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Handling Slaughter Animals

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The 1978 Humane Slaughter Act made humane slaughter and handling of livestock in connection with slaughter of all food animals slaughtered in USDA and custom slaughter facilities mandatory. This law covers cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, goats, swine, and other livestock. FSIS has authority on an establishment’s official premise. Once a vehicle enters the premises it is considered a part thereof and is subject to the FSIS regulations that ensure humane handling. Truck unloading must therefore be done in a manner that allows animals to be unloaded without injury. The authority of humane handling regulations begins from the time the livestock are in queue for slaughter until the animal becomes a carcass.

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Humane Handling

The following suggestions are intended to help farmers move their animals in a low stress manner. Animals that are over stressed will tend to have more health problems, less desirable meat characteristics (including greater shrinkage), and are more dangerous when handled. Conditions for the handler and the animal are much better when using low stress practices. It is important to respect livestock – and not to fear them.

Animals sense their surroundings differently than humans. Their vision is in black and white, not in color. As a result, animals move more readily from dark areas into lighter ones, but will avoid layouts that make them look directly into the sun. Lighting should be even and diffused. Bright spots and shadows tend to make animals more skittish, especially near crowding or loading areas. Handlers should wear clothing that will not cause them to stand out, which may cause the animal to balk or turn away.

Loud noise should be kept to a minimum and quick movements avoided. Most animals will respond to routine; especially when handlers remain calm and deliberate. Handlers are reminded to be patient; and should never prod an animal when it has nowhere to go. Slow and deliberate movement around livestock is more effective, as is gentle touching -rather than shoving or bumping them.

Diagram 1: Flight Zone and Point of Balance

Animals have a flight zone (diagram 1). When a person enters this zone, the animal will begin to move away from the person or thing that is approaching. Animals also have a point of balance from which their movement can be directed forward or backward. This point is located at the shoulder of the animal. If a person moves toward an animal from the front, the animal will move to the rear. On the other hand, if the animal is approached from the rear or side it will move forward and in a circular motion around the approaching being. When moving animals try to move them in small groups, rather than individually. Many animals cannot see directly behind themselves, so caution should be used when approaching from the rear (diagram 2).
Farmers should avoid using electric prods because they usually agitate the animals more than they help in moving them along. By law, prods cannot carry a charge higher than 50 volts. In place of electric prods, handlers can use sticks with cloth on them. Large plastic paddles can also be purchased for this use. Sticks and paddles should be used as extension of the arm to direct the animal.

Dangling chains, bags, pipes etc in the path of animals discourage their forward movement and will cause the animal to balk or turn back, away from the direction of travel. Reflections from metal or puddles of water can also distract animals and cause them to stop, as can out of place objects or movements.

Handlers should always have an escape route when working with an animal in close quarters. Alleys and chutes should be wide enough to allow animals to pass, but not wide enough to allow them to turn around. Solid wall chutes, instead of fencing, will lower the number of animals that balk in the chute. Animals move better if directed through a circular solid walled chute. Appropriate handling equipment can speed up livestock confinement work operations, reduce time and labor requirements, cut costs, and decrease the risk of injury.

Dr. Temple Grandin provides excellent resources on humane handling and transportation of slaughter animals on her website at http://www.grandin.com/
For more information on humane handling, refer to the FSIS Humane Handling of Livestock. On line at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Humane_Handling_of_Livestock.pdf

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Humane Transport

When transporting animals, cold and wet conditions should be avoided whenever possible. These conditions are stressful on the animal and can cause illness. Wet animals are much more susceptible to wind chill than dry animals. Young animals or animals with poor body reserves are also more susceptible. During hot weather, haulers should try to time travel for night or early morning. Swine need to be able to lie down if the trip is longer than a few hours or temperatures are warm. In contrast, cattle should not be encouraged to lie down. Sheep and goats benefit from being able to lie down on very long trips. Sick or weak animals should be excluded.

When transporting the animal in the trailer, the driver should not only use slow starts when accelerating, but should also avoid sudden stops when braking. Extra time – compared to what it would normally take to travel the route – should be allowed to compensate for the slower movement of a trailer. Drivers should remember that it takes more distance to stop a trailer loaded with livestock, than it does to stop an empty trailer.

