Providing a Good Death on Farm
Dr. Melissa Moggy, Alberta Farm Animal Care
The decision to euthanise on farm is a difficult decision every producer has to make. Euthanising on farm may be necessary when a sick or injured animal is unresponsive to treatment, has a poor chance of recovery, and is unfit for transportation. When not performed correctly, on-farm euthanasia can cause unwanted pain and suffering.
Gunshot is one of the most common methods of euthanasia producers perform for production species.Benefits of this method are that it is suitable for all ages (given that the appropriate firearm is used), if properly performed it results in immediate unconsciousness, cost is relatively low, and it does not require the producer to get too close to the animal. This is likely not the most appropriate method for poultry, however. Regardless of the method used, producers must take safety measures for themselves and bystanders. Refer to your species-specific “Code of Practice” for more information on proper placement and appropriate methods of euthanasia (www.nfacc.ca).
After your chosen method of euthanasia has been performed, death will typically take a few minutes. To avoid unwanted pain and suffering, it is important to check if the animal is insensible to pain. To check for insensibility, touch the eyeball (not the eyelid) and see if the animal blinks – this is known as the corneal reflex. An insensible animal will not blink. If the animal does blink, you will need to perform a secondary method of euthanasia, often another gunshot.
“Keep your personal safety in mind!”
Keep your personal safety in mind! Animals will often flail for a few seconds after your chosen method is performed. Wait for this to stop before approaching the animal. Approach the animal from the back. Do not place yourself between the legs. If the animal is still conscious, it can kick out.
Once you have confirmed that the animal is insensible, you will need to monitor the animal until confirmed dead (this may take several minutes). To confirm death, check for a lack of heartbeat and breathing. To check for a heartbeat, place your hand (or a stethoscope if you have one) on the lower left chest. To check for breathing, watch the chest for any movement (this is an easier measurement in poultry). The heartbeat and breathing can often be slow and erratic at this time, so take the time to ensure that they have stopped.
If you are uncomfortable with your ability to euthanise your animals, work with your veterinarian.Your veterinarian can explain the appropriate methods for your operation.Your veterinarian can also work with you to make an on-farm euthanasia plan. Having a clear outline of action for your operation will make the process easier for you, your employees, and your animals.