Get the facts: find out what really happens in Australian slaughterhouses
The increasing centralisation of abattoirs in Australia means more cattle are facing lengthy journeys from the farm to slaughter. The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Land Transport of Cattle states that mature, fit cattle may be transported for 36 hours without water, although if the animals aren’t showing signs of fatigue and there are no extreme weather conditions, this can be extended to 48 hours. Cattle can become noticeably dehydrated and tired after only 24 hours of transportation.
Broiler (meat) chickens
Broilers have their water withdrawn 1 hour and food withdrawn 8-12 hours prior to being caught (as part of a partial “thinning” or total “depopulation” of a shed) and sent to slaughter. The catching process is always stressful and inhumane: catchers walk through the sheds at night grabbing birds by one leg and carrying them in bunches (up to five each hand) to crates, at a rate of 300-500 per hour, where they are then forcefully packed into the crates and stacked onto the truck. Many of the birds already have fractures and dislocations after spending the 5-7 weeks of their lives crammed into a shed with up to 40000 other birds; the catching process adds significantly to their pain.
These sheds are artificially lit and often windowless; the journey to the slaughterhouse is therefore often their first glimpse of sunlight and the outside world. Between 1 million and 2.5 million broiler chickens are estimated to die each year in Australia during transport to the slaughterhouse, from a number of causes such as:
- Rough handling during the catching process, which can lead to trauma and blood loss due to haemorrhage into dislocated hip joints
- Heat stroke and other issues relating to extreme temperatures
- Heart failure
Roughly 14 million chickens that make it to the slaughterhouse alive may have fractures, and over 20 million may have dislocated hips.
See www.aussiechickens.com.au/facts?s=catching-crating-slaughter for more information.
Because of weaknesses in the leg and thigh joints, ducks may be particularly susceptible to injury when being caught and crated to be taken for slaughter. Ducks are sometimes thrown into crates that are stacked on the back of trucks. Ducks placed under others can have faecal matter fall onto them from those above them during the trip. Mortalities during transport are common. While day-olds are transported in temperature controlled crates, older ducks are not.
Considering their limited capacity to self-regulate their temperature without water, these ducks are likely to suffer. Various factors such as mode of transport, stocking density, season, time of day and ventilation contribute to the potential suffering involved in transport.
Horses being transported to slaughter can have their water supply cut off for 24 hours (horses over 6 months old) or 12 hours (lactating mares, foals less than 6 months old, mares in the late stage of pregnancy) at a time.
Minimum space allowances for horses during transport:
- Adult horses: 1.2m2 each
- Horses 18-24 months: 1.0m2 each
- Horses 12-18 months: 0.9m2 each
- Horses 5-12 months: 0.7m2 each
Pigs being transported to slaughter can have their water supply cut off for 24 hours (12 hours for lactating sows, piglets and weaners) at a time.
Minimum space allowances for pigs during transport:
Average liveweight (kg)
|Space allowance (m2/head)*||Number of head per 12.5 m x
2.4 m deck
* Based on the standing position
Sheep being transported to slaughter can have their water supply cut off for 48 hours (sheep over 4 months old) or 28 hours (lambs under 4 months old) at a time.
Minimum space allowances for sheep during transport:
Average liveweight (kg)
|Minimum floor area (m2/head)*||Number of head per 12.5 m x
2.4 m deck
* Based on average liveweight, wool of 25 mm length, and no horns.
Turkeys face similar transport issues to broiler chickens. At the end of the growing period workers walk factory-farmed birds to the edge of the shed then herd them up a loader (conveyor belt), where workers catch the birds and pack them into crates. Thirty-two centimetres (the length of a standard ruler) is the accepted minimum height of a crate in which large birds can be transported. Turkeys are much taller than 32 cm and thus are forced to travel in extremely cramped conditions.
Once the birds have been roughly and rapidly loaded into crates they are driven in a truck to the slaughterhouse. Whilst being transported turkeys are prone to injuries such as severe bruising and bleeding, amputated toes, fractures, and suffocation (due to overcrowding), as well as to high stress levels. Many turkeys die before they reach the slaughterhouse and there is an 'accepted' mortality rate during transport. For example, 'dead on arrivals' is a term commonly used to describe birds who die while being transported. One study found that when turkeys were monitored in various modes of transport up to 4.2% had severe damage, which included death, amputated toes, large bruises and significant bleeding, while up to 13.3% had damage of some kind, such as bruising.
The same study found that 0.38% of birds died of acute and congestive heart failure, with death rates higher in summer, as many birds suffered from dehydration and metabolic problems. After arriving at the slaughterhouse the birds are understandably tired, thirsty, hungry and stressed.
See www.aussieturkeys.com.au/facts?s=slaughterhouse for more information.