Get poultry slaughter right this Christmas

Learning how to humanely slaughter poultry on-farm is a priority for small-scale producer-processors, especially in the run up to Christmas. 

Small-scale producers need to know the legal requirements that apply when poultry are:

  • killed in an emergency for animal welfare
  • slaughtered for private domestic consumption 
  • slaughtered for the purpose of directly supplying small quantities of poultrymeat to final consumers or to local retail establishments

In particular, producer-processors must spare animals from avoidable pain, distress or suffering during killing and related operations, which must be carried out by persons with the appropriate level of competence.

Stunning techniques

To achieve this, small-scale producers need to acquaint themselves with the various methods of killing poultry, in accordance with EU regulation (see table below). 

The most commonly used permitted methods for routine on-farm slaughter of poultry are hand-held electrical stunners and captive-bolt stunners that are designed for poultry. 

Captive-bolts can humanely stun a range of poultry species and are versatile option for multi-species producers. The HSA recommends the use of captive-bolt stunning in particular for turkeys, ducks and geese.

The HSA also teaches the techniques for manual and mechanical cervical dislocation where it is appropriate, for example in emergencies to alleviate suffering. 

As an alternative, some equipment is now available for small-scale on-farm killing of poultry using gas mixtures. Once birds are caught and loaded into transport containers on-farm, they need not be directly handled again until they have been killed by the gas.

This offers potential advantages for carcass quality and for bird welfare, reducing any fear and discomfort associated with handling and restraint. 

See also: New stunning rules to come into force from January 2013

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales it appears to be possible to kill a range of species of poultry elsewhere than a slaughterhouse or knacker’s yard with a mixture of 80% inert gas (for example Argon) and 20% carbon dioxide (with less than 5% oxygen).

In Northern Ireland and Wales it is also possible to use inert gases only. In Scotland, legislation permits gas killing of birds on-farm, but only for end-of-lay and end-of-life breeder hens. The legal and practical aspects currently prevent the use of progressive-fill gas systems.

Those who are interested in using gas for on-farm slaughter of poultry or for killing sick/injured birds should contact their veterinary officer at their local Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) office to discuss the legislative and practical details.

Local AHPS offices will also be able to advise on the need for an individual to obtain a slaughter licence to stun and kill poultry, or a certificate of competence.

Permitted methods for slaughtering poultry 


Permitted for routine, non-emergency slaughter?

Captive-bolt stunning*

Yes. Recommended by the HSA

Electric stunning*

Yes. Equipment must immediately render animals unconscious and not simply cause paralysis

Gas stunning*

Yes. Some equipment available for on-farm slaughter

Firearm with free projectile

Yes. May pose a risk to bird welfare and to health and safety of staff because bird’s head is small target and safe restraint may be difficult

Cervical dislocation (CD) (without prior stunning)

No. Permitted only where no other methods are available for stunning and as a back-up method. Maximum live weight 5kg. Additional limits for manual CD: maximum live weight 3kg and maximum of 70 birds per person per day

Percussive blow to the head (using an appropriate tool)

No. Permitted only where no other methods are available for stunning and as a back-up method. Maximum live weight: 5kg. Maximum number of animals: 70 per person per day

NOTE: Methods marked * shall be followed as quickly as possible by a procedure ensuring death such as bleeding, cervical dislocation, electrocution or prolonged exposure to anoxia.


Tips for performing humane slaughter of poultry

  • catch and handle birds individually and keep them upright as much as possible
  • make sure the electrodes are positioned between the eye and the ear on each side of the bird’s head when applying a head-only electrical stunner
  • clean and maintain captive-bolt stunning equipment after each day’s use so it continues to stun birds effectively in future
  • assess each bird for the effectiveness of stunning, eg check for the absence of rhythmic breathing
  • within 10-15sec of stunning, apply a ventral neck cut to sever both carotid arteries and both jugular veins to ensure a rapid bleed

The Humane Slaughter Association works closely with agricultural colleges to offer one-day courses to discuss the principles of good welfare practices and legal requirements throughout the entire slaughter process.  The next course will take place on 11 February 2015 at Plumpton College, Flimwell, East Sussex.  Phone 01580 879547 or visit

See more