Updated bison code focuses on euthanasia

Revisions to the bison code of practice are underway and should be in place within two years.

Jennifer Woods, a livestock handling specialist who conducts animal welfare audits, said the public comment period is expected to begin next fall.

Bison producers have had a code of practice since 2001 and should prepare themselves for changes to the requirements and recommendations, she told the annual Canadian Bison Association conference.

The update will focus on four main priority welfare issues:

  • How seasonality affects nutritional requirements.
  • Appropriate euthanasia or slaughter on farm.
  • Understanding behaviour such as requirements for wallowing and rubbing.
  • Recognizing pain and when to deal with it.

Woods said euthanasia and transport fitness are the two main reasons a livestock producer will fail an audit.

“You need a euthanasia plan.”

Other livestock codes require written plans, she added.

The plan should include a clear definition of a terminal animal and acceptable methods of euthanasia.

Terminal animals are non-ambulatory, can’t access feed and water and aren’t going to recover.

“Yours is very simple,” Woods said of acceptable euthanasia methods.

“A very big gun is what you need.”

Bison are challenging to shoot, and the two leading causes of failed euthanasia are inaccurate placement of the bullet and a gun that isn’t powerful enough. The bullet should go into the side of the head.

And then, Woods said, make sure the animal is dead.

“You can temporarily stun them. Death isn’t instantaneous.”

The idea is to make sure the animal dies without regaining sensibility. Equipment should be maintained and appropriate to the species. Many producers are using captive bolt guns on farms now, she said.

For on-farm slaughter, the animal should be properly restrained and acceptable stunning methods used.

Woods also said that if she sees an animal that should be euthanized during an audit, she won’t leave until it is done and done properly.

Animals in sick pens should sometimes be euthanized sooner than producers think. Woods said producers have to be in tune with their animals for proper welfare.

“Good welfare leads to optimum production,” she said.

Customers expect producers to take good care of their livestock, and the law requires it.

Woods said the first animal welfare law was passed in 1635 in Ireland, which prohibited pulling wool off sheep.

The first law in North America came in 1641 in what was then the Massachusetts colony. In 1654, the United Kingdom passed a law prohibiting animal abuse.

The Canadian codes of practice were developed in the 1990s.

The five freedoms for animals were developed in the 1960s:

  • Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition.
  • Freedom from discomfort.
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
  • Freedom from fear and distress.
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour.

Woods said it isn’t always possible to do all five 100 percent of the time, but producers need to do their best.

On-farm audit forms are being developed as part of the code of practice revisions.

“That means that bison will follow what everybody else is doing,” she said.

Woods said producers should develop good animal welfare policies for their operations, practice them and make sure employees also follow the rules.

“Make it personal, make it public and make people abide by it,” she said. “If you have a website, put it on your site.”

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