Animal slaughter fact file

We're just as concerned about how farm animals are transported, handled and slaughtered as we are about how they're treated during their time on the farm.

two cows standing next to a gate in a field

On this page, we'll explain the processes used to slaughter farm animals in the UK.

The slaughter process has two stages:

  • Stunning, when performed correctly, causes an animal to lose consciousness, so the animal can't feel pain. The law states that, with few exceptions, all animals must be stunned before 'sticking' (neck cutting) is carried out.
  • Sticking is when an animal's neck is cut, using a very sharp knife, to sever the major blood vessels in its neck and chest that supply the brain, ensuring rapid blood loss and therefore death.

Slaughter of large animals

There are various methods available to stun larger animals.

These include:

  • Penetrating captive bolt - used on cattle, sheep and some pigs. A gun fires a metal bolt into the brain of the animal, causing it 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 a 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 - used on pigs and 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 while the slaughter person sticks the animal.

Slaughtering poultry

There are two main methods used for the slaughter of poultry:

1. Gas killing

The majority of poultry (chickens, hens and turkeys) in the UK are now killed using gas. There are a number of different types of gas killing systems and gas mixtures that may be used. Birds remain in their transport crates and are placed into a gas system, where they're 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.

2. Electrical stunning

With this method, 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, and 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. Live bird shackling causes pain, and hanging birds by their legs is stressful for them.

Non-stun slaughter (religious slaughter)

For information about non-stun slaughter for religious reasons, please see our religious slaughter page.

Find out more