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Animal Transport & Abattoir Operations

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Humans rely on meat products for food, but there are a lot of things to consider when planning on how an animal will get from the farm to an abattoir, and then eventually to your table. Let's take a closer look at the abattoir process.

What is an Abattoir?

If you eat meat, this lesson pertains to you! (Even if you don't eat meat, it's nice to be informed on how food gets from the farm to your table.) An abattoir is also known as a slaughterhouse, and it's the physical facility where animals are killed and processed into meat products. There are a surprising number of things to consider when planning how an animal will get from the farm to an abattoir, and then there are even more things to consider when planning the chain of operation within an abattoir.

Let's start by looking at transportation to an abattoir.

Farm to Abattoir

As humans, we are worried about animal welfare, environmental impacts, and meat quality, and all of these variables factor in as soon as an animal has been fated for an abattoir. Our goal is to minimize the amount of stress an animal experiences, and we can do this by making sure the transportation and handling experience is smooth-running.

There are three steps in getting an animal from the farm to the abattoir:

  • Loading the animals onto a truck at the farm
  • Transporting the animals from a truck to the abattoir
  • Unloading the animals at the abattoir

Thus, we need to consider things like climate, road and driving conditions, transportation time and distance, and even the wait time once livestock arrives at the abattoir. During transport, animals are at risk of stress, bruising, injury, suffocation, heart failure, bloat, heat-related illnesses, dehydration, exhaustion, and fighting, so there are a number of steps we can take to minimize the risk of these from happening.

First, it can help to pre-mix animals that will travel together. This minimizes stress and the chance of fighting. For some species, it's also helpful to provide food and water before the trip (but not for pigs), and keeping horned and unhorned animals apart prevents fighting. Animals should be able to stand the entire time, so sick, injured, or pregnant animals should not be transported, and vehicles should have a portable ramp in case the driver encounters delays.

Keeping the animals calm and healthy not only makes their experience less stressful, it reduces the chance of contamination and increases meat quality.

Abattoir Operations

Once animals have arrived at the abattoir and have been unloaded from the truck, the ideal abattoir operation takes an ''assembly line'' approach. Ideally, animals are given a night to rest in between transportation and processing, but this depends on the facility's timeline and resources.

Leading animals into an abattoir should be a quiet and orderly process, with limited physical pushing or forcing. Inducing panic can lead to trampling, injury, or fighting as animals become distressed. The actual process of killing an animal has two parts: stunning and bleeding. Typically, an animal is led into a small restraint box and the head is mechanically punctured or electrically stunned. With some species, carbon dioxide gassing may be used instead. To meet requirements, the animal should be unconscious prior to bleeding beginning. As the name suggests, bleeding means the blood is removed, usually be severing a major artery, finishing the process of killing the animal.

Then, the ideal scenario is to hang the carcass on hooks for as much of processing as possible, as this reduces contamination. This hanging method is called line-slaughtering, because it resembles an assembly line with stations and workers who have specialized jobs in the process. This is followed by the removal of unwanted parts like feathers, skin, or hair. Waste materials have their own guidelines that must be followed for disposal. This first half of the process is considered the unclean portion of a slaughterhouse because the risk of contamination from waste materials (hair, feet, etc.) is high.

Here you can see poultry carcasses hanging for processing and storage.
poultry processing

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