Guidance

Knacker's yards and farms: restraining, stunning, killing animals

How to restrain, stun and kill animals which aren't for human consumption.

You need a welfare of animals at the time of killing (WATOK) licence or a certificate of competence (CoC) if you’re doing any of the following where the animal is not for human consumption:

  • restraining animals for stunning or killing
  • stunning animals
  • checking stunning has worked
  • shackling or hoisting live animals
  • bleeding live animals
  • pithing animals you’ve stunned
  • assessment of effective pithing

You need a WATOK licence or a CoC if you’re carrying out any of those operations on the following animals, if they’re not for human consumption:

  • horses and donkeys (solipeds)
  • cattle, sheep, goats and deer (ruminants)
  • pigs
  • rabbits
  • poultry
  • ostriches (ratites)

You must hold a WATOK licence for each procedure you carry out. You risk losing your licence or CoC and you may be committing an offence if you don’t follow these and other WATOK requirements.

Restraining animals

You need to restrain an animal in the appropriate manner before you stun or kill it.

Your equipment for restraining animals must:

  • be in good working order
  • maintained and checked in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions
  • used in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions
  • allow you to stun or kill an animal effectively and quickly
  • present the animal’s head in a way that allows you to stun it accurately

You must only put animals into restraining equipment, including head restraints, when you’re ready to stun or kill the animal.

Stunning pens for cattle

For adult cattle (which includes bovine animals such as buffalo and bison) you must use a stunning pen or restraining pen. You must follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Stunning pens and restraining boxes must:

  • be in good working order
  • maintained and checked - follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • be able to fit one animal at a time without discomfort
  • stop the animal from making any large movements forwards, backwards or sideways
  • allow complete access to an animal’s forehead, for accurate stunning

Restrict cattle head movements

Stunning pens and restraining boxes for cattle must have a device to stop an animal’s head moving up and down so you can stun it accurately.

The device must release an animal’s head immediately after stunning and shouldn’t cause the animals pain, distress, or suffering.

Shackle lines

Shackle lines must be designed for the size, type and weight of the poultry you’re handling in your knacker’s yard.

The shackles must be the right size and shape for the legs of the birds so that electrical contact can be made without hurting the birds.

The shackles must be wet. You must shackle both legs.

Position of shackle lines

You must position shackle lines so that:

  • you can reach the whole shackle line easily and you can take an animal off it at any time if it suffers pain or distress
  • you can easily reach the equipment controls at any time

If you’re hanging up poultry before stunning or killing, the birds must:

  • be relaxed
  • not touch any objects or each other, even when their wings are stretched out
  • not be disturbed

Speed of shackle line

The shackle line must move slowly enough to make sure you:

  • don’t distress the birds
  • can take any measures to prevent pain, suffering or distress

Maximum hanging time

You must only hang conscious birds on a shackle line for:

  • 3 minutes - turkeys
  • 2 minutes - other poultry

Restraining methods you can’t use

If you’re restraining animals, you can’t:

  • suspend or hoist them while they’re conscious, except for poultry
  • use electrical stunning equipment or shock devices to immobilise an animal

Animal stunning and killing

You must stun all animals before you kill them and then kill them immediately.

You need to make sure the animal stays unconscious so it can’t feel pain when you kill it.

Simple stunning

‘Simple stunning’ is stunning an animal to make it lose consciousness in a way that doesn’t instantly kill it.

Equipment for stunning or killing

Any equipment you use for stunning or killing must:

  • stun or kill rapidly and effectively
  • be in good working order
  • have the manufacturer’s instructions on how to operate it

You must have back-up stunning equipment available immediately on the spot, in case your main equipment fails.

Maintain your equipment

You must maintain equipment following the manufacturer’s instructions.

You must keep maintenance records for at least a year. An inspector can ask to see them.

Check that your stunning method is effective

When you’ve stunned an animal, you must check if it’s still conscious before you kill it. If an animal is still conscious you must immediately re-stun it.

You must have a WATOK licence or CoC on checking effectiveness of stunning. Your knacker’s yard standard operating procedure should also list what monitoring procedures will be used.

If you find an animal that hasn’t been properly stunned, you must immediately re-stun it and take immediate action in line with your knacker’s yard standard operating procedure.

If you’re failing to stun animals properly, you must find out what’s wrong and correct your operation immediately.

Stunning by firearm with free projectile

You can use a firearm to stun all animals - this stunning method kills by causing severe damage to the animal’s brain when the gun is fired. You should fire it at the head and use a cartridge or bullet that will kill the animal instantly. The manufacturer’s instructions will show you what cartridge or bullet to use.

