Slaughter poultry, livestock and rabbits for home consumption

How to legally kill your own poultry, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and hares to eat at home.

Applies to England

This guidance is for livestock owners and landowners who kill rabbits and hares on their land.

You do not need a licence to kill animals to eat at home, as long as:

  • you own the animal and you kill it on your property
  • you’re killing it for you or your immediate family, who live on your property, to eat

You could be prosecuted if you do not follow the rules in this guide.

Slaughter without stunning in accordance with religious rites can only take place in an approved slaughterhouse.

Stunning animals before killing

You must always stun animals before killing. A ‘simple stun’ makes an animal unconscious immediately but does not instantly kill it. Following a simple stun, you must kill the animal:

  • before it regains consciousness
  • immediately after you’ve stunned it – use a killing method like bleeding

If you kill an animal to eat on your property, you must know how to:

  • restrain, stun and kill the animal humanely and quickly

  • avoid causing the animal any avoidable pain, distress or suffering

Stunning poultry

Cervical (neck) dislocation

You can only use manual cervical dislocation if:

  • the bird weighs less than 3kg

  • there are no other methods available

You can only use manual cervical dislocation on a maximum of 70 birds a day.

You can only use mechanical cervical dislocation if:

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

You must use another method like electrical stunning if birds weigh more than 5kg.

Bleeding poultry

After you’ve stunned a bird, you must immediately cut the 2 carotid arteries in the neck so the bird bleeds out quickly and completely. It must remain unconscious until death.

You must wait until the bird is dead and has bled out until you do anything to it, for example pluck (dress) it.

If you kill poultry by bleeding, you must leave them to bleed out for at least:

  • 2 minutes (turkey and geese)
  • 90 seconds (other birds)

Stunning rabbits and hares

You must stun a rabbit or hare before bleeding it, using:

  • penetrative captive bolt
  • non-penetrative captive bolt (a bolt which does not penetrate the skull but stuns by making the rabbit or hare unconscious)
  • head-only electrical stunning using electric tongs
  • head-to-body electrical stunning using electric tongs
  • a firm blow to the head (only for rabbits that weigh 5kg or less)

You can also use a firearm with free projectile (like a shotgun) to stun rabbits. This is a killing method, and so would not need to be followed by bleeding.

Bleeding rabbits and hares

After you’ve stunned a rabbit or hare, you must immediately cut the 2 carotid arteries in the neck, so they bleed quickly. They must remain unconscious until death.

Stun and kill cattle, sheep, goats, pigs or deer


Unless you’re using a firearm to kill cattle, sheep, goats, pigs or deer, you must restrain them without causing them pain, suffering or distress.

Stunning by penetrative captive bolt

You can use a penetrative captive bolt device to stun any species, but you need to then kill the animal after it’s unconscious.

You must:

  • check the bolt has retracted fully after each shot – if not, do not use the device until it’s fixed
  • shoot animals in the correct position – you must not shoot cattle or any bovine animals like bison or buffalo in the back of the head

If you’re stunning sheep and goats with horns by penetrative captive bolt, you must:

  • aim the shot just behind the base of the horns and towards the mouth
  • bleed or kill an animal within 15 seconds of shooting it

Stunning by non-penetrative captive bolt

A non-penetrative captive bolt device can be used as a simple stun, or a killing method for certain species and within specified parameters.

Non-penetrative captive bolt: as a killing method

The device can only be used as a killing method for:

  • piglets that weigh less than 10kg
  • kids that weigh less than 4kg
  • lambs that weigh less than 6kg

To be used as a killing method the device must deliver a minimum kinetic energy of:

  • 27.7 joules (J) for piglets
  • 27.8J for kids
  • 107J for lambs

Non-penetrative captive bolt: as a simple stunning method

The non-penetrative captive bolt device is a simple stunning method for:

  • cattle under 10kg, sheep between 6kg and 10kg, and goats between 4kg and 10kg
  • poultry
  • rabbits
  • hares

Non-penetrative captive bolt: conditions of use

It can be used for slaughter, depopulation and other situations for:

  • poultry
  • lambs less than 10kg
  • kids less than 10kg
  • piglets of less than 10kg
  • rabbits
  • hares

It can be used for slaughter only for other ruminants, such as cattle, under 10kg.

You must apply the device in the proper position and use the correct strength of cartridge or other propellant by following the manufacturer’s instructions to produce an effective stun or kill, as appropriate.

You can find detailed guidance on the use of captive bolt devices on the Humane Slaughter Association website.

Stunning by firearm with free projectile

You can use a firearm to stun and kill an animal but you must use the correct power and calibre of cartridge for the type of animal. Read the manufacturer’s instructions issued with your firearm to find this information.

Electrical stunning

You can use electrical equipment to stun an animal but not to electro-immobilise it. You must:

  • make sure there’s a good electrical contact with the animal
  • the electrodes must span the brain of the animal and be adapted for the size of the animal

Read the Humane Slaughter Association’s guidance on electrical stunning of animals.

You must use the following minimum currents:

  • for cattle 6 months old or older – 1.28 amps (A)
  • for cattle younger than 6 months – 1.25A
  • for sheep and goats – 1.0A
  • for pigs – 1.3A
  • chicken – 240 milliamps (mA)
  • turkeys – 400mA

After you’ve stunned an animal using electricity you must kill it immediately.

Bleed cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and deer

After you’ve stunned cattle, sheep, goats, pigs or deer, you can kill them by bleeding or pithing.

You must cut the 2 carotid arteries in an animal’s neck to bleed it. You must bleed the animal:

  • immediately after simple stunning
  • before it regains consciousness

You must wait the following amounts of time for the bleeding to stop before you dress or scald it:

  • 30 seconds for cattle
  • 20 seconds for sheep, deer, pigs and goats

Updates to this page

Published 16 October 2015
Last updated 5 June 2023 + show all updates
  1. Content has been reviewed as part of improvements to the welfare of animals at the time of killing pages. Updates approved by Welfare at Slaughter team.

  2. Amended non-penetrative captive bolt device guidance because of a change in the law

  3. First published.

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