Food for Thought

Slaugh­ter­ing, by Tim Tyne

Country Smallholding - - Contents -

Let us get one thing straight: eat­ing one’s own live­stock is a per­fectly nor­mal thing to do. It is the prin­ci­pal rea­son why an­i­mals were do­mes­ti­cated in the first place. Other con­sid­er­a­tions — such as milk and fi­bre — came later. It is also per­fectly nat­u­ral that you de­velop a sen­ti­men­tal at­tach­ment to the an­i­mals that you keep and feel a touch of emo­tion when they are slaugh­tered. You wouldn’t be hu­man if you didn’t.

The early do­mes­ti­ca­tion of live­stock, which hap­pened about 8,000 years ago, is what en­abled hu­mans, as a species, to give up the old hunter-gath­erer way of life, set­tle down and be­come ‘civilised’. Whether this is al­to­gether a good thing is a de­bate for an­other day, but it does rather seem as though, de­prived of the need to hunt, we spend an aw­ful lot of time do­ing nasty things to each other. Such is progress, I sup­pose.

Pro­duc­ing meat from do­mes­tic live­stock has, of course, swung the bal­ance of power heav­ily in our favour. No longer do we have to pur­sue our quarry in its own en­vi­ron­ment just for the sake of a square meal. A neg­a­tive spin-off from this is the very real risk that an­i­mals be­come mere commodities, to be churned out with pro­duc­tion-line like same­ness to

sat­isfy a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of con­sumers who re­ally don’t care. There is also the is­sue of re­spect, par­tic­u­larly at the time of slaugh­ter, for the life that the an­i­mal has lived and the sac­ri­fice it is mak­ing in death. These sen­ti­ments are very much in ev­i­dence still among those races that adhere to the old ways, and also among the hunt­ing fra­ter­nity in Europe, Scan­di­navia and other parts of the ‘de­vel­oped’ world.

Cer­tain re­li­gions, too, have strict guide­lines about this. How­ever, the av­er­age west­erner tuck­ing into a juicy steak or a slice of chicken breast has men­tally dis­tanced him­self from the re­al­ity of what he is eat­ing, which to my mind is wrong.

The ul­ti­mate re­spect we can show to our an­i­mals is to make sure that, when the time comes, their death is as quick, hu­mane and stress-free as pos­si­ble, and then to keep wastage to an ab­so­lute min­i­mum. As small­hold­ers, pro­duc­ing rel­a­tively low num­bers of an­i­mals for slaugh­ter each year, we are well placed to en­sure that this hap­pens.

Con­sid­er­ing the op­tions

There are re­ally only two op­tions avail­able to you if you want to get an an­i­mal slaugh­tered for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion: you ei­ther take it to an abat­toir or kill it your­self. The third (and, to my mind, most sen­si­ble) op­tion — that of get­ting an ex­pe­ri­enced slaugh­terer to come to your hold­ing and kill and cut up the an­i­mal for you — is, un­for­tu­nately, il­le­gal in the UK. Of course, in ru­ral ar­eas where live­stock are kept, this tra­di­tional prac­tice does still oc­cur and ex­pe­ri­enced small­holder read­ers are prob­a­bly nod­ding know­ingly by this stage, but I can’t say any more about it here for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.


The chal­lenge here is to find an abat­toir that is a) within rea­son­able trav­el­ling dis­tance, and b) does pri­vate slaugh­ter. Sadly, small lo­cal abat­toirs are rapidly be­com­ing a thing of the past as ex­ces­sive bu­reau­cracy has forced them out of busi­ness and the larger op­er­a­tors aren’t very keen on un­der­tak­ing pri­vate slaugh­ter­ing. To them the small­holder is just a fly in their oint­ment, a nui­sance that dis­rupts the smooth run­ning of a fairly com­plex op­er­a­tion which de­pends upon ef­fi­ciency and con­sis­tency to sat­isfy the de­mands of the su­per­mar­kets. How­ever, be as­sured that how­ever im­per­sonal these places feel, the peo­ple who work there are gen­er­ally good stock­men who will han­dle your an­i­mals sym­pa­thet­i­cally.

Hav­ing lo­cated a suit­able fa­cil­ity, it is quite a good idea to pay a visit in ad­vance of the day you are plan­ning to take your an­i­mals. Fa­mil­iarise your­self with the lay­out of the place, so you know ex­actly where you will have to un­load your trailer. Go home and prac­tice re­vers­ing — if nec­es­sary. Find out what day of the week is set aside for do­ing pri­vate kills and what time your an­i­mals will need to be there. Dou­ble check the pa­per­work re­quire­ments. Some abat­toirs will have their own ‘food chain dec­la­ra­tion’ forms that you will need to fill in in ad­di­tion to the of­fi­cial doc­u­ments.

Also find out whether the abat­toir is able to cut up the car­casses for you, as some don’t pro­vide this ser­vice. If they do, you will need to write out a de­tailed cut­ting list and also note whether you wish to get back any of the ‘ex­tras’, such as of­fal and hides (al­though don’t be too sur­prised if you find, when you re­turn to col­lect them, that they went in the bin). If your cho­sen abat­toir doesn’t of­fer a cut­ting ser­vice then you will need to make al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments for the car­casses to be butchered, or just take them home as they are and cut them up on the kitchen ta­ble.

Fi­nally, make sure that your an­i­mals are fit to go. Lambs may need to be belly-clipped (it’s quite a good idea to do this any­way) and crutched, and cat­tle may also need clip­ping if they are en­crusted with mud or dung. Ob­vi­ously don’t sub­mit any an­i­mal

that is in­jured or un­well (un­less you have a ve­teri­nary cer­tifi­cate al­low­ing for it to be trans­ported di­rectly to slaugh­ter, and the abat­toir has agreed in ad­vance to ac­cept it) and don’t take any an­i­mal that is un­fit to travel. Also make sure that your an­i­mals are cor­rectly iden­ti­fied and that the ID matches the pa­per­work.

