Slaughtering poultry, rabbits and hares on farms for small-scale suppliers

How small-scale and seasonal suppliers who slaughter poultry, rabbits and hares on farms must stun or kill the animals.

If you handle, stun or kill animals, you must be competent to do so. You risk losing your licence or prosecution if you don’t follow these and other Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing requirements.

When you’re classed as a small-scale supplier

You’re classed as a small-scale supplier if all of these apply:

  • you slaughter less than 10,000 birds, rabbits or hares per year on your farm
  • you supply the birds, rabbits or hares directly to the final consumer or to local shops
  • you supply meat within your own county and the adjoining counties (or no further than 50 kilometres from your county’s border)

You still count as a small-scale, local supplier even if you sell poultry to the whole of the UK in the 2 weeks before Christmas, Easter and Michaelmas (usually in late September).

On-farm slaughter of more than 10,000 birds

You’re also classed as a small-scale supplier if you slaughter more than 10,000 birds on your farm and you’re a member of an assurance scheme approved by the Food Standards Agency and you either:

  • dry pluck by hand
  • slaughter for fewer than 40 days per year

Poultry awaiting sale

You must make sure that poultry being offered for sale are put in accommodation where they can stand upright, turn and stretch their wings without difficulty.

You must also give the poultry food and clean water and do this as soon as possible.

Restraining animals

You must restrain animals before you can stun or kill them. If you’re using stunning equipment on an animal’s head, your restraining equipment must present an animal’s head correctly for an accurate stun.

Your equipment for restraining animals must:

  • allow you to stun or kill an animal effectively
  • prevent injury, cuts or bruises
  • minimise struggling and vocalisation
  • minimise the time an animal’s restrained

You must follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using equipment to restrain animals.

What you must not do

You mustn’t handle any animal in a way that causes it pain. You mustn’t:

  • strike or kick an animal
  • press sensitive areas of an animal’s body that would cause pain or suffering
  • use prods or other pointed implements
  • twist, crush or break an animal’s tail
  • grasp an animal’s eyes

One animal at a time

If you’re responsible for stunning and bleeding the animals, you must finish all these tasks on one animal before moving onto the next animal.

Stunning animals

You must stun all animals before you kill them on farms.

Stunning and killing equipment

Your equipment for stunning and killing animals must allow for a quick and effective stun and kill. You must maintain all stunning and killing equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions, by people who are properly trained.

You must keep a record of the maintenance work carried out for at least a year.

Back-up equipment

You must install back-up equipment so that you can use it quickly if your main equipment fails. You must keep it close by and it must be in good working order.

Simple stunning

Simple stunning is where you stun an animal to make it unconscious but don’t kill it. It must make the animal unconscious immediately and it must stay unconscious until it’s dead.

You must then immediately use another method to kill the animal.

Gas stunning (for poultry only)

If you take birds out of crates before they go into a gas stunner, you must handle them with care to spare them any avoidable pain or distress.

You don’t have to notify the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) if you’re gas stunning for small scale slaughter. You must give APHA 5 days’ notice if you plan to gas birds for management reasons, eg culling.

Gas stunning equipment

Gas stunners or any equipment that conveys birds into the gas must be designed to avoid injuring birds - you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Gas stunners must be able to maintain the correct concentration of gas.

You must be able to flush the stunner with air so that you can get to the poultry immediately if there’s a problem.

Monitoring poultry in gas stunners

You must be able to visually monitor the poultry.

Gas stunners must have a monitoring device that displays and records the gas concentration.

The monitoring device must display a warning and sound an alarm if the gas concentration falls below the legal level. No birds must go into or remain in the stunner if:

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

Gas mixtures

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

  • carbon dioxide at high concentration (you must not use this for ducks and geese)
  • carbon dioxide in 2 phases
  • carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases
  • inert gases

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 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

You must not use this method on ducks and geese.

The minimum concentration is 40% carbon dioxide.

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

Carbon dioxide in 2 phases

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 to kill it.

Carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases

Expose conscious animals directly or progressively to a gas mixture containing up to 20% of carbon dioxide mixed with inert gases and no more than 5% of oxygen.

Inert gases

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 gas concentration by volume is no more than 2%.

After gas stunning

You must make sure birds stay in the gas for long enough to make sure they’re dead. You must wait until the birds are dead before you carry out any other operation on them.

Non-penetrative captive bolt

If you use a non-penetrative captive bolt device, you must avoid fracturing the skull.

You must use the correct strength of cartridge or propellant - find out what this is by reading the manufacturer’s instructions.

Penetrative captive bolt

If you use a penetrative captive bolt, you must:

  • use the correct strength of cartridge as stated in the manufacturer’s instructions
  • position the device so the bolt enters through the cerebral cortex (top of the brain)
  • 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

Head-only electrical stunning

If 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
  • the current must be strong enough to make an animal unconscious until it’s dead

The equipment must have a device to show:

  • the length of time you’ve applied the current to an animal
  • the voltage and current

Minimum currents for head-only electrical stunning:

  • chickens - 240 milliamps (mA)
  • turkeys - 400mA

The minimum currents for rabbits and hares aren’t set out in EU law.

You must kill the animal immediately after it becomes unconscious.

Cervical (neck) dislocation

You can manually dislocate birds’ necks if the birds up to 3kg - you can kill up to 70 per birds day.

You can dislocate birds’ necks mechanically if they weight between 3kg and 5kg.

You must only use these methods if there are no other methods available.

Killing poultry, rabbits or hares

The place of killing must be near to where the animals are held and avoids unnecessary handling of animals. After simple stunning, you must use a method such as bleeding (cutting the neck arteries) to kill the animals.

When you bleed poultry, rabbits or hares you must cut the 2 neck arteries properly and make sure that the animals bleed out quickly and completely, and before regaining consciousness.

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

  • 2 minutes - turkeys and geese
  • 90 seconds - all other birds

You must wait until the birds are dead before you do anything else to them, including scalding.

If you kill poultry with automatic neck cutters make sure that they cut both neck arteries. If they don’t, you must kill the bird straight away by another method.

Published 16 October 2015