Humane Slaughter


3 min read

Legal responsibility The humane slaughter process Questions and answers about humane slaughter Humane Slaughter Information Pack

Humane on-farm slaughter refers to the practice of ending an animal's life with minimal pain, distress, or suffering. The person who carries out slaughter has a legal responsibility to cause the least stress possible to the animal. Basic requirements include establishing a farm policy, ensuring proper training, following correct processes, reducing stress, and choosing an appropriate location. Detailed plans are necessary for humane slaughter, and guidelines help ensure compliance with animal welfare legislation. 

Whatever the reason for putting down an animal, the primary aim of on-farm slaughter is to bring about death with the minimum of pain, suffering and distress to the animal.

From 1 June 2023, Fonterra farmers must ensure all their non-replacement calves enter a value stream - either beef, calf-veal (bobby) or petfood. This means that the on-farm slaughter of non-replacement calves will be prohibited for Fonterra farmers. You can euthanise for humane reasons and if you have questions, please contact your Fonterra representative.

*Non-replacement calves include all calves born on-farm that do not go into the dairy herd as replacements (including bobby calves).

Legal responsibility

The person carrying out the slaughter of any animal has a legal responsibility to ensure the procedure causes minimum stress to the animal. Are you up to speed with changes in the Code of Welfare?

The humane slaughter guidelines will help you and your staff ensure any animals slaughtered on-farm are put down in a humane, respectful and effective manner.

Basic requirements should be met before slaughtering any animal on-farm. These include:

  • Establishing a farm policy that outlines who can slaughter animals, when, where and using what method.
  • Making sure you and your staff are properly trained and know how to use all equipment safely (including firearms).
  • Following the correct processes. Bear in mind that processes vary for calves, cows and bulls.
  • Minimising stress for all. A quick, effective kill is best for both animal and operator.
  • Choosing the right location. Different methods have different requirements to make them safe and effective

The humane slaughter process

Plan ahead

Each farm should have a written policy and procedures for the humane slaughter of livestock.


Any person who undertakes this task must be trained. They must demonstrate knowledge and competency in the safe handling of animals and effective methods for putting livestock down, before being authorised to carry out the slaughter of animals on-farm.


All stock must be put down with respect, using an approved method without causing undue stress, pain or discomfort.


The slaughter of livestock is a sensitive issue for everyone and while it is an unavoidable fact of farm life, wherever possible, it should be carried out responsibly; away from other animals and public view.

Dead stock disposal

It is important to dispose of stock quickly and appropriately to prevent the spread of disease to other stock and people, the contamination of waterways and access by dogs or other animals. See Waste management.

Animal Welfare Legislation

Observing these guidelines will ensure that you comply with the Code of Welfare: Dairy Cattle (2014) Minimum Standard No. 17 - Calf Management, and Minimum Standard No. 20 - Emergency Humane Destruction.

Questions and answers about humane slaughter

Do I need training to use a captive bolt or firearm to put down livestock?

Yes, all methods of putting down animals require a level of skill to achieve a rapid and painless death with minimal distress. It is important that anyone putting down livestock on-farm is trained and competent.

How do I know if an animal has died?

  1. No blinking if the surface of the eye is touched.
  2. The pupils are dilated (big) and fixed.
  3. The jaw is relaxed and the tongue is ‘floppy’.
  4. There is no rhythmic breathing. 5. There is no regular heartbeat.

Do I need a firearms licence to own and operate a captive bolt?

No. There is no requirement to have a firearms licence to purchase or use a captive bolt, or to purchase activators (cartridges), but training is strongly recommended. Captive bolts and activators should be stored separately and securely when not being used.

Can I use a captive bolt to stun all classes of stock?

Yes, you can but there are different colour-coded activators for each class of stock.

Green = calves
Yellow = light cows
Blue = heavy cows
Red = bulls

Use of incorrect charges can result in ineffective stunning.

I don’t want any firearms or captive bolts on-farm, are there any other options?

Yes, the use of lethal injection is also a recommended method for humane slaughter but must be administered by a veterinarian. Extreme care must be taken when disposing of carcases to ensure the contaminated meat is not fed to any other animal or person.

What is an emergency situation?

An emergency situation is where an animal is experiencing severe pain or suffering that will become worse if they are not immediately treated or put down.

Humane Slaughter Information Pack

Download or order the pack, it contains everything you need to know in a handy format:

  • A guide outlining the legislation, basic requirements, and responsibilities for the humane slaughter of calves and adult dairy cattle
  • Approved methods
  • Safety procedures
  • A policy template for the farm office wall
  • A poster providing easy-to-follow guidelines on how to prepare for, and carry out on-farm slaughter.
Last updated: Sep 2023
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