During an outbreak of infectious disease, large-scale depopulation of livestock may be necessary to curb further spread of the pathogen and prevent associated welfare problems arising. The health and welfare of infected or at-risk animals is a primary concern. Additionally, zoonotic diseases which can be transmitted between animals and humans pose health risks to people. If a notifiable disease is confirmed on your premises, the relevant authorities must be informed. In the UK this is the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). 

This online guide provides practical guidance on the emergency killing of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer and poultry for disease control purposes. It is primarily aimed at livestock producers, veterinary surgeons, knackermen, killing personnel, animal welfare inspectors, animal health officers, students and other people who may be involved with the emergency killing of livestock.  Some information is provided which relates to UK regulations and practices but the general principles should be useful to those in other jurisdictions. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in depopulation to ensure they comply with relevant local legislation.

Important points about this website

This guide is intended to assist operators in planning for, and performing, the emergency killing of livestock during outbreaks of disease. In order to safeguard the welfare of the animals to be killed, it is necessary for the guide to be both thorough and illustrated. As such, some people may find some of the descriptions and graphics upsetting. Please do not read further if you feel you may be negatively affected by the content.

For more detailed information about the equipment mentioned in this guide, see the other titles available in the HSA’s series of online guides e.g. ‘Humane Killing of Livestock Using Firearms’ All methods of killing livestock are also potentially lethal to humans. If you are in any doubt as to any aspect of the operation of this type of equipment you should consult the manufacturer. In no circumstances can the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) accept any liability for the way in which firearms are used, or any loss, damage, injury or death caused thereby, since this depends on circumstances wholly outside the HSA’s control.

The HSA aims to provide up-to-date and accurate information. If you have suggestions for improving any of the material included in this guide please let us know at or using the contact details provided on the HSA website.

Download a printable PDF version of this online guide from the menu on the left.

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