On-farm euthanasia options for livestock

Sometimes farm animals have to be put down on-farm if they’re sick, injured or otherwise suffering. It’s not pretty but it’s a reality of farming, and it’s important to have the proper tools and training for those situations.

“Animals deserve a quick and painless death,” said Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Co-ordinator with Farm & Food Care, who showcased several on-farm euthanasia tools at the recent Ontario Goat annual meeting. “We need to provide safe and sound options for farmers for all species, all ages and for different barn environments.”


This non-penetrating stun gun was developed jointly by the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF). It is manufactured by Bock Industries and runs off an air compressor at 120 psi (pounds per square inch). It does not break the flesh or bone of the animal when it is pushed against its head and retails for approximately $700 US.


This is a non-penetrating, completely portable captive bolt that runs off a butane cartridge. One canister will provide about 1,000 shots. Called the Turkey Euthanasia Device (TED for short), it is also for use in other species like duck, chickens, pigs and rabbits. The cost is approximately $989 US.

Captive bolt

The captive bolt is the only tool demonstrated by Kelderman that penetrates and physically damages the brain tissue of an animal to euthanize it. Various designs are available for a range of species and ages of animals from newborn piglets to fully grown bulls. It is powered by a gun powder cartridge.

A firearms license is not needed to purchase a Zephyr, TED or captive bolt, said Kelderman.

“Firearms have also always been viable options for on-farm euthanasia and blunt force trauma is an acceptable practice in some industries,” she said, adding it is not certain how much longer it will remain an acceptable option.

Many people, especially women, tend not to have the strength or emotional willingness for this alternative.

“Animal welfare has been identified as a key target in Growing Forward II and Farm and Food Care is hoping to put forward a proposal for funding to buy some of these units to make them available to farmers at a reduced cost,” Kelderman said. “It is great to have this technology but if we do not have them in the hands of farmers, they don’t do us much good.”

Other important euthanasia considerations:

  • Know where and how to properly position the instrument on an animal. Consider the age of the animal and the thickness of its skull.
  • Once you’ve used one of these tools, check to confirm insensibility of the animal. It is important to ensure the animal has died and if not, be prepared to administer a second shot.

When trying to decide whether to ship or euthanize an animal, ask yourself whether the animal will be able to walk on and off the truck, is it fit enough to withstand the journey, and whether or not you would consider eating meat from that animal. If the answer to any of those is no, the animal should not be shipped.

“It’s better to ship an animal a week too early than a day too late,” she advised. “Euthanasia is a difficult subject to talk about and it takes a human toll too.”

Promoting responsible animal care is part of the “doing the right thing” pillar of Farm & Food Care’s strategic approach to ensuring public confidence in the food supply. According to a public attitudes study conducted by Ipsos Reid for Farm & Food Care last fall, 53 per cent of Canadians have a positive or somewhat positive view of agriculture, with 32 per cent feeling neither positive nor negative.

“Our opportunity and our challenge are the 32 per cent of Canadians who don’t know what to think about farmers,” Kelderman said. “We have the opportunity every day on our farms to do the right thing. Don’t do anything on your farm that you wouldn’t want to see on YouTube.”

Farm & Food Care is developing resources around different euthanasia practices and there are tools available for loan from the organization for on-farm trials by producers. More information is available from Kristin by calling 519-837-1326 or emailing her at Kristen@farmfoodcare.org.

This article was prepared by Lilian Schaer based on a presentation at the 2013 Ontario Goat annual general meeting, held March 22, 2013.

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