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Welfare Considerations Can be Significant for Business

1 May 2012, at 12:00am

From the time that birds arrive at the slaughterhouse to the time at which they have been slaughtered, there are several key welfare considerations, writes Paul Cook, director of RL Consulting.

On arrival at the slaughterhouse, the birds on the vehicle should be checked to ensure that there are no immediate signs of distress. Extreme weather conditions can cause particular problems. In hot weather, look out for birds that are panting excessively and for any incidences of Dead on Arrivals. In cold weather, look out for birds that are wet and huddled. Again, look out for any dead birds and, in any situation where you have a concern, it is essential to consult with the veterinary officer to review whether the slaughter of the load should be prioritised.

Birds will normally be held in the lairage whilst awaiting processing. It is good practice to check the birds on a regular basis whilst they are waiting in the lairage and also check that appropriate ventilation/cooling equipment is operational. If there are several holding areas in the lairage, it is useful to record in which position each load has been stored to analyse whether there are problem areas within the facility.

Having been safely held in the lairage, the birds will then be moved to the hang-on point. Ensure that the baskets/modules are handled carefully and that all operations are completed smoothly. The hang-on point is critical to the birds' welfare. There must be enough staff available to ensure that the birds can be handled correctly. Staff must be trained to shackle birds with minimal force and ensure that both the bird's legs are located in the shackles. As part of the shackling process, staff should be encouraged to momentarily calm each bird by placing a hand on the bird's back. Good shackling practice will not only reduce bird stress, but also minimise flapping that can cause haemorrhages in the breast muscle, so adversely affecting quality. The member of the hang-on team closest to the basket-wash should ensure that all baskets are empty before they are released.

The line should be designed with a breast comforter, which is adjusted so that the bird's breast remains in constant contact with the comforter from hang-on to stun. It is good practice to take time to watch the line from hang to stun to ensure that there are no points at which the birds start to flap or vocalise. Pay particular attention to corners and work with the engineers to modify any points where problems are identified. The breast comforter may gradually be pushed backwards with time and may need re-adjusting periodically.

Entry into the stunner is one of the most critical points along the line. The design should ensure that the birds enter the water bath in one smooth movement. Once again, time needs to be spent observing the behaviour of the birds, looking out for flapping and vocalisation. If not designed and set correctly, birds can be seen to lift themselves in the shackles and 'fly' down the bath, once again compromising welfare and affecting product quality. Problems can occur due to many reasons, such as the entry ramp causing the birds to receive a pre-stun shock, poor ramp design or the bath not being correctly adjusted for the size of the birds. Once again, it is essential to work with your engineers to solve any issues.

The final welfare checks should be made at the exit of the stunner. Firstly, ensure that all birds are stunned and there are no small birds that have missed the bath completely. These should not be caught on the farm and certainly should not be shackled. Check that the stun is effective by looking at the posture of the birds, nictitating eyelid reflex, signs of regular breathing and more extreme reactions such as spontaneous blinking or vocalisation. Checks should be made on every batch processed to ensure that the stun is effective and consistent. The birds should move immediately to the neck cut. Once again, it is good practice to check the efficiency of the cut on a regular basis, especially if this is automatic. Back-up slaughtermen must always be in place to ensure that 100 per cent of the birds are stunned and bled effectively.

In summary, the slaughter line can have significant impacts on both the welfare of the birds and the quality of the finished carcass. It is a good investment to take time to look at the slaughter line in detail as the benefits to the bird and to your business can be significant.

May 2012