Try to provide non-slip flooring in trailers and on loading ramps. Trailer floors need to be designed to stop the flow of urine and manure onto the roadways.
The USDA AMS has an excellent guide for trucking swine and cattle that can be found here: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3008268

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Movement of Non-Ambulatory Animals to Slaughter

In March of 2009, the USDA FSIS published a final rule to amend the federal meat inspection regulations, requiring a complete ban on the slaughter of cattle that become non-ambulatory after passing initial FSIS inspection. All cattle that are non-ambulatory disabled (“downer cattle”) at any time prior to slaughter at an official establishment, including those that become non-ambulatory disabled after passing ante-mortem inspection, are to be condemned and properly disposed of according to FSIS regulations. Animals with fractures of the limbs or injuries to the spine should not be transported to slaughter.

This decision over-rides the July 13, 2007, FSIS rule, “Prohibition of the Use of Specified Risk Materials for Human Food and Requirements for the Disposition of Non-Ambulatory Disabled Cattle; Prohibition of the Use of Certain Stunning Devices Used To Immobilize Cattle During Slaughter” (the SRM final rule). The previous rule allowed a case-by-case re-inspection of cattle that became non-ambulatory disabled after ante mortem inspection. This allowed inspectors to address individually the rare situations in which an animal that was deemed by FSIS as fit for human food at ante-mortem inspection and then subsequently suffered an acute injury.

Animals that are disabled or unable to move must be segregated and moved to covered “suspect” pens. Disabled livestock must be handled using humane methods. Regulations strictly prohibit the dragging of a conscious animal that is unable to walk. Personnel must either stun the non-ambulatory disabled animal before dragging them, or move the animals by placing them on a skid, stone boat, bucket lift or some other type of equipment that is suitable.

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How Many Animals Can Be Loaded on a Trailer?

The number of animals that can be humanely transported in a given trailer depends on several factors. More space is required per animal during hot weather as compared to cold weather. Unshorn sheep and horned or antlered livestock require more space than short haired or polled animals. Ideally, animals should be similar in weights and accustomed to each other prior to loading for transport.

Recommended trucking densities range from about 3.5 sq. ft (winter or short drives) to 4 sq. ft. (summer or long drives) for 200 lb market pigs and 4.5 sq. ft. (winter or short drive) to 5 sq. ft. for 250 lb market pigs. Recommended trucking densities for shorn market lambs range from about 2.1 sq. ft. to 3.2 sq ft. for 60 to 120 lb. lambs respectively while recommendations for shorn lambs range from 2.25 sq. ft. to 3.35 sq. ft. for 60 to 120 lb. lambs respectively.
Farmers should not over-crowd animals on a trailer. The below chart can help determine the appropriate number of bovine that can be loaded in a given space.

Approximate square footage needed for loading adult cattle for road transport
Mean live weight (lb) of cattle Floor area (f2/head)
500 8
600 9
700 9.5
800 10
900 11.5
1000 12
1100 13
1200 14.5
1300 16

Diagram 2: Animal Vision Area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Acting as a Livestock Hauler

Some farmers actively engage in transporting animals for other farmers and for their customer. If the animal is purchased by the farmer-transporter domestic animal health permits are required, and depending on the financial volume of animals bought and sold a wholesalers license would be needed as well. (Refer to the later section on this).

When a farmer transports a live animal for a customer, sold previously in an exempt transaction to a USDA plant with a custom exemption, then an affidavit is needed. If the facility is strictly a custom exempt facility then no affidavit is needed.
In New York, if a truck is being used for earning money from the sale of products and has either a gross vehicle weight rating >10,000 lbs or a truck/trailer gross combination weight rating of >10,000 lbs then the truck owner must apply for either a USDOT-NY number (intrastate) or USDOT number (interstate) and display this number on their truck. Livestock farmers are not exempt from this requirement. Even being awarded prize money for your animals at a fair is considered “earning money”. The gross weight rating is the maximum allowable total weight of a vehicle/trailer when loaded. On trucks it is generally listed on or over the inside driver’s side. Further requirements may be necessary depending on the loaded weight and use of your vehicle.

