In all livestock production systems, no matter how well they are managed, there will be times when animals have to be humanely destroyed in order to protect their welfare. In most cases, these animals will be casualties which have not responded to treatment, or emergencies (animals with serious physical injuries or in acute, unrelievable pain). The latter may occur: on-farm; in transit; in markets, lairages or collection centres; or as a result of accidents on the public highway, at racecourses, shows or exhibitions.

Used properly, firearms provide one of the quickest and most effective methods of humane killing of livestock. This publication has been written for all those, particularly veterinary surgeons, knackermen, slaughtermen, farm staff and police firearms officers, who may be directly or indirectly involved with the killing of large farm animals. It covers the humane destruction of cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, goats and horses, using humane killers, handguns, rifles and shotguns, discharged at close quarters, i.e. within 25 centimetres of the target – the animal’s head. All of these weapons fire free projectiles (single bullets or shot-charges) and their use is intended to kill the animals outright, with no need for further action on the part of the operator. This has definite advantages in certain situations where exsanguination or pithing would be undesirable or inappropriate. 

These guidance notes explain how free projectiles kill animals, describe how the equipment should be used and maintained, and highlight the associated animal welfare and operator safety implications arising from the use and misuse of such equipment. It is strongly recommended that instruction and training should be sought from a qualified and experienced operator before any person attempts to kill an animal using any weapon which discharges free projectiles. It is also recommended that, on the first few occasions at least, newly-trained operators work under experienced supervision, although it is recognised that this may not be possible in the case of extreme emergencies.

As well as the moral and ethical responsibilities associated with the humane destruction of animals, it is incumbent upon owners and operators of firearms to keep them properly maintained and secured at all times in the interests of personal and public safety. 

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