Home kill

I con­fess that I am a strong ad­vo­cate of do­mes­tic home slaugh­ter­ing and I wish it was more widely prac­tised among smallscale live­stock keep­ers. How­ever, I must point out that home-killed meat can only be con­sumed by your­self and by those peo­ple who are nor­mally res­i­dent in your house­hold. If you wish to sell, swap, barter or give away any part of it, or share it with your guests, the an­i­mal must have been slaugh­tered pro­fes­sion­ally in a li­censed abat­toir.

From an an­i­mal wel­fare point of view, I feel that home slaugh­ter­ing has the edge over the more con­ven­tional process, as it avoids the stress of a jour­ney and of be­ing han­dled by un­known peo­ple in an un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment. This is par­tic­u­larly the case now that abat­toirs are so few and far be­tween.

Slaugh­ter­ing live­stock at home is best car­ried out us­ing a small bore shot­gun, such as a .410, as it both stuns and kills in one op­er­a­tion. Death is in­stan­ta­neous. This is the method rec­om­mended by the Hu­mane Slaugh­ter As­so­ci­a­tion (HSA) which also pro­duces some use­ful guid­ance on the sub­ject. Visit In its own words, the HSA is ‘an in­de­pen­dent char­ity that works through sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal ad­vances, ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing to­wards achiev­ing the high­est world­wide stan­dards in food an­i­mal wel­fare dur­ing transport, mar­ket­ing and slaugh­ter’.

In or­der to ac­quire a suit­able firearm, you will first need to ap­ply to your re­gional po­lice force for a shot­gun cer­tifi­cate. Pro­vided that you don’t have a crim­i­nal past then this is a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward pro­ce­dure. In ad­di­tion to slaugh­ter­ing and the hu­mane de­struc­tion of ca­su­alty an­i­mals, a .410 shot­gun is ideal for car­ry­ing out pest con­trol and for putting small game on the din­ner ta­ble, so in my opin­ion it is an es­sen­tial bit of kit for small­hold­ers. I have been us­ing one for the home slaugh­ter of do­mes­tic live­stock since I was in my mid teens and it has proved it­self per­fectly suit­able for sheep, goats, pigs and cat­tle.

If, for what­ever rea­son, you are un­able or un­will­ing to ac­quire a shot­gun, then it is pos­si­ble to ob­tain a cap­tive bolt pis­tol with­out any kind of li­cense. How­ever, a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence and skill is re­quired to slaugh­ter an­i­mals us­ing a cap­tive bolt as it is a stun­ner and not a killer. Per­son­ally, I wouldn’t rec­om­mend it.

The act of slaugh­ter

I have lost count of the num­ber of times peo­ple have said to me: “Ooh, isn’t it dif­fi­cult to kill your own an­i­mals?” There­fore I would like to point out that, in my opin­ion, the killing is the easy bit. Fright­en­ingly so. It is all over and done with in an in­stant. The dif­fi­cult bit — the skin­ning, the gut­ting, the butch­ery, etc — comes later.

Lack of space pre­vents me from go­ing into any great de­tail here, but the fol­low­ing points should guide you in the right di­rec­tion:

Ideally, pen up the an­i­mal overnight first so that its gut is empty. Don’t deprive it of fresh water, though.

Avoid stress. Han­dle the an­i­mal and talk to it, just as you would on any other day.

Get all of your equip­ment laid out be­fore you start and brief your helpers (if any). Safety is para­mount, par­tic­u­larly when firearms are in­volved.

Af­ter be­ing penned overnight, the an­i­mal will be hun­gry, so it should be easy enough to en­tice it into the killing area. Per­suade it to stand still with the of­fer of food. Al­ter­na­tively, in the case of sheep, goats and cat­tle, re­strain it us­ing a hal­ter.

Us­ing your .410, shoot the an­i­mal in the mid­dle of the fore­head at a range of about 6in. The ex­act po­si­tion and an­gle of the shot varies be­tween species, so please do ap­pro­pri­ate re­search be­fore­hand. In the case of heav­ily horned sheep and goats, it might be nec­es­sary to shoot them in the back of the head in­stead.

Don’t dilly-dally. Be firm and de­ci­sive in your ac­tions. If you hes­i­tate and miss the mo­ment then the an­i­mal will be­come sus­pi­cious of your be­hav­iour and things will be­gin to go wrong.

As soon as you have shot the an­i­mal, you should bleed it. If you have used a shot­gun then this isn’t strictly an es­sen­tial part of the slaugh­ter­ing process, but meat from an an­i­mal that has been bled will re­main fresh for longer.

De­tailed step-by-step guide­lines for the home slaugh­ter of dif­fer­ent types of do­mes­tic live­stock and poul­try can be found in Tim Tyne’s book Vi­able Self-Suf­fi­ciency (ISBN num­ber 978-1-904871-92-7).

NEXT MONTH: How to trans­form the car­cass into an ed­i­ble end prod­uct.

Eat­ing one’s own an­i­mals is a nor­mal thing to do

Piglets sold for fat­ten­ing may be un­suit­able for breed­ing

Not all abat­toirs have a cut­ting fa­cil­ity

Pay a visit to your lo­cal abat­toir to fa­mil­iarise your­self with the lay­out of the place

Young chil­dren do not need to be shielded from re­al­ity

Home-killed lamb car­casses hang­ing in our store room

A .410 shot­gun is the ideal tool for slaugh­ter­ing all types of do­mes­tic live­stock

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