The decision to put an animal down is difficult.
“Our biggest issue is timeliness where people actually do not do it when it needs to be done,” said animal welfare specialist Jennifer Woods, who trains producers on euthanasia techniques.
Another common problem is not using a powerful enough firearm and not hitting the proper location in the head of the animal.
“I believe if you are going to own cattle you should be required to own a method of euthanasia, which is firearm or captive bolt gun,” she said.
Injuries like broken legs, severe illness or being very old justify euthanasia rather than shipping the animal to market.
“With the cull cows, people think, ‘I’ll try her one more year,’ ” she said.
Cows may be old or sick and the producer may not be sure if it can be transported.
“Unless she can easily walk on the trailer, she shouldn’t go on the trailer,” Woods said.
“She might meet the conditions of compromised on the farm but will transport actually make her unfit and that is where we run into problems.”
She added that many producers need to cull sooner than they currently do.
“If you have had a cow for 10 years, she doesn’t owe you anything. You owe her a humane end of life and if you are shipping her just to get the last dollar out of her, don’t do it,” she said.
“If you think you can get one more calf out of her, ship her while she is fit and healthy because that one more calf could take her to the other side.”
During her training sessions, Woods asked producers to consider three points:
- When judging transportation fitness, it is not a matter of whether the producer feels the animal can walk on the trailer, but rather if the producer can say with certainty that the animal will be able to walk off the trailer.
- Would the producer be willing to eat the animal in question or feed it to their family?
- If that cow showed up on YouTube with the farm in full view, would the producer be proud of it?
When it comes to killing an animal, it is important to make sure the shot goes in the right part of the head. Woods recommends two shots with slightly different placement to make sure the animals are dead.
“Even with firearms and the captive bolt, a big part of the effectiveness has to do with concussion. When you shoot back in the same spot, you lose concussion because the skull is already broken there.”
The University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine assessed producers and found gunshot is the most common method of euthanasia for all cattle.
To effectively euthanize cattle by gunshot, it is important to hit the appropriate anatomical location and to use a suitable firearm.
Do not shoot between the eyes. The frontal target is high up on the head of the animal. An “X” can be made by drawing an imaginary line between the outside corner of the eye to the horn (or where a horn would be for polled or dehorned cattle) on the opposite side. The firearm should be positioned so the muzzle is perpendicular to the skull. There may be some differences in location of the shot based on the skull shape and horn mass of an animal, such as for bulls.
Calves’ brains are larger relative to their body size than those of adult cattle. However, the forebrain of calves is also comparatively underdeveloped. Correct placement of the captive bolt or the aiming point of the firearm is lower as well. Tilt the gun back slightly to ensure destruction of the brainstem.
Once euthanasia is performed, it is essential to check and make sure the animal is dead. The university study found most producers admitted they do not double check.