When handling their livestock, operators must ensure the welfare of their animals. Dr. Kurt D. Vogel, director of the Humane Handling Institute and associate professor–animal welfare and behavior in the Department of Animal and Food Science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, discusses best practices and current issues related to humane handling.

Vogel has previously stated that most Humane Handling Enforcement Actions issued by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service were related to stunning, and this trend seems to have continued into the past year. “We are currently analyzing the results of our annual assessment, but the preliminary results indicate that stunning continued to be the predominant cause of Humane Handling Enforcement Actions in 2022,” Vogel said.

He said that in 2022 cattle and pigs continued to be the two species most involved in issues related to stunning enforcement actions.

To treat their livestock in a humane manner, handlers must use proper equipment and stun placement in addition to utilizing proper restraint methods.

“There are many types of effective stunning tools on the market,” Vogel said. “The critical pieces to how well they work often come down to training and maintenance on the people side and effective restraint on the animal side.”

Handlers must properly restrain the animals they are working with, but Vogel said that, to a point, restraint methods are specific to the species. Despite these variances, he said that pain-free movement prevention is vital to effective restraining.

Similar to restraint methods, proper stun placement also depends on the species, as well as the method used for stunning. The North American Meat Institute Guide of the Care and Handling of Animals is an excellent reference for appropriate stun placement, Vogel said.

In addition to proper tools and methods, stunning operators need adequate training. To better approach training initiatives, Vogel recommends progressive hands-on training and says that training should be approached with the goal of developing both technical skills and job confidence.

Vogel said that the sign of a good handler is one who has empathy for the livestock.

“In addition, handlers can help ensure the welfare of the animals under their care by staying focused, calm, and forward-thinking as they work,” he said.