Slaughtering poultry

If you are going to keep poultry, even for eggs, you must accept that there may be times when a bird will have to be humanely destroyed. If a bird is grievously injured, then emergency slaughter will be required; chronically sick birds or birds that have been raised for the table will have to be slaughtered also.

The Humane Slaughter Association is a charity dedicated to improving the welfare of all food animals throughout the marketing and slaughter processes. There are publications available to download and to purchase from the website and the Association also runs training courses. The HSA produces a booklet called “Practical Slaughter of Poultry: A guide for the small producer” – I would recommend that you purchase a copy and read it.

By law, birds must be either stunned to render them immediately unconscious until their necks are cut and they die of loss of blood or killed outright using gas, neck dislocation, decapitation or a free bullet. The only exemption is religious slaughter. While this is the legal position, not all methods of doing this are necessarily humane as there is some doubt as to whether every method induces immediate unconsciousness.

Categories of slaughter

There are four categories of slaughter, each subject to different regulations:

Emergency slaughter

A poultry slaughterman’s licence is not required and such birds should be killed as soon as they are identified by the most humane and practical method available, without causing the bird any unnecessary suffering. In most cases, the bird will be of no economic value and the carcase should be disposed of.

Non-emergency culling

A poultry slaughterman’s licence is not required unless the slaughter is for “commercial purpose”. “Commercial purpose” includes the routine culling of end-of-lay hens and requires a licence unless the birds are killed by neck dislocation or decapitation on the farm where they were reared.

Private slaughter

If you are the owner of the bird, a poultry slaughterman’s licence is not required for slaughter for private consumption. The owner of the bird may consume the meat but under no circumstances must it be offered for sale. It is an offence to cause the bird any avoidable pain or suffering.

Commercial slaughter

A poultry slaughterman’s licence is required for commercial slaughter. However, this does not apply to killing by neck dislocation or decapitation on the farm where the bird was reared.

Fit for human consumption

The meat must be fit for human consumption; the bird must be restrained in accordance with the legislation and only the permitted methods of stunning and / or killing used:

  • Electrical stunning followed by bleeding
  • Concussion stunning followed by bleeding
  • Gas killing
  • Neck dislocation
  • Decapitation

To obtain a poultry slaughterman’s licence, you need a certificate of competence from a veterinary surgeon, which must be presented with a fee to the Food Standards Agency. Details are available from your local Animal Health Office.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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