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You are here: HomePublicationsEmergency SlaughterMethodsCaptive-bolt stunning

Captive-bolt stunning

Cattle StunCaptive-bolt stunning followed by bleeding or pithing can be used for emergency killing of animals where a free-bullet is impractical for safety reasons. Certification and licensing may be necessary for the use of this method.

A captive-bolt stunner fires a retractable bolt against the animal’s head and in many cases into the animal’s brain, rendering it immediately unconscious. The animal will collapse, but there may be some involuntary movement of the limbs. There is likely to be some bleeding from the hole in the skull made by the bolt and from the nose of the animal.

A rapid death is ensured by bleeding or pithing the animal immediately after stunning. Whilst both these procedures are humane when carried out correctly, they may be distressing to watch and require a competent and confident operator.

Pithing is the physical destruction of the brain by insertion of a cane or rod through the hole in the skull made by the bolt. During pithing the animal will initially exhibit violent involuntary muscle contraction. An animal that has been pithed must not be used for human or animal consumption. More information: Pithing.

The easiest way to bleed an animal in an emergency is to cut the throat completely from ear to ear, exposing the spine and ensuring all major blood vessels are cut. Due to the specific blood supply to the brain in cattle, it is worthwhile performing a chest stick after the throat cut; insert the knife into the furrow at the base of the neck, aiming into the chest to sever the blood vessels where they emerge from the heart. The signs of an effective bleed out are rapid blood loss for around two minutes. More information: Bleeding.

› See the HSA online guide to Captive-bolt Stunning of Livestock for more detailed information on the use of captive-bolt equipment. Information is available on the types of equipment available, the correct positioning for different species and the maintenance procedures and safety considerations.


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