Cattle StunAround the world, billions of animals are reared for food. It is important that the slaughter of these animals is carried out in a way which causes no avoidable pain or suffering. Over the years this has led to the development of specialist equipment and techniques which kill animals humanely. The captive-bolt stunner was one of the first pieces of equipment to be developed, becoming commercially available in the UK in 1922. Today, having undergone modification and improvement, it remains one of the most versatile pieces of stunning equipment, both within abattoirs and out in the field. It is now used throughout the world, in countries where the principles of humane killing have been widely accepted.  Although the captive-bolt is used mainly for stunning cattle, sheep and goats, it is also employed to a lesser extent for pigs, horses and farmed deer. Captive-bolt stunning equipment has also been developed for poultry; information on captive-bolt stunning of poultry can be found in the online guide titled 'Practical Slaughter of Poultry - A Guide for the Smallholder and Small-Scale Producer', produced by the HSA.

The humane killing of livestock with captive-bolt equipment is a two-stage process. First, the animal must be effectively stunned, rendering it immediately insensible to pain. Second, the major blood vessels in the neck or thorax are cut, or pithing is performed. The animal then dies from a lack of oxygen to the brain, caused by loss of blood, or by destruction of the brainstem. It is important to remember that the captive-bolt is a humane stunner and the stun must always be followed immediately by bleeding or pithing. The animal must remain unconscious from the initial stun until death occurs. Whilst it may appear that captive-bolt stunning is a straightforward procedure, great care must be taken in its operation, as both operator error and equipment failure will severely compromise animal welfare.

These guidance notes explain how captive-bolt stunning works, how the equipment should be used and maintained, and highlights the associated animal welfare implications. They will be of particular value to anyone using, or supervising the use of, captive-bolt equipment.

Please do not read further or view the video clips if you feel you may be negatively affected by the content.

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