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What are the animal welfare issues with on-farm euthanasia of meat chickens?

Article ID: 782
Last updated: 24 Apr, 2019
Revision: 1
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Chickens in the meat industry are sometimes required to be euthanased on-farm if they are weak, sick, injured or unable to walk and will not recover.

As with all euthanasia of animals, it is important that the method used is humane, and therefore either kills the animal immediately or renders them insensible until death without causing pain, suffering or distress. For sick and injured animals, it is important that they are killed without delay, to prevent further stress or suffering.

Currently, the main method of on-farm euthanasia of meat chickens is ‘cervical dislocation’, where the bird’s neck is quickly stretched to separate the spinal cord and the brain stem. When carried out by a trained and competent person, this method results in death by stopping the flow of blood to the brain. The scientific evidence indicates that the chicken does not immediately lose consciousness, so there may be a short period of seconds when they experience pain prior to death.

Two potential alternatives to cervical dislocation are captive-bolt stunning, and gas killing. At present, gas killing equipment is not used for euthanasing individual meat chickens on farm, but this may be used in the future. Small, captive bolt devices have been developed for meat chickens, but further research is needed to validate whether either method is ultimately more humane than cervical dislocation. Other barriers to the adoption of alternatives include access to the technology, portability, concerns about worker health and safety, and training required on farm.

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