Further, haulers must keep their trailers in good working order. The Humane Slaughter Act requires that trailer ramps and floors be kept in good repair.

The New York Farm Bureau (NYFB) publishes THE FARMER’S GUIDE TO TRUCK & FARM IMPLEMENT LAWS & REGULATIONS, 3rd Ed. Copies are available for purchase from the NYFB office. $20.00 per copy for members and $40.00 per copy for non-members. New York Farm Bureau, 159 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12205-0330 Phone: 518-436-8495 or Toll-Free: 800-342-4143 Fax: 518-431-5656

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Holding Animals

Regulations require livestock to have access to water at all times. If animals are held longer than 24 hours, animals must have access to feed that is appropriate for the age and species. If animals are held overnight, they must have enough room to lie down without being forced to lie on top of one another.

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Shrinkage of Animals in Transit

Shrinkage or shrink refers to the amount of live weight an animal loses from the time the animal is gathered for transport to the slaughterhouse until it is slaughtered. Livestock coming off lush pastures will show live weight losses shortly after being taken off feed because the feed passes through them faster than dried forages and grains do. Poor ventilation and/or overcrowding in the gathering pens or trailers increases shrinkage rates. Animals that are overheated or shivering from extreme cold will also suffer more weight loss.

If animals are deprived of feed for 6 or more hours not only live weight but carcass weight starts to decrease and dressing percentage (DP) will also start to drop. Carcass weight loss in young goats is about 2.5%, 3 to 4%, and 6 to 7% after a 12, 24, and 48 hr fast, respectively. Water deprivation can result in another 2% loss in carcass weight. Depending on the distance traveled, truckers report shrink losses of 3% to 10% for livestock going from farm to auction.

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Field Harvesting

Non-amenable animal species that are difficult to load, transport and handle can be killed directly on-farm. This is typically limited to buffalo, bison and some cervids (deer and elk). Field harvested animals may be presented for USDA inspection or be taken to a 5-A facility. Either option will allow a farmer to market his product. Field harvested animals may also be taken to a custom exempt facility, but meat from that establishment cannot be sold.

For animals entering commerce through either USDA or 5-A inspection, a veterinarian must be on the farm premise when the animal is slaughtered to confirm that it is not sick or “down”. Animals entering the USDA voluntary inspection program must submit a request for field harvest and receive approval before commencement AND the ante-mortem inspection must be performed by a USDA inspector in the field. Without an ante-mortem field inspection the non-amenable animal will not be eligible for USDA post-mortem inspection.

Both USDA and New York State regulations state that a farm must designate an area for field harvesting from which a licensed veterinarian can observe the animal prior to dispatch. The veterinarian must be on site when the animal is dispatched. The animal may be bled out on premise (but not eviscerated) and then be transported to a USDA or 5-A slaughterhouse for processing on that day. (New York State recommends within 2 hours but understands that some farmers may travel a distance slightly longer than this.) The field-harvested animal must be accompanied to the 5-A slaughterhouse by a veterinarian signed certificate of health or an veterinarian signed ante-mortem report. For USDA inspection a USDA employee must sign the certificate of health or ante-mortem report.

Amenable species must be presented for inspection at an inspected slaughterhouse; therefore, no field harvesting provisions are applicable. There are special provisions for emergency slaughter of amenable species, with the exception of cattle (which can never be field harvested under any circumstance for USDA inspection). When it is necessary for humane reasons to slaughter an injured animal at night, on a Sunday, or on a holiday when the inspector cannot be obtained, the carcass and all parts shall be kept for inspection, with the head and all viscera except the stomach, bladder, and intestines held by the natural attachments. If parts are not kept for inspection, then the carcass shall be condemned. If, on inspection any lesion or other evidence is found indicating that the animal was sick or diseased, or affected with any other condition requiring condemnation then the carcass shall be condemned. In addition, if there is lacking evidence of the condition which rendered emergency slaughter necessary, then carcass shall be condemned.

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