Main content area

Head-only followed by cardiac arrest electrical stunning is an effective alternative to head-only electrical stunning in pigs

Vogel, K.D., Badtram, G., Claus, J.R., Grandin, T., Turpin, S., Weyker, R.E., Voogd, E.
Journal of animal science 2011 v.89 no.5 pp. 1412-1418
blood, breathing, cardiac arrest, color, drip loss, electrical treatment, eyes, head, heart, lactates, longissimus muscle, meat quality, nose, pH, raw meat, reflexes, slaughter, swine
Many small slaughter facilities use head-only electrical stunning to render swine unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. Head-only electrical stunning is a reversible procedure that is optimally effective for approximately 15 s after stun completion. In many small North American slaughter plants, the authors have observed hoist speeds that are too slow to achieve a short enough stun-to-bleed interval to maintain insensibility through exsanguination. Unlike many European plants, there is no separate high-speed hoist for pigs and exsanguination on the floor is not condoned. As a result, a 2-stage stunning method was proposed where head-only stunning for 3 s was immediately followed by application of the same stunning wand to the cardiac region of the animal for 3 s while lying in lateral recumbancy. A paired-comparison study was conducted on 89 pigs in a small slaughter facility to compare the head-only method applied for 6 s with the head/heart method. The objective was to evaluate signs of return to sensibility, stun-to-bleed time, blood lactate concentration, muscle pH, drip loss, and fresh meat color to validate the head/heart electrical stunning method for small slaughter plants. Incidence of corneal reflex was not different (P > 0.05) between head/heart (93.8%) and head only (85%) stunning. Nose twitching was more common (P < 0.05) in head only (26.5%) than head/heart (5%) stunning. Head/heart stunning eliminated rhythmic breathing, natural blinking, eye tracking to moving objects, and righting reflex, which were all observed in head-only stunned pigs. Eye tracking to moving objects was observed in 40.8% of head-only stunned pigs. Blood lactate was not different (P > 0.05) between stunning methods (head only: 8.8 ± 0.7 mmol/L, head/heart: 7.8 ± 0.7 mmol/L). Stun-to-bleed time did not differ (P > 0.05; head only: 32 ± 1 s, head/heart: 33 ± 1 s). Mean time to loss of heartbeat with the head-only method was 121 ± 5 s. No heartbeat was observed with the head/heart method. Longissimus thoracis pH, color, and drip loss were not different (P > 0.05) between stunning methods. This study determined that the head/heart electrical stunning method reduces the incidence of signs of return to sensibility without significant effects on meat quality, plant operation speed, or blood lactate concentration. In addition, the head/heart method requires no capital investment for plants that are currently using the head-only method.