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Is the Turkey Industry Vulnerable Over On-Farm Euthanasia?



In this age of intrusion videos, the actions of growers represent the greatest vulnerability with respect to intrusion videos and consequential adverse publicity.  On-farm euthanasia is an area of concern given the range of procedures that are recognized by the National Turkey Federation. 

The NTF Guidelines make reference in turn to the 2013 Edition of the AMVA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals as a precedent.  


The NTF recognizes the following techniques for euthanasia:-

  • Cervical dislocation manually for small birds.  Turkeys under 10 pounds in weight require handling by a trained contractor. Over 10 pounds in weight an instrument such as the Koechner shear is effective if correctly applied but the physiological effect in relation to welfare has been questioned.
  • Gas euthanasia using carbon dioxide is used regularly for breeders but requires investment in equipment, the purchase of a gas cylinder and careful supervision of trained personnel to be humane and effective.
  • Blunt force trauma to the head is frequently used and when applied by a trained person results in instantaneous loss of consciousness.  Unfortunately the aesthetic aspect is unacceptable especially when viewed on a video with a deceptive sound commentary.  It places the turkey industry in the same category as clubbing seals and has an extremely negative connotation among reasonable consumers. Mechanical trauma can be achieved using a captive-bolt system such as the Bock Industry’s TED device.  Capital investment is required and instruments must be regularly cleaned and maintained to ensure effective function.

There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to any selected method.  To be effective, growers require training, and regular recertification to ensure competence.  A high level of supervision by service persons is necessary to ensure that crippled birds are regularly culled and euthanized in accordance with company procedures.  Leaving crippled birds to die in a house is encountered during routine farm visits and this neglect potentially exposes the integrator to adverse publicity.

In reviewing the procedures to ensure that captive-bolt euthanasia is effective, equipment must be regularly maintained. One integrator issues the devices only when flocks are 12 weeks of age.  At this time the service person reviews operating procedures and recertifies the contractor.  When the flock is depleted, the captive-bolt equipment is returned to a central store for decontamination, and service before reissue.  Simply assigning a device to a contractor on a permanent loan basis will result in degraded operation and in many cases leads to a reversion to blunt force euthanasia using a hammer or some other object.

Euthanasia is a necessary but unfortunate component of growout but requires attention both by the contractor and service person to avoid the possibility of an embarrassing posting on YouTube or in some cases even criminal action for animal cruelty.