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Slaughter Factfile

The slaughter process has two stages:

Sheep in a lairage prior to slaughter © RSPCA

Stunning - when performed correctly, causes an animal to lose consciousness, so the animal can’t feel pain. The law states that, with few exemptions, all animals must be stunned before ‘sticking’ is carried out.

Sticking - is when an animal’s throat is cut, using a very sharp knife, severing the major blood vessels in its neck/chest that supply the brain, ensuring rapid blood loss and therefore death.

Slaughter of large animals


  • Penetrating captive bolt - used on cattle, sheep and some pigs. A gun fires a metal bolt into the brain of the animal causing the animal to lose consciousness immediately.
  • Electrical - used on sheep, calves and pigs. An electrical current is passed through the animal’s brain via a large pair of tongs, causing temporary loss of consciousness. Some systems also pass the current through the heart, so the animal is not just stunned but also killed.
  • Gas stunning/killing - of pigs involves the use of gas mixtures. Pigs are exposed to high concentrations of gas (currently carbon dioxide).


After stunning the animal is shackled by a hind leg and hoisted above the ground and the slaughter person sticks the animal.

Slaughter of poultry

Electrical stunning

  • Birds are hung upside down by their legs on metal shackles along a moving conveyor belt. 
  • They move along the production line to a stunning water bath; when the bird’s head makes contact with the water, an electrical circuit between the water bath and shackle is completed, which stuns the bird. 
  • The conveyor belt then moves the birds to a mechanical neck cutter, which cuts the major blood vessels in the neck.

Controlled Atmosphere Systems

  • Many chickens, hens and turkeys are now killed using gas. 
  • Birds remain in their transport crates and are placed into a gas chamber where they are exposed to mixtures of air and gas, until dead. 
  • This method avoids the need to handle and 'shackle' live birds, so has some welfare advantages. 
  • UK law states that animals must be killed, not just stunned, using this method.

Slaughter without pre-stunning (for religious purposes)

Please see our religious slaughter page.

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