Recommendations to facilitate onset of rapid insensibility after Kosher or Halal religious slaughter

by Temple Grandin
Department of Animal Science
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523

(Updated September 2012)

Fixing many little details of upright restraint box design, operation, and cutting technique makes it possible for 95% of the cattle to rapidly collapse and quickly lose sensibility. You manage the things that you measure. The following variables should be measured weekly in plants conducting religious slaughter to maintain an adequate level of animal welfare.

  1. Percentage of cattle or calves vocalizing
  2. Percentage of animals slipping on the floor while held in the restraint box
  3. Percentage of animals falling
  4. Percentage moved with no electric prod
  5. Percentage that collapse within 30 seconds
  6. Percentage insensible on the bleed rail

Each variable is scored on a per animal yes/no basis. Continuous measurement makes it possible to have continuous improvement of the procedures. Two beef plants that use an upright restraint box that the cattle stand in, are achieving a rapid collapse rate of 95% to 96%. Previous observations I have made of veal calves showed that with the best shochet 95% of the calves collapsed within 10 seconds. They used a swift fast cutting stroke.

The following recommendations will enable other plants to achieve this superior performance. These recommendations are based on the changes that worked in these plants.

  1. Keep cattle calm and remove distractions so that cattle will voluntarily enter the restraint box. See other parts of for recommendations.

  2. Eliminate electric prods or use them on 5% or less of the cattle. The minimum acceptable level of electric prod use is on 25% of the cattle.

  3. Maintain a vocalization score of 5% or less of the cattle vocalizing during entry into the restraint box and in the restraint box.

  4. Non-slip flooring is essential. Even slight slipping will cause the cattle to become agitated. Careful observations should be made to make sure the flooring does not catch hooves and cause injuries when the animal is moved forward with the butt pusher.

  5. Be very careful with the butt pusher gate and apply only enough pressure to move the animal forward. When the animal is fully restrained it's back should remain level and never be arched.

  6. Minimize the time the animal is held tightly by the head holder. Perform shehita within 10 seconds after the head is restrained.

  7. The neck opening in the front of the box must not constrict the blood vessels in the neck. Pushing the animal up against the front of the box too hard with the butt pusher may constrict blood vessels and prevents rapid bleed out.

  8. The belly lift must NOT lift the animal up. The principle is to apply as little pressure as possible to the animal's body. Calm animals standing on a non-slip floor require very little pressure to hold them.

  9. A rapid fast cutting stroke is usually more effective than a very slow knife stroke to induce rapid collapses. The faster stroke may help prevent the blood vessels from re-sealing. To facilitate bleed out, the animal should be cut close to the jawbone to help prevent sealing off of the blood vessels.

  10. Partial release of the head holder and complete release of the butt pusher after the cut is essential. All pressure should be removed from the animal's head and body immediately after the cut to allow the animal to relax. The butt pusher should be completely retracted and the chin lift and sliding neck plates should be loosened. The animal should stand in the box with all the body restraints loosened until it collapses. This rapid release of pressure makes a big difference. When eye rollback is observed the head holder and all body restraints should be released. Each plant will need to experiment to determine the best procedure to induce rapid onset of unconsciousness.

  11. Eliminate air hissing noise with mufflers and reduce metal clanging and banging.

  12. All parts of the box should move with smooth steady motion and be equipped with pressure limiting devices to prevent excessive pressure from being applied.

  13. Avoid the use of solenoid activated valves. Smoother motion is achievable with simple hand operated valves that have good throttling ability. The best valves work like a car accelerator, the more the operator pushes it the faster the equipment moves.

  14. Keep score on collapse rate. The rabbis and the plant employees will be able to continuously improve if they keep score on the six previously listed variables.

It is amazing how fixing several little things can make such a huge difference. At a third plant I consulted with they had failed an audit due to a high 10% vocalization score. I visited the plant for two days and the vocalization score during kosher slaughter dropped to 1.5% after we fixed the items listed below:

  1. Steel rods were welded to the floor of the kosher box to prevent slipping. Careful observations were made to make sure that the rods prevented the animal from making repeated rapid small slips that caused agitation. The rods should be welded length-wise. An animal's foot may get caught on horizontal rods.

  2. Welded a fence in the leadup chute to prevent rattling and clanking that caused cattle to become agitated.

  3. Redesigned the forehead bracket to reduce bending of the neck and installed a pad on it.

  4. Modified the butt pusher gate to prevent the animal's tail from getting caught against a sharp edge.

  5. To prevent jerky motion of the butt pusher gate, solenoid operated valves were replaced with a standard hydraulic valve so that the box operator could control the butt pusher gate with greater precision. The new valves worked like a car accelerator pedal.

Percentage of cattle vocalizing in kosher plants with either an upright or rotating restraint box during 2006
Percentage at First Audit Percentage at Second Audit
Plant 1 2% n/a
Plant 2 3.8% n/a
Plant 3 5.7% - Excessive butt pusher pressure 3.2%
Plant 4 10% 1.5% - After the equipment modifications listed above

All 4 plants conformed to the AMI guidelines of a maximum of 5% of the cattle vocalizing after the 2nd audit.

Signs of loss of sensibility after religious slaughter:

  1. Loss of posture, falls, and can no longer stand.
  2. The eyes roll back into the head when loss of sensibility first starts.
  3. No natural blinking like a live animal in the stockyards.
  4. No eye tracking of movement.
  5. No rhythmic breathing.
  6. No righting reflex (lifting of the head) when hung on the rail.
  7. Before skinning or any other dressing procedure is started ALL signs of return to sensibility must be absent. The eye must relax back into a glossy blank stare and there must be no corneal reflex in response to touching the eye and the animal must have a fixed fully dilated pupil.
  8. Ignore kicking and leg movements. These are reflexes. Look at the head.

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