Vocalization Scoring of Restraint for Kosher Slaughter of Cattle for an Animal Welfare Audit

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

The American Meat Institute standard for vocalization in restraint devices where a head holder is used is 5% of the cattle. Vocalization is a sensitive indication of animal distress, when it occurs in direct response to an aversive event such as electric prods, slipping, excessive pressure from a restraint device, missed stuns, pinching or falling.

There has been concern that kosher plants may have difficulty complying with the standard. Data that has been collected from 1996 through 2005 indicates that kosher plants can reach the vocalization standard. There has been much progress. I remember my early experiences observing shackling and hoisting of live cattle in a plant that kosher slaughtered 150 cattle per hour. The animals were forced into a box with a slanted floor that caused 100% of them to fall down. Loud bellowing was continuous and never stopped. In 1991, before formal collection of vocalization data, I was hired to tear out the cruel shackling hoist system and replace it with restraining boxes where the cattle stood upright. I designed the hydraulic and pneumatic controls on the boxes so that all parts of the restrainer moved smoothly and the operator could precisely control the amount of pressure applied to the animal. I spent hours operating the box and 70% of the cattle had no reaction at all to the head holder. No vocalization data was collected because this was before I developed vocalization scoring. However, I estimate that the vocalization score was under 5% in this Glatt kosher plant.

Data on vocalization during kosher slaughter 1996 through 2006 in U.S., Canada, and Europe

Plants are not in chronological order to conceal identity. All plants restrained the cattle in an upright position unless noted. There are no veal calves in this data. Data is based on the percentage of cattle that vocalized. It is yes/no scoring. An animal is scored as either silent or as a vocalizer. The data includes BOTH vocalizations while entering the box and vocalizations while the animal was restrained in the head holder. All plants were doing religious slaughter at the time of the audit.

Percentage of Cattle Vocalizing During Upright Restraint for Kosher Slaughter
Plant # Audit # Score Notes
1 1st 5.6% Mostly due to electric prods
2nd 1%
3rd 2%
2 1st 1% Brand new head holder
2nd 9% Malfunctioning controls which were partially broken
3 1st 6% Mostly due to electric prods
2nd 3%
4 1st 32% Box too short for the animals, exerted excessive pressure
2nd 5% Built new pusher gate, no electric prods
5 1st 5% 0% in head holder, vocalization due to electric prods
2nd 4%
3rd 3%
6 1st 4% Over 300 cattle scored
7 1st 7% Mostly due to electric prods
2nd 5%
8 1st 7% Sharp corners on head holders
9 1st 5%
(Europe Halal Rotating Box)
1st 10% (estimate) Occurred when the head holder was applied. Rotation did NOT cause vocalization. Problems with the head holder are correctable and this box is capable of reaching the 5% standard
11 (Rotating Box) 3rd or 4th 2% Employee training and installation of pressure limiting devices made this good score possible
12 (Upright Box) 1st 10%
2nd 1.5% Minor modifications made a big improvement:
1. Installed non-slip floor
2. Modified Headholder
3. Eliminated pinch point on the tailgate
4. Stopped metal rattling
5. Installed smoother operating valve on the tailgate to stop sudden jerky motion

In all cases where the vocalization score exceeded the 5% limit there was an easy way to correct the problem such as sharp edges, malfunctioning controls, excessive pressure, or electric prods. In plant 2 the vocalization score greatly increased because the controls were partially broken and the head holder became very difficult to operate. In the plant with the very high 32% vocalization score (plant 4), a new pusher gate reduced the vocalization score to 5%.

Careful operation of a kosher restraint box will greatly reduce damaging blood spotting in the meat. In 1991 I developed a kosher box which exerted less pressure and blood splashing was greatly reduced. When a skilled employee ran the box the percentage of blood splashed cattle ranged from 3.5% to 5%. The cattle were kept calm, and the pusher gate was released immediately after the cut. More recent observations indicate that the best way to reduce blood splash and facilitate bleed-out is to completely release both the head holder and the rear pusher gate immediately after the cut.

Box operation steps to reduce blood splash:

  1. Calm cattle
  2. No electric prods
  3. Be very gentle with the butt pusher gate
  4. Minimize time with head held tight in the head holder
  5. After the cut IMMEDIATELY release both the butt pusher and the head holder. Remove all pressure from the animal's body and head.

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