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Guidelines for the humane care and handling of food animals at slaughter

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There are factors that impact animal welfare prior to the animals being received at the establishment, such as primary production and husbandry practices on the supplying farm and transportation of the animals that are out of the scope of these guidelines.

However, overlaps of obligations will exist, such as during the loading and transportation that the licence holder can influence by specifying expectations for the humane handling of these animals anywhere along the continuum of handling prior to reception at the slaughter establishment. Examples of these overlaps of obligations are the care and handling of unfit or compromised animals, the handling of stressed hogs and the timely arrivals of the transportation conveyances at the slaughter establishment to minimize animal waiting times.

Additional references are available at the end of these guidelines that provide more details for recommendations of best practices in specific areas of care and handling of the food animals at slaughter.


For the purposes of this document, the following definitions apply:

Animal behaviour
In the context of slaughter of a food animal it is behaviour typical for the species that would indicate stress due to pain, heat or chilling, as well as flight zones, points of balance, field of view, depth perception, colour perception, visual and auditory distractions, probable response to stimuli, prior levels of stress and handling experiences, individual animal variations and variations within species, dominance and mixing of lots, herding/flock instincts, social isolation, startle response, and principles of restraint (Comportement animal)
Animal welfare preventive control plan
A written systemic approach to humane handling and slaughter which is documented and auditable detailing procedures relating to animal welfare (Plan de contrôle préventif pour le bien-être des animaux)
Compromised animal
An animal with reduced capacity to withstand transportation but where transportation with special provisions is not likely to lead to suffering, injury or death. (Animal d'élevage fragilisé)
Crowd pen
A pre-stun pen that can be decreased in size to encourage animals to move in a specific direction (Enclos d'attente pré-assommage)
Dead on arrival. (MA - Mort à l'arrivée)
Establishment operator
The operator or legal entity granted a licence to conduct processing operations in an establishment that slaughters animals for food (Exploitant d'établissement)
A loss of balance, where a body part above the knee (carpus/hock) such as the shoulder or hip of an animal touches the floor (Chute)
Humane handling
Method of handling and slaughter practices that cause a minimum of excitement, pain, injury, or discomfort the outcome being to prevent avoidable suffering to the food animal (Manipulation humanitaire)
Lairage for slaughter

An area of the establishment (both within and outside of the slaughter facility) where animals are housed and held before slaughter, including birds or rabbits in crates or cages and encompasses all pre-slaughter facilities, including the:

  • barn
  • live animal sheds
  • ramps
  • chutes
  • corrals
  • pens and alleys, and
  • holding facilities and feedlots

where animals are unloaded, pending movement or herding to slaughter. Note that crated animals are considered to still be in transport until they are removed from the crates (Installations d'attente)

A bird or animal that, due to metabolic or systemic compromise, age, or injury, is close to death (Moribond)
Non-ambulatory animal
Means an animal of the bovine, caprine, cervid, equine, ovine, porcine or ratite species that is unable to stand without assistance or to move without being dragged or carried, includes the definition of "downer" (Animal non ambulatoire)
Pre-stun pen
A pen near the stunning area used to hold animals prior to slaughter (Enclos de pré-assomage)
Birds that are farmed as domesticated animals and that are used for food (Volaille)
Restraint conveyor
A moving conveyor that holds an animal in the correct position for accurate stunning (Convoyeur de contention)
An instrument used to suspend animals by one leg for red meat species or two legs for poultry (Étrier ou crochet)
Suspending birds or red meat animals by a shackle (Accrochage)
Slip (vs. fall)
An animal loses its footing, and the knee (carpus/ hock) of an animal touches the ground (Glissade)
Spent hens
(also called "end-of-lay" hens) Laying hens that are being culled at the end of their production cycle. Because of their metabolically fragile state, spent hens are at increased risk for injury and death during transportation and while being held in the holding areas prior to slaughter. (Poules de réforme)
Stun box (knocking box)
A small enclosure in which individual animals are confined for stunning (Boîte d'assommage)
Stunning pen
A pen where animals are stunned, usually in small groups (e.g., lambs, pigs) (Enclos d'assommage)
Suspect animals
Food animals that are sick or injured or suspected sick, any animal showing deviation from normal appearance or behaviour and those suspected of harbouring residues. These animals are to be segregated and clearly identified (Animal suspect)

