Group-stunning of sheep, calves and goats is a common practice, particularly in small- to medium-sized abattoirs, with the design and operation of such systems having changed little for many years. The ‘Report on the Welfare of Farmed Animal at Slaughter or Killing, Part 1: Red Meat Animals’, produced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) in 2003, highlighted the fact that there was no legislative guidance relating to the design, construction or use of pens for group-stunning situations. It also noted that stocking densities in group-stun pens were likely to have a significant impact on animal welfare.
The purpose of the proposed project is to determine the optimal design and operational criteria to maximise the welfare of sheep, calves and goats slaughtered in a group-stun situation. The proposal seeks to determine the optimal stocking densities for each of the species individually, and, within each species, for a range of animal weights. The project will begin by gathering information on current industry practices, by visiting a number of abattoirs that use group-stun systems. Data collected from these visits will be summarised, presented to Defra, and draft guidelines on stocking densities for stun pens agreed. In order to achieve and maintain a set stocking density in a group-stun pen, modifications to existing stun pens systems are likely to be necessary. The proposed project will design and test prototypes for maintaining an optimal stocking density in a research situation, prior to installing two test systems in a commercial abattoir to evaluate their effectiveness under commercial situations, and in order to identify any further modifications that may be required.
The output from the project will be a set of ‘Best Practice Guidelines’ that would be disseminated to the industry, and which can also be incorporated into Defra’s Code of Practice for the welfare of animals at slaughter. The proposed project will directly address Defra’s Animal Welfare Research Programme objective of improving welfare at slaughter, and thereby contribute to the Department’s strategic aim of ensuring that consumers benefit from competitively priced food, produced to high standards of animal welfare.