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How Do Slaughterhouses Work?

A slaughterhouse, also called abattoir is a facility where animals are slaughtered to provide food.


Slaughterhouses, or abattoirs, are an important part of the animal agriculture industry. Slaughterhouses take animals and process them to produce products for human consumption, animal foods, soaps, bio fuels, adhesives, leathers and many other things, with whatever body parts left over being thrown out. Slaughterhouses are a production line, animals go in, meat comes out. This uses a lot of human labour as well as machinery, which all take up a lot of space. But, slaughterhouses are something that no one wants on their doorstep, they are kept out of sight, with no signposts, no windows for people to see in, they are deliberately kept as inconspicuous as possible.

What Is The Process

Slaughterhouses are a type of factory, from their arrival animals are in a system that works to produce meat products as quickly and efficiently as possible. The welfare of the animals is not a concern and this is borne out in the way that the animals are killed and then reduced to pieces to be sold.

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Image by jai79 from Pixabay


Unloading is the first step for animals when they animals arrive at the slaughterhouse. Trucks pull up to the door and animals are made to leave the vehicle or, for smaller animals, they are unloaded by the crate load. Slaughterhouse workers direct cattle, sheep, and pigs into holding pens while poultry are sorted and placed on conveyors, hung, alive, by their feet. Pigs will sometimes have to go through a health check before proceeding. Animals are weighed to make sure that they will give enough meat after slaughter. Workers are instructed to take more care of "delicate meats", not delicate animals, to reduce the risk of stress. The changes that happen within an animal's body when they are stressed affect the meat produced, the quality of the meat is compromised.


In some countries animals must be stunned before slaughter, this is believed to be more humane. Cattle and sheep are placed in a head-locking device and given an electric shock to the back of their head or to their temples using a handheld stun gun. Chickens and other poultry are commonly run through electrified water, after being attached, but their feet, to the conveyor, with their heads passing through the water to give them an electric shock. Frightened birds can bend themselves upwards, avoiding the water, these birds will be processed fully conscious, without being stunned first. Another method of stunning is to use gas. Animals are locked into rotating crates and carried down to a gas chamber where they are gassed with CO2.


Slaughter is the actual killing of the animals. Most animals are killed by wounds to the neck, the blood of the animal then drains out. These wounds can be created by hand or using machines that will process animals on a mass scale. Workers must be careful to make sure that there is no cross contamination from the internal organs of the animals, especially the bowel.


After slaughter animals are de-haired, or dehided. This involves spraying animals' bodies with scolding hot water before they are passed through de-feathering and de-hairing machines. Following this pigs can be scrubbed by hand to remove more hair.


The final step, before meat is sent for processing, is inspection. Checks are performed to make sure that slaughter was carried out correctly, that there is no contamination of meat and that the meat shows no signs of disease.

After inspection the meat goes to the processing facility, where the body of the animal will be divided up to be sold. What is left is waste that will be taken away to be discarded. There are rules and regulations that govern slaughterhouses, what can and can't be done, things that must or must not be done. How the animals feel about this, does not come into it.

There are literally thousands of abattoir companies in the United Kingdom and this number has risen over the last few years, and looks continue to rise over the next decade.


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