Today, a team from Eyes on Animals visited a pig slaughterhouse near Osnabrück (Germany). Because the slaughterhouse is about to be renovated, our suggestions on how animal welfare could be improved can be directly included in the renovation plans. Also involved in this renovation is the German Friedrich Loeffler Institute, including the expert Dr. Marahrens, who was also present today.
In the slaughterhouse the pigs are electrically stunned. One pig gets separated from the group and is manually brought into a single file raceway – after which the pig is moved towards the stunner on a conveyor belt-floor. This part of the live handling causes a lot of stress. First the pig doesn’t like to be separated from the group, secondly the pig does not know which way to go as there were too many distractions in the stunning room, such as sound, light, moving staff and too many physical obstacles. The raceway to the stunner appeared as a dead end, which causes the pig to panic and to want to walk backwards. In an optimal situation the pig should feel safe walking in the right direction, and should not need to be forced by an employee, and stunning happens unexpectedly. One of the suggestions we have made is to create a coral-shaped raceway. When pigs are walking in a raceway that is circle shaped, they do not see what happens in front of them and they will think they walk back to where they come from. See the coral shaped raceway in slaughterhouse Thönes Natur.
A positive thing is that there are cameras in the slaughterhouse at different places, so there is always an eye kept on the live handling and stunning process. In the holding pens it was remarkably quiet. There were hardly any fights. However, one waiting pen was too full. After we had made a comment about this, the stable employee immediately took action and moved a number of pigs to another pen. In one pen there were only sows present. These were collected to be transported later in the day to another slaughterhouse. The sows had plenty of room, but the floor was wet from a leaking water nipple so that they did not have a dry floor to lie down on. Because the condition of slaughter sows is often poor and they have to stay in the abattoir for a couple of hours, a good resting place is of extra importance.
In consultation with the slaughterhouse managers, the following improvements were agreed on:
- The sows will be given a softer and dry surface to lie on, such as sawdust, rubber mats or floor-heating.
- The density in the lairage pens will be reduced so all pigs can easily lie down and reach the water and avoid fights.
- Both the pigs and the sows in the holding pens will get corn kernels. Pigs love corn kernels and it also ensures positive distraction, making them fight less and perceive less the stress of the novel environment.
- The entire stunning design will be fully customized to ensure that stress during the movement of the pigs towards the stunner and the stunning process is as minimal as possible. For example, the lighting will be adjusted, the noise will be reduced and the design will be adjusted so that the pigs will walk in the right direction by themselves and therefore do not have to be forced by employees. Eyes on Animals will give more detailed advice to the slaughterhouse over the upcoming weeks.
In a few months Eyes on Animals will return to visit this plant to see how the renovations are going. The slaughterhouse managers are keen to keep us involved.
We would like to thank EGO for their commitment, transparency and willingness to reduce suffering and to cooperate. We also want to thank Dr. Marahrens for joining our visit and being so dedicated.