Cattle are stunned first, either by electricity or percussion (captive bolt). They are then killed by having the blood vessels in their neck cut (sticking). The animal dies by being bled to death. In percussive stunning a captive bolt pistol is held to the cows head and the bolt penetrates the skull and destroys brain tissue. This should cause an instant loss of consciousness following collapse. If the brain tissue is not destroyed the animal may come around. The use of a captive bolt does not always successfully stun the animal. The most common failure in stunning is due to improper positioning of the bolt, which is a particular problem where cattle are agitated and struggling.

Other problems may be due to inadequate maintenance of the pistol. Mis-stunning causes considerable distress and can mean the animal is still conscious during throat cutting. The period of unconsciousness induced by stunning should be longer than the period between stunning and sticking plus the time taken for sticking to induce brain death.

Calves are likely to be stunned electrically. Electrical stunning involves passing a large voltage across the animal’s brain. Electric stunning of calves induces a much shorter period of unconsciousness than in other species (around 18 seconds). A number of studies have shown that calves also take longer to lose brain function after throat cutting. Anil et al (1995a) found that responsiveness can be present in the brains of calves for as long as 104 seconds after neck-sticking. Because of this many calves show clear signs of recovery during bleeding out(14,15).

Over 2.6 million cattle were slaughtered in the UK in 2012 (2.7m in 2011)(1).

Type of cattle / number slaughtered

Prime Cattle:

  • Calves / 73,800
  • Steers / 965,200
  • Heifers / 716,500
  • Young bulls / 283, 400

Adult Cattle:

  • Cows / 621,600
  • Adult bulls / 20,200

Total: 2,606,800


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