ANALYSIS - Restraining lambs individually in a V-shaped restrainer for non-stun religious slaughter is more stressful for the sheep than restraining them sequentially as a group.
However, the current welfare legislation for non-stun slaughter for religious purposes only allows individual restraint.
Research from the University of Bristol shows that sequential restraining of the lambs in a group is not only better for their welfare but it also still complies with the 20 second standstill period that is needed after the neck is cut.
Speaking at a seminar in Kenilworth in the UK on Halal meat production, Prof Toby Knowles from Bristol University, who headed up the research said: “Handling systems have changed since the legislation was introduced and the legislation may be out of date now.”
He said that one of the worst things that can be done to a sheep is to isolate it, as “the heart rate goes up and the hormones start to kick in”.
He said that in the research, the team looked at a flock of 200 sheep being sent for slaughter at a commercial slaughter plant.
The sheep were delivered overnight and spent the night in the lairage.
The study used two types of pen to deliver the sheep to the restrainer – a static pen and a rotary pen.
When the sheep were sent for slaughter, they were divided into four groups – one for individual restraint from the static pen, and another for group sequential restraint from the static pen. Similar groups were sent through the new rotary pen.
He said that all the non-stun slaughter animals were held in the restrainer for 20 seconds after the throats were cut.
Prof Knowles said that the sheep that went in groups of 10 through the rotary pen followed each other through to the restrainer and virtually self-loaded, while the sheep in the static pen had to be manually encouraged into the restrainer.
The researchers looked at video evidence of the stress that was being felt by the lambs, the approach the lambs took to the restrainer and the amount of human intervention and also took blood samples to test for plasma cortisol, creatine kinase and lactate concentrations.
The research looked at the loading time to measure stress and also the escape attempts.
In the group loading sets from the static pen, the cortisol and lactate measurements were down compared to the individual loading and the creatine kinase levels showed no difference.
However all three were down in the groups that went to the restrainer through the rotary pen.
Prof Knowles said that the behavioural measurements reflected the other measurements and the loading time was reduced by 145 seconds for the groups of 10 sheep in the rotary pen.
“Individual loading of sheep is required by the current legislation, but it causes greater stress for the sheep than group loading,” Prof Knowles said.
“The new rotary pends also offer some