With the increasing emphasis on animal welfare at slaughter plants, I get more and more questions on both what constitutes an appropriate driving aid and how it should be used. Everybody will agree that certain things should definitely not be used, such as sharp sticks, metal pipes or large bullwhips. Everybody can also agree on driving aids that are acceptable, such as flags, a light stick with a plastic bag on the end, plastic paddles, pig sorting boards or a large plastic cape that is stiffened along the top edge with a lightweight rod. There are also some relatively new methods, such as scratching a pig on the back with a stiff bristled brush to move it up the chute or rubbing your knuckles along the spine of a steer to make him move forward. All of these methods would likely be acceptable if we showed them to the public.

Unfortunately, the above devices are not always effective to motivate animals to enter a restrainer or stun box. To partially replace electric prods at the stun box entrance, maintenance crews have come up with ingenious solutions such as a vibrating prod constructed from a pneumatic metal engraving tool. The sharp tip is removed and the engraving tool is mounted to the end of a long handle. Observations at several plants indicate it is an effective replacement for an electric prod about 80 percent of the time.

Acceptable prod use

There are occasions when an animal refuses to enter the stun box or restrainer and an electric prod is needed. To comply with the American Meat Institute animal welfare guidelines, it should be used on 25 percent or less of cattle or pigs. On sheep and in group CO2 stunning systems, it should be used on 5 percent or less of the animals. A limited amount of electric prod use is allowed because a total ban may result in abusive use of other driving aids. I have observed spanking pigs with paddles, hitting cattle with the edge of a paddle, poking sensitive areas and stabbing animals with a vibrating prod. People were doing this in order to obtain a low electric prod score. A good rule is that an electric prod should never be used as a primary driving tool. It should only be used to move a stubborn animal and then put down.

There have been many arguments between plant managers, auditors and meat inspectors on when tapping an animal becomes beating it. Since the strength of the force and when contacting an animal is on a continuum, there is no definitive line between tapping and beating. Therefore, there needs to be a training video where both the correct use of driving aids and rough abusive use is demonstrated. To demonstrate abusive hitting the driving aid could be used to bash and jab empty cardboard boxes. An expert panel of recognized welfare experts would then decide if the tapping turned into beating. Beating is a violation of both government regulations and industry guidelines. These video beating boxes could then be used to train plant employees, auditors and quality-assurance personnel.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.