January 2, 2009

Sheep Farm Husbandry - Euthanasia (Slaughter)

How to euthanise sheep, slaughter without pain, methods, correct shooting, throat cutting, blow to head, operator safety

By Dr Clive Dalton

If you have to euthanise (kill) a sheep of any age in New Zealand, it’s important to study the MAF Code of Animal Welfare No. 19 on “Emergency slaughter of farm livestock” because the process can be very dangerous for the operator, and you may end up being prosecuted for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to the animal. Here are the options:

  • Captive bolt devices are available without the need of a firearms license. The modern ones are a cylinder and don’t look like a pistol – which these days is a very wise move, as someone seeing you could call the Armed Offenders’ Squad. They are available from suppliers of veterinary equipment.
  • Use the correct calibre blank cartridge for the size of the animal and hold it on the sheep’s head before firing. If in doubt use a heavier calibre blank.
  • Firearms: For which a license is needed. With a shotgun or 0.22 rifle, hold the weapon at least 10-25 cm from the head when firing to avoid blowback.
  • For polled sheep: the correct site for the shot is in the midline on the highest point of the head, aiming straight down towards the angle of the jaw ( see diagram below)
  • For horned sheep: select a site in the middle of the head just behind the bony ridge between the horns aiming at the back of the throat. NOTE: if you use this position, it’s important to bleed the sheep promptly as they have been known to regain consciousness.
  • Immediately after an animal has been shot, its throat should be cut to ensure it has fully bled and is dead.
Position on the head to aim
The diagram below shows the best position to shoot a polled ewe and a horned ram.

Throat cutting
  • After shooting this is the next best method to kill a sheep.
  • It’s been the traditional way to kill a sheep for home kill or dog tucker and for some religions.
  • The most humane method is to cut the throat without breaking the neck. Breaking the neck only causes additional trauma before the animal has lost consciousness.
  • The knife used should be very sharp and the blade at least 15cm long.
  • Restrain the sheep gently but firmly, standing or lying on it’s left side with its chin in your left hand (vice versa if left handed), to extend the neck.
  • Part the wool over the throat just behind the angle of the jaw. Make a swift firm cut across the upper part of the neck, severing both main (carotid) arteries and both main (jugular) veins. The windpipe (trachea) and gullet (oesophagus) will also be severed.
  • The sheep will lose consciousness in 3-8 seconds and should be held firmly until then. A huge amount of blood will be seen pumping from the arteries, so be warned if you don’t like the sight of blood!
  • The signs of death (as opposed to unconsciousness) are lack of pulse and breathing, the eye pupils widely distended, and lack of blinking reflex when the surface of the eye is touched.
  • Take great care as many cut legs result from killing sheep when the knife slips.
Blow to the head
  • This should be a last resort if a firearm or knife is not available.
  • The sheep should be firmly restrained and then hit with a blunt instrument with sufficient force to break the skull and cause physical damage to the brain and cause rapid death.
  • A soft blow will only stun the sheep so make sure you hit it hard enough to causes brain damage at the same time.
  • The best weapon to use for a sheep is a heavy hammer or the back of a small axe (hatchet).
  • Hit the sheep in the same spot described above for the captive bolt.
  • Cut the sheep’s throat immediately after stunning it.

This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

1 comment:

  1. The throat cut, you clearly do not understand.

    The neck is broken and cut within 2 seconds. If one can not do this one should not be using said method.

    The best way is to straddle the sheep and stroke its throat till it has calmed. Pull it's head back while stroking throat(the stroking helps calm the sheep and control it's breathing and heart rate) and then once you are convinced the animal is calm, cut back and forth quickly and pulling the head back towards you. The knife needs to be sharp and aimed at the gap between vertabrae. The closer you can get to the brain stem for central nervous system the better. Take note : only experienced(with butchery) and empathetic people should attempt this method.