Killing by a percussive blow to the head

You can kill rabbits that weigh less than 5kg by hitting them in the head with a firm and accurate blow.

You must kill them after you’ve stunned them.

Electrical stunning

Electrical stunning is a method of simple stunning so you’ll need to follow it with another operation to kill the animal once it’s unconscious.

When you carry out electrical stunning:

  • there must be a good electrical contact with the animal
  • electrodes must span the brain of the animal and be adapted for the size of animal, for head-only stunning
  • the current must be strong enough and you must subject the animal to it for long enough to make them unconscious until death
  • you must kill the animal before it recovers consciousness
  • you must use the minimum currents below

Monitor electrical stunning

For each animal you stun, your equipment must be fitted with a device that shows the:

  • voltage
  • current
  • length of time of the stun

The device must be clearly visible to staff carrying out stunning.

If the electrodes don’t deliver the right current or voltage for the right amount of time, the device must give a clearly visible and audible warning.

Minimum currents for head-only electrical stunning

Species Minimum current
Cattle 6 months or older 1.28 amps (A)
Cattle younger than 6 months 1.25A
Sheep and goats 1.0A
Pigs 1.3A
Chickens 240 milliamps (mA)
Turkeys 400mA

Head-to-body electrical stunning

If you’re using electrodes on an animal’s head and body, you must use these currents:

  • sheep and goats - 1A
  • pigs - 1.3A

Waterbath stunning

Waterbath stunning is a simple stunning method for poultry - this means you need to kill the animal after you stun it, and before it regains consciousness.

To carry out waterbath stunning you must:

  • install a waterbath that’s a good size and depth for the birds that your knacker’s yard processes
  • be able to adjust the water level for different birds to ensure that there’s good contact with each bird’s head
  • make sure the electrode is immersed in water and extends for the length of the waterbath

Entrance to waterbath

You must make sure the waterbath doesn’t overflow at the entrance. If it does, you must make sure that poultry don’t receive a shock before they’re stunned.

Current and duration

To make birds unconscious immediately and to keep them unconscious until they’re dead, you must make sure:

  • there are good electrical contacts
  • the voltage is maintained at a strong enough current to ensure every bird is stunned immediately
  • you expose the birds for at least 4 seconds

If you’re stunning groups of birds, you must make sure the current and duration stuns all the birds enough to keep them unconscious until they have been killed by a follow-up method.

Electrical waterbath stunning: average current and frequency

Frequency (Hertz) Chickens - average current Turkeys - average current Ducks and geese - average current Quail - average current
200Hz 100mA 250mA 130mA 45mA
From 200 to 400Hz 150mA 400mA illegal illegal
From 400 to 1,500Hz 200mA 400mA illegal illegal

Breakdowns

If there’s a breakdown or delay in the shackle line you must be able to access the shackle line or waterbath to:

  • kill any animals that have been stunned but remain in the waterbath

Captive bolt stunning

You must use devices in line with the manufacturer’s instructions, including positioning and using the correct strength of cartridge.

Penetrative captive bolt

You can use penetrative captive bolt devices for simple stunning for all species.

You must check the bolt has retracted to its full extent after each shot. If the bolt hasn’t fully retracted, you mustn’t use the device until it’s repaired

You must shoot animals in the middle of the forehead. But if you’re stunning sheep and goats that have horns, you can shoot the animal in the back of the head. You must aim the shot just behind the base of the horns and aim towards the mouth.

You must bleed or kill sheep and goats with horns that are shot in the back of the head within 15 seconds of shooting them.

You must not shoot a bovine in the back of the head.

Non-penetrative captive bolt

You can only use non-penetrative captive bolt devices for simple stunning on cattle, sheep, goats and deer under 10kg.

You must apply the device in the proper position and use the correct strength of cartridge according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cervical (neck) dislocation of poultry

You can only use manual cervical dislocation if:

  • the bird weigh less than 3kg
  • there are no other methods available

You can only use manual cervical dislocation on up to 70 birds a day.

You can only use mechanical cervical dislocation if:

  • the bird weighs less than 5kg
  • there are no other methods available

Gas stunning

Gas stunning is a method of killing pigs in knacker’s yards and poultry on-farm and in knacker’s yards. You must use the gas stunner in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

You can only use whole house gas stunning for poultry and under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon.

If you’re culling poultry on-farm using gas stunning, you must write to the Animal and Plant Health Agency 5 days in advance.

You must expose each animal to the gas for long enough to kill it.

