UK’s unused pigs will likely be killed by knackermen or farmers

Dead bodies of around eighteen pigs hanging upside down
Pig bodies inside a refrigerator in Glossop, Britain, September 27, 2021, photo: Reuters/Phil Noble

The thousands of pigs who were left at farms due to a shortage of slaughterhouse workers in the UK will most likely be killed by a captive bolt gun used either by a farmer or a knackerman, an expert told The Animal Reader.

A captive bolt gun is a device used for stunning animals before slaughter. Captive bolt stunning inflicts a forceful strike on the forehead of an animal with the bolt, so the animal becomes unconscious. 

Shortages of butchery workers in the country’s slaughterhouses have already seen UK farmers kill about 600 healthy pigs, and more culls are expected in the coming weeks.

On Friday, Britain’s pig farmers said that as many as 150,000 pigs face culling due to a shortage of butchery workers whose job is to cut up animal carcasses into smaller pieces of meat. 

The labour shortages have been linked to both Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Knackermen
“We know of a handful of farmers who have had to cull some pigs (around 600 we are aware of in total),” said the UK’s National Pig Association chief, Zoe Davies, in an email to the Animal Reader. 

The cull is “hugely difficult for the farmers involved”, Davies said. “Some are having to use knackermen as they just can’t bear having to do it or ask their staff to do it.”

Knackermen in the UK would use a captive bolt gun to kill pigs, said Ian Potter, head of daily operations at the National Fallen Stock Company, an organization that helps farmers in the UK with a range of agricultural services. 

Potter said farmers are allowed to use captive bolt guns, so they could kill their own pigs or call a knackerman “who could kill the pigs on the farm or bring them to a slaughterhouse.”

Pigs can’t enter food chain
Pigs that are slaughtered on a farm are not allowed to enter the food chain. They would normally be destroyed or sent to rendering facilities, Potter said. Renderers reduce animal carcases to meat and bones, which can be used for pet and animal feed. 

Potter said he knew of no plans for a national UK pig cull, but contingency plans were being discussed for the slaughter and export of UK pigs. “Because there is no shortage of slaughter capacity, the shortages are in butchery,” Potter said. 

If the pigs aren’t butchered properly in small supermarket pieces, UK retailers have no interest in them. 

Instead of being butchered, the slaughtered pigs would be split into a few large pieces, chilled and exported, possibly to the Philippines, Potter said. 

Killing pigs is difficult
Potter said that because pigs are hard to restrain, killing them on a farm is a challenge. “Restraining pigs is very challenging, even one. So if it is hundreds of pigs, that would be even more challenging.” 

Apart from captive bolt guns, other UK pig cull methods that licenced professionals can use are shooting, electrical stun, bleeding or pithing. 

Pithing is a technique used to immobilize or kill an animal by inserting a needle or metal rod into its brain to cause permanent brain damage. The practice is banned in the UK, but if the animal is not used as food, it’s allowed.


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