A Fully Integrated Approach

Prior to the Humane Aire CAS system, catching birds on the farm, putting them in cages, removing them from the cages at the plant, and manually hanging them upside down on a shackle line was highly stressful to the birds resulting in bruises and broken wings. Handling highly agitated 40- to 50-lb. tom turkeys was dangerous to workers, and the shackling job had the highest injury rate among turkey plant workers.

Grandin reiterates that one of the key advantages to CAS systems is the ability to move animals in groups to the stunning area. The Humane Aire CAS system capitalizes on that characteristic by creating an integrated system that spans the process from farm to plant. This fully integrated approach means there is less stress on both people and birds.

Midwest Machine has partnered with poultry transport equipment leader Bright Coop Inc. to use the leading technology to handle the turkeys on the farm with minimal stress: “Our cages are designed in a way that you can load the bird into cages with equipment, resulting in hands free from the farm to the shackle line,” Geertman says.
 CAS System
Humane Aire's CO2 stunning systems are utilized by several turkey and chicken processors in North America, with new installations planned in 2017. 
At the processing plant, the cages are unloaded with an overhead crane and placed on a conveyor to be fed through the CO2 system. Once the birds are irreversibly stunned, they are slid out of the cages, conveyed and oriented feet up so they can be shackled. Instead of lifting the birds, the handlers only have to shackle the legs.

But that’s not the end of the process. To prevent cross contamination between farms, an important consideration with regard to avian influenza, the cages go through a washing and sanitizing process. The trailer that hauled the cages likewise goes through a separate wash and sanitizing process. The sanitized cages are then stacked on the sanitized trailer, where they can return to the next farm for a load of turkeys and maintain the biosecurity of the system.

Humane Aire’s integrated approach addresses the multiple issues around humane handling, worker safety and food safety. Geertman says, “We’re proud of the fact we’ve addressed the issues from the farm through the plant. If you treat the bird right, the meat quality goes up, the yield goes up, and the end result is an immediate return on investment.”

Since the initial system installed at Michigan Turkey Producers in 2000, Midway Machine Technologies has a total of six turkey systems in North America and one system currently being installed. A broiler installation is planned in early 2017 along with several others.

“We’ve made several improvements through the years,” Geertman says, which include better cage cleaning, easier bird hanging on the shackle line, cage improvements to load turkeys ‘hands free’ at the farm, and automatic CO2 level control.

“We continue to develop the processes and methods to improve bird handling from the farm to the shackle line,” Geertman says. “We also believe it is important to develop real solutions and equipment in a way that is sustainable and has a return on investment. So, it is a win-win for both consumer and processor that will stand the test of time.”

Fully integrated CAS systems like Butina and Humane Aire reinforce the concept that good animal welfare is good business.