An Overview Of Cow Behavior At The Slaughterhouse
Understanding non-human animal behavior is essential to understanding animal welfare. And one of the key ways that we interpret farmed animal welfare is by how much a given situation allows them to express their natural behaviors. One of the most unnatural places for animals is the slaughterhouse. And slaughterhouse welfare is a divisive topic at the best of times. While divisive, it’s not a complete unknown. Many studies have looked at the behavioral and physiological reactions of animals at various stages of slaughter, as well as during transport before slaughter.
In this study, researchers wanted to study animal reactions—specifically those of cows—from the moment of arrival at a slaughterhouse until slaughter “while avoiding any interference with the abattoir procedures.” They note that slaughterhouses “vary greatly in their functioning.” They wanted to produce quantitative data that might guide general procedures at slaughterhouses. And they aimed to determine the practical constraints that underlie certain “habits of the abattoir.”
The study was conducted at a French commercial slaughterhouse. This abattoir slaughters a mix of cows, calves, and sheep, using both conventional and halal procedures. The researchers gathered their data over two different periods, each lasting five consecutive days. And they recorded procedures, animal reactions, and characteristics without interference.
The researchers noted that, in general, cows traveled 30 hours (+/- 6.4 hours) before arriving at the slaughterhouse. Those familiar with animal transport will know that this is a long time to be in transit, but not entirely unusual for animals traveling to slaughter. Also, they noted that animals spent an average of 20 hours (+/- 1.9 hours) in the abattoir until slaughter, but some (13.5%, specifically the halal-slaughtered females) spent more than 35 hours in the lairage—the pre-slaughter waiting area. The researchers noted that 87.7% of animals were prodded to make them enter the stunning box. But previous industry-oriented research has suggested that, with respect to animal welfare, at least 75% of animals should enter the stunning or slaughter box without being prodded.
The notes above are just some of the observations from the study. Though many of them are hard to stomach, they are worth advocates’ awareness. These findings represent one slaughterhouse in one region. But the researchers note that their systematic collection of data shows promise as a method for being able to quantify animal behavior and reactions at slaughter. This may then lead to changes in slaughter practices to strive for better animal welfare during the process.