You must use a gas stunner which allows you to:

  • check the animals are suffering no avoidable pain, suffering or distress while you’re stunning them
  • get to the animals as quickly as possible in case of an emergency, eg machinery breakdown
  • flush the stunner with air so you can enter the chamber as quickly as possible

For pigs, you must make sure the gas stunner and its conveyors:

  • doesn’t injure or bruise the animals or compress their chest
  • minimises struggling or vocalisation
  • allows animals to remain standing until they lose consciousness
  • has adequate lighting to allow pigs to see other pigs or their surroundings while on the conveyor leading to the gas stunner, and while in the stunner
  • gets animals to the point of maximum gas concentration within 30 seconds, if you’re using a high concentration of carbon dioxide

For poultry, you must make sure the:

  • gas stunners and their conveyors don’t injure the birds
  • poultry are put in the stunner in a way that minimises pain, distress and suffering

Gas monitoring devices

Gas stunners must have a monitoring device that displays the gas concentration. The device must be clearly visible to staff.

If the gas concentration falls below the correct level, the monitoring device must display a clear visible warning and sound an alarm.

No pig or bird must go into the stunner or remain in it if:

  • there’s a problem with the gas stunner
  • the alarm goes off
  • the gas concentration falls below the correct level

Gas mixtures

To kill poultry by gas, you must use one of the following gas mixtures:

  • carbon dioxide at high concentration (except ducks and geese)
  • carbon dioxide in 2 phases
  • carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases
  • inert gases

For pigs you can use:

  • carbon dioxide at high concentration
  • carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases
  • inert gases

You can’t use carbon monoxide pure source for pigs or poultry.

You must not allow gases to enter into the chamber (or the location where animals are to be stunned and killed) in a way that could create burns or excitement. This could be caused by the gases by freezing or lack of humidity.

You must only stun pigs or poultry by gas if each animal is exposed to the gas for long enough to make sure it’s killed.

Carbon dioxide at high concentration - pigs

The minimum concentration is 80% carbon dioxide. Exposure of conscious pigs to the gas must lead to anoxia (loss of oxygen to the brain).

You must make sure that no pig enters the gas stunner if the carbon dioxide concentration by volume falls below 80%.

Carbon dioxide at high concentration - poultry

The minimum concentration is 40% carbon dioxide. Exposure of conscious birds to the gas must lead to anoxia.

You must make sure that no bird enters the gas stunner if the carbon dioxide concentration by volume falls below 40%.

You can’t use a high concentration of carbon dioxide on ducks and geese.

Carbon dioxide in 2 phases – poultry

Expose the animal to gas with a maximum concentration of 40% carbon dioxide. When the animal is unconscious, use a higher concentration of carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases - pigs

Expose conscious pigs directly or progressively to a gas mixture containing up to 40% of carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases. This will lead to anoxia.

The maximum concentration is 40% carbon dioxide. Direct or progressive exposure of conscious pigs to the gas must lead to anoxia.

Carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases - poultry

For poultry you must make sure that gas concentrations by volume are at most:

  • 20% carbon dioxide
  • 5% oxygen

Inert gases - poultry and pigs

Expose conscious animals directly or progressively to a gas mixture containing an inert gas mixture (such as argon or nitrogen) leading to anoxia.

You must make sure that the oxygen concentration by volume is 2% or less, for poultry.

Lethal injections

A vet can lethally inject animals with veterinary medicines to kill them.

Killing animals by bleeding or pithing

After you’ve used a simple stunning method on animals, you need to kill them while they’re still unconscious by bleeding or pithing.

Bleeding

To kill an animal by bleeding, you must cut the 2 carotid arteries in its neck.

You must bleed the animal:

  • immediately after simple stunning
  • as quickly and completely as possible
  • before it regains consciousness

If you bleed an animal after simple stunning, you must not dress the animal or stimulate it electrically until:

  • bleeding has stopped
  • you’ve confirmed there are no signs of life

You must wait for these minimum times until you dress animals:

  • 30 seconds - cattle
  • 20 seconds - sheep and goats
  • 2 minutes for turkey or geese
  • 90 seconds for all other birds

Killing horses

You must kill a horse in a separate room or a bay which is kept specifically for that purpose.

You must not kill a horse:

  • in sight of another horse
  • in a room where there are remains of another horse or other animal

Hatchery waste

You can only kill chicks that are less 72 hours old and the killing must be as rapid as possible. You can only use one of the following methods:

  • maceration (immediate crushing of an entire animal)
  • gas - chicks must die quickly and stay in the gas until they are dead
  • cervical (neck) dislocation but only if there are no other methods available

If using gas you must use one of the following gases:

  • carbon dioxide at high concentrations
  • carbon dioxide in 2 phases
  • carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases
  • inert gases
  • pure source carbon monoxide
  • carbon monoxide mixed with inert gases
Published 16 October 2015