Receiving of food animals at the establishment

Receiving of the food animals that were procured to be slaughtered should be included as part of the specification requirements in the license holder's Preventive Control Plan (PCP). The PCP should clearly outline conditions of acceptability of the animals, including good animal welfare handling practices starting with loading of the animals, in addition to the condition and health of the animals to be loaded, unloading and housing of these animals. This will help the animals arrive at the establishment in optimal condition to undergo the stress of slaughter better.

PCP specification requirements for producers, catchers, transporters

Slaughter establishment design - animal welfare considerations

Unloading facility design

The licence holder is responsible to ensure the unloading facility area has the proper design and protocol to receive the animals and that it is designed or adapted for the species to be slaughtered.

Unloading ramps and/or docks are designed and maintained to minimize slipping, distress, and injury. They should be sturdy, well maintained, drained, have secure footing (i.e. non-slippery, scored, or slats) and have sides that are sufficiently high to prevent escape or injury. From a practical aspect, the unloading facilities should permit the examination and inspection of animals when they are unloaded directly at the facility. There should be sufficient lighting in this area for properly observing the animals during unloading without causing the animals to balk or become agitated. For example, lighting should not cause shadows in the alleyways or races or reflections on water or metal that could startle and frighten the animal resulting in the animal refusing to move forward.

The unloading facilities should accommodate the types, widths, and heights of all transport vehicles used to transport animals to the plant.

The yard, dock, and/or ramp should enable animals to be unloaded without a gap occurring between the unloading facility and the transport vehicle(s). There should be no gap between the sides and the floor of the ramp that could cause injury or distraction.

Unloading ramps should have a level dock before the ramps go down so animals can walk on a level surface when they exit the truck. Ramp slopes and treads should be designed for the species being slaughtered. For example, ramp slopes should be:

Lairage design

The lairage facility should be designed to enable all personnel to:

The lairage facility, pens, gates and ante-mortem examination or inspection areas should be designed, maintained, and operated to:

Areas for animals in crates or cages

Lairage for animals in crates or cages, such as poultry or rabbits, includes live storage shed, live receiving, yard, and place(s) where trucks are parked, pending unloading. The area where trucks are parked for unloading should be enclosed by a structure that provides protection from the elements, such as a shed.

Lairage facilities for animals in crates should be designed, constructed, maintained and operated to:

The lairage facilities for animals in crates should have:

Handling, moving and restraining food animals

Handling and care in lairage prior to slaughter and overnight as applicable - general principles

The plant operator's written animal welfare preventive control plan should include:

Ambulatory food animals - PCP

The plant operator's written animal welfare PCP should include control measures for:

Live animal receiving training protocol

In addition, the training protocol for personnel should include:

Handling non-ambulatory and compromised animals

The written animal welfare PCP should include written training for establishment personnel to handle non-ambulatory and compromised animals both:

Stressed hogs

Moving and driving animals

Handling aids

Electric prod use

Use prods:

Acceptable alternative handling aids

Handling of food animals in cages, crates and other modules (poultry and rabbits)

Emergency contingency plan

The licence holder's PCP should include an emergency contingency plan that can be realistically implemented regularly reviewed and is kept up to date. This will be customized to the establishment depending on the set-up, design and geographic location. It could include, for example:

This plan should also include short term emergency procedures especially for line stoppages due to break-downs of any equipment required for slaughter or employee problems. These emergency procedures may include, for example:

Additional References

CFIA guidelines for an animal welfare PCP

Guidelines for animal welfare preventive control plans and self-audits for the slaughter of food animals

Evidence showing an animal welfare preventive measure is effective

General references for best practices for humane care and handling of food animals

World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH; founded as Office International des Épizooties (OIE)), Chapter 7.5, Slaughter of Animals

Dr. Temple Grandin's Web Page: Livestock Behaviour, Design of Facilities and Humane Slaughter

National Farm Animal Care Council Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals

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