In order to comprehend the laws that preside over the slaughter of farm animals, an individual must recognize the procedure that is being regulated. Consequently, what follows is a concise account of the most important methods of slaughter for three different types of animals: cattle, sheep, and chickens. For every type of animal, the principal method or methods of slaughter used in commercial slaughtering facilities in the United States are explained. To the extent that ritual methods of religious slaughter such as the methods prescribed by the Jewish and Muslim faiths vary from the methods used in secular slaughterhouses, that variation is briefly noted (Donald, 2002).
Some cattle are transported to the vicinity or the slaughterhouses in vans or other vehicles where as at times cattle are made to walk to the slaughterhouses. In any event, they are driven or unloaded into a pen; if they cannot be killed immediately, they are “lairaged,” or kept penned awaiting slaughter. When the time comes for them to be slaughtered, they are driven through chutes to a stunning (“knocking”) station. They normally arrive at the stunning station single file in a narrow chute. As discussed in greater detail below, federal law requires that cattle except those subjected to religious slaughter be stunned before they are slaughtered. The most common method of stunning cattle is captive-bolt stunning: The slaughterer takes a hand-held device, powered by blank gunpowder cartridges or by compressed air, and places it against the forehead of the animal. He then activates the device (pulls the trigger), and the resulting explosion drives a metal bolt through the animal’s skull and into its brain. If done properly, this stuns the animal instantly and normally causes brain death.
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