The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published a draft of a guide titled “FSIS Compliance Guide for a Systematic Approach to the Humane Handling of Livestock.” The purpose of this guide is to help inspectors achieve compliance with regulatory requirements of 9 CFR Part 313 on handling and stunning. The guide contains checklists on facilities, handling and stunning with wording from the regulation.

Unfortunately, the wording is very vague and provides almost no guidance. The regulation also has a lot of references to wooden facilities because it was written in the 1970s. Some of the vague terms that are used throughout the document include: “minimize excitement of livestock” and “minimize discomfort of livestock.” These phrases can have very different meanings when plant operations are observed by different people. I am going to provide some recommendations on how to interpret these phrases.

Under personal practices, the phrase “minimize discomfort” and “minimize excitement” is used in reference to “electric prods”, “other equipment”, “stunning equipment”, and “livestock movement.” In general, indicators of discomfort in cattle or pigs would be vocalization during handling or restraint. It is my opinion that a plant has failed to minimize discomfort if the percentage of cattle or pigs vocalizing in either the stun box or conveyor restrainer exceeds 10 percent, or if an animal vocalizes in direct response to a gate slammed on it, or if it is reacting to sharp edges or excessive pressure applied by a restraint.

Vocalization scoring cannot be used in sheep. Cattle and pigs will vocalize (moo, bellow or squeal) in direct response to an aversive event, such as being poked with an electric prod. To put it in simple terms, cattle and pigs will tell you they are hurt or scared. Sheep are the ultimate prey species and they remain silent when hurt or scared. Sheep may struggle and become agitated (excited) in an attempt to escape or choose not to react when subjected to an aversive event. Sheep will vocalize when separated from their mother, however, but vocalizing weaned lambs is not caused by plant operations.

Shackle specifics

Excitement can occur if an animal exhibits agitated behavior or struggling before it loses sensibility. Some examples of excited behavior are a series of small, rapid slips in a stun box or alley. This causes cattle to constantly move and refuse to stand still. This can be prevented by installing either rubber mats or steel bars on the floor of the stun box. Other indicators of excitement are animals rearing, hitting fences, jumping or struggling.

The regulation in 9 CFR Part 313 was written before conveyor restrainer systems came into wide use for cattle. The regulations were originally written when all cattle plants had stunning boxes and the insensible/unconscious bovine was rolled onto the floor and then shackled and hoisted. In both a center track or V conveyor restrainer, the shackle chain is sometimes loosely looped around the leg before the animal is stunned. No tension is applied until after stunning. Since the chain is loosely fastened with an open hook, it is easy for the bovine to kick the loosely looped chain off; it gets tightened after stunning. The animal is never hoisted, thrown, cast or cut until it is completely insensible.

Conveyor restrainers have greatly improved humane handling and reduced employee injuries during shackling. I looked up the word “shackle” online. It refers to manacles on prisoners, animal hobbles or V bolt with a clevis pin. Both people and animals are not able to remove a shackle, hobble or manacle. The looped chain on the bovine’s foot by this definition does not become a shackle until it is tightened. When it is tight, the animal cannot kick it off. This is an example of a regulation which was written for older technology. The regulation was originally written to stop the cruel practices of hoisting live animals by one leg and hanging them on the bleed rail.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., and is a faculty member at Colorado State Univ.