The stunned cow…

Cow to the slaughter

The bang from the captive bolt gun startled me as the bull dropped to the ground with a thud. Maybe because I’ve worked with cows more that pigs, or it was a bigger animal but something moved inside me.

I was at the slaughter house again; however today was cattle and this time we were there in time for the stunning and killing. Maybe it was because we were just stood discussing something, and it surprised me, however I was out of my element and didn’t know what I felt. This left me on edge for the rest of the session.

Thinking back I believe it was because the other times I have been at the slaughterhouse has been after the killing had already started. Today I went from standing in a quiet room to being surrounded by the sounds of slaughter. It really was a new experience, the bluntness of slaughter when compared to euthanasia.

Looking at the bull it was still, that single shot having induced unconsciousness the bull was hung and then bled. Though the bull is unconscious the heart is still working, and so when it is cut to bleed the blood simply gushes straight out. Death then follows very quickly from the massive loss of blood – without the animal feeling a thing.

I know the importance of meat as a food source, and the vet’s role in ensuring the safety of this for humans. However I am glad that I felt something and I hope that I never reach the stage where I can see the slaughter of any animal and feel nothing.


My second time at a slaughter house here in Slovakia, I stood and watched pigs go from animals to meat for human consumption.

Last time I was here 2 weeks ago it was with cattle; generally beef here in Slovakia is not a major food item so there were only 5 cattle slaughtered that day. However today the pigs kept coming with me losing track of how many were slaughtered as I watched.

The slaughter house here is smaller than those that I have visited in the UK so a lot of the process here is manual. However slaughter is regulated under EU legislation and the animal welfare of an animal during slaughter is tightly controlled. Something I like here is that the slaughter process here is covered by CCTV, this is something that is not everywhere and so I am impressed.

As animals are slaughtered in front of us we are discussing the effectiveness of electrical stunning, too little and the animal could suffer, yet too much and the meat quality is affected. With pigs the alternative to electrical stunning is carbon dioxide however for such a small establishment here it is not feasible – even in some slaughter houses I visited in the UK it did not exist.

The pig in front of me is stunned unconscious, yet as the body is bled of it’s blood there are death spasms. These can occur for a long time after an animal is dead, even after the removal of the head there can still be spasms.

Vets have the responsibility of ensuring that any meat entering the food chain is safe for humans to eat, however there is also the responsibility of ensuring the minimum of suffering to animals. I eat meat, I like the taste, and I believe that it is essential to a healthy diet. Yet I know where it comes from, I know that it comes from animals, and I accept as a vet student that will qualify as a vet I have a role to play.

To improve and push for high standards of animal welfare – whilst I realise that vets have a role, it is the normal person that can drive change. Not only in your own health by eating a higher quality of meat yet also through the animals health by ensuring better conditions through paying just a little bit more…

Here is a chart showing you just what the labels in the supermarket really mean (you can click it for a bigger version!)

Read more about animal product labelling

Food Hygiene final exam (Day 601)

Meat Hygiene Vet student visits

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Best Pet Hair Remover

Well today was my meat hygiene exam, this looks at all the requirements for the production of food products from poultry, fish and game. This was the subject for which I visited a chicken slaughterhouse (you can read about my visit here) along with a fish processing plant and other not so interesting places such as a mayonnaise factory for egg processing.

So the exam paper was 10 pages long with a short answer question and a long answer question on each day. The short answer were either for temperatures – such as what temperature game meat needs to be kept at, or how many days eggs can be marketed as extra fresh for. The long questions needed more input, there was one in my case looking at the diagnosis and transmission of TB (Tuberculosis) in birds, another one wanted the slaughter process for poultry, another to describe the qualifications for a layperson to inspect game carcasses. It’s all pretty interesting as general knowledge however unless you are going to specialise in one of the specific areas is going be rarely used.

When I finished I was not entirely sure how I felt about my paper, it was one of those where I was going do really bad or really well. In this case however I did really well, I found out about 3 days after the exam that I had got myself a A!!! Still not entirely sure how but definitely am not complaining here!

I guess the biggest lesson I am taking away from this though is that smoked salmon is not always smoked salmon! Apparently it’s totally legal to market it as smoked salmon when instead of using a smoking chamber they just use the “aroma” of smokedness! Really don’t like this one and so you should always check the pack ingredients to see if it lists an aroma or if it is proper smoked salmon!!!