to make an animal move

You must not:

  • deliver a shock for longer than a second
  • keep using electric shocks if an animal does not respond

Moving animals to the place of killing

You must:

  • only move animals to the place of killing when you’re ready to stun them, and kill them straight away
  • locate the place of killing so that it avoids unnecessary handling of animals up until the point of killing
  • design a passageway to the place of killing so the animal can move freely in the right direction, taking into account their herding or flocking nature

Walkway, bridge and ramp design

All walkways, bridges and ramps must:

  • be designed to minimise the risk of injury
  • have floors that are easy to maintain to prevent animals slipping, falling or injuring themselves
  • have sides or railings to prevent animals falling off

Holding areas (lairage or field lairage)

You must:

  • put animals in holding areas, known as lairage or field lairage, if they’re not killed on arrival
  • have enough pens to hold animals or a field that’s big enough to hold them
  • provide a sufficient amount of wholesome food to any animals on arrival at the lairage and then twice daily (you do not have to feed any animal within 12 hours of the time of its killing)

Inspect animals in holding areas

You must inspect the welfare of animals in holding areas at least twice a day - do it in the morning and in the evening.

Holding area design

Your holding area must allow animals to access to clean drinking water and have floors that reduce the risk of slipping.

Safety and shelter

Your holding area must:

  • keep the animals safe from potential injuries
  • not expose animals to sudden noises
  • keep animals securely so they do not escape or get harmed by predators
  • be constructed so animals can be easily inspected
  • have equipment for tethering where necessary

Your field lairage must offer shelter from extreme weather conditions, such as cold or heat. Your lairage must be well-ventilated.


Your lairage must have space for each animal to:

  • stand up
  • lie down
  • turn round (if they’re not tethered)


Your holding area must be bright enough for inspections. You can have fixed or portable lights.

Drinking water and feeding

You must provide access to clean water. You must position feed and drinking containers so that:

  • animals can reach them easily
  • animals cannot foul them
  • you can refill them easily

Where practical, you must fix containers in position.

You must provide enough feed and drinking containers for the number of animals.


Your lairage must have natural or mechanical ventilation to protect animals from:

  • extreme temperatures
  • harmful levels of humidity
  • harmful levels of ammonia

If you’ve installed a ventilation system it must respond to changing temperatures throughout the year. You must have an alarm and back-up system to cope with breakdowns of mechanical ventilation.

Ventilation must be sufficient to prevent build-up of carbon dioxide and noxious gases such as ammonia. If you can smell ammonia, minimum ventilation rate is not being achieved. In the UK, the maximum permitted exposure to ammonia for humans is 25 ppm, and it is also used as a guideline for livestock.


If you keep animals in a holding area overnight, you must give them bedding material unless the lairage has slatted or a mesh floor.

The bedding must be suitable for the species and there must be enough bedding for the number of animals you’re holding.

Using a field as a holding area

Fields that you use for holding areas must not expose animals to any physical harm, hazardous chemical or any other health hazard.

Holding areas for horses

A holding area for horses must have at least one loose box. It must be built to prevent a horse injuring itself or any other animal.

Tethering and tying animals

If you need to tie or tether an animal:

  • the animal must be able to stand up, lie down, eat and drink
  • you must not tie the animal’s legs together
Published 16 October 2015
Last updated 21 March 2019 + show all updates
  1. A paragraph on ventilation requirements

  2. First published.