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Pre-plan for emergency slaughter

Animal Health: An animal’s suffering should be ended as soon as possible

All producers run into the need for emergency slaughter from time to time to preserve the value of an animal and prevent the waste of good meat protein.

By its very nature these are emergency situations so it is important to pre-plan the chain of events that would happen in cases when it becomes necessary.

My examples focus on cattle and the provincial rules for ante-mortem inspection in Alberta. Bear in mind the regulations could vary slightly depending on the province.

When a bull breaks a leg or an animal becomes a downer due to a back injury or severely lame from a stifle injury so that it can’t be transported, emergency slaughter is often a viable solution. Another example would be when you are dealing with an unmanageable mature animal.

In most cases these animals still have value, plus there is often a need to end the animal’s suffering as quickly as possible.

They are called emergencies for a reason. A downer may be in pain and the muscle damage and trimming losses increase the longer an animal is down.

Once the decision is made to butcher these animals, and it is evident there are no drug residues, then the path is fairly clear on what to do.

Producers can always butcher for their own use and there are many on-farm mobile butchers that can facilitate this process. In these cases if the producer or the mobile butcher notice any type of pathology they are concerned about, a veterinarian can check the tissue and if in any doubt send it away to determine if it is diseased or the meat is edible.

Over the years many a farm butcher, mobile butcher, or hunter for that matter have brought specimens in to be checked. Better safe than sorry, especially when the meat in this carcass is for your family’s consumption. You will need to find out if this is a service your local veterinarian wants to provide. I suggest bringing in the fresh specimen so it can be prepared for further processing. Putting it on ice in a sealed container for transport to the clinic works well. We must always keep biosecurity in mind.

Beyond the local butcher there is a way to get the meat inspected so it can be sold. This involves co-operation between the owner or auction market operator or custom feedlot plus the veterinarian and the provincially accredited processing facility.

A veterinarian in Alberta has to undergo a course to become an appointed inspector by Alberta Agriculture. That way one is familiar with everything from specified risk materials to aging of cattle by teeth to which lymph nodes are checked on the inspection floor. Veterinarians are then qualified to do an ante-mortem inspection that is a health check before death. The animal is then humanely put down (gun shot or captive bolt) by the inspector and bled out. The carcass can then be loaded and taken to a provincial plant where it can be further inspected and processed.

Some provincial plants only have inspectors on site certain days so this needs to be checked out and verified. You need to ensure there is time allotted. If this is all done correctly and the necessary paperwork filled out, which isn’t onerous, the meat can be sold.

After bleeding, depending on ambient temperature, they like the carcass delivered preferably within one to two hours. This may vary according to the province. There may be some leniency for unexpected delays but the idea is to get the carcass in as quickly as possible for gutting, skinning and chilling in the interest of better meat quality and minimal contamination.

I know this seems like a lot of effort but with good communication between the plant and the veterinary inspector most times high-quality beef is available for sale.

In my eyes the majority of these cases occur at auction markets, during processing or loading cattle and when bulls are turned out to pasture and fighting occurs.

If these slaughter services are available they can be used. I know of instances where once the meat was inspected it was offered to employees or even donated to a food bank, or the plant may buy it. The choice will be yours.

A large animal veterinary clinic in Ontario has taken this service to the ultimate degree. They have veterinarians certified to do the ante-mortem inspection and provide transportation in special trucks right to the plant and do the inspection at the plant if no inspectors are on that day. This is an excellent service and they should be commended for their efforts. The service is widely used because it is available and the economic decision of the worthiness of the carcass is made on site depending on the necessity of the situation. The veterinarian does the inspection to the level he/she has to in order to ensure the beef animal is edible. This includes body temperature, even various neurologic exams; whatever is deemed necessary for that individual case and then it is further followed up at the plant

With transport regulations becoming harsher we can definitely make it easier on these non-resolvable lame cattle by using the emergency slaughter route.

In many situations an appointment can be booked and the plant informed so this is not always an absolute emergency. In other cases, if necessary, painkillers with short withdrawal times can be prescribed to minimize the delay.

If you want this service seek out a veterinarian who is already certified or encourage the ones you use to become certified. The local plant may get more business and you will have salvaged some good quality beef, so it’s a win-win-win situation for all concerned.

We need to evaluate every emergency slaughter case to prevent other similar ones but accidents or fluky events cannot be predicted.

I hope this article gets some veterinarians thinking about providing this service and encourages producers to be proactive and create a plan in the event an emergency slaughter situation comes along.

I realize some producers are far from provincial-type plants but they still have the option of keeping the meat for themselves and salvaging some value out of an unfortunate event.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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