Implementing guidelines and establishing protocols for effective euthanasia for nursery through finishing stages and for cull sows and replacement gilts were addressed in successive presentations during the Swine Housing and Transport Forum held on June 2, in Des Moines, the day before World Pork Expo.

Jim Moody, vice president of marketing and finishing at The Hanor Company, Spring Green, WI, and Michelle Jens, DVM and director of sow health at Audubon-Manning Veterinary Clinic (AMVC) Management Services, Audubon, IA, addressed the forum.

Moody and Jens drew heavily from a common resource from Pork Checkoff, “On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine — Recommendations for the Producer,” which lists the criteria for successful euthanasia of an animal:

  • Minimal pain and distress during administration;

  • Rapid loss of consciousness; and

  • Death achieved quickly and consistently.

“Quick, effective and reliable — that's the gold standard for evaluating the euthanasia techniques used on the farm,” Moody says. “We have the opportunity to control when and how to euthanize animals, and that process needs to be detailed in writing, including the training necessary to ensure it is done properly.”

At The Hanor Company farms, a tailor-made euthanasia protocol and the Pork Checkoff guidelines are reviewed with new employees on the first day of their employment, again during the three-month review, then annually after that.

In an effort to more quickly recognize the animals that should be euthanized, the decision-making process was simplified.

“We basically boiled it down to two key categories, where a 24-hour rule or a 48-hour rule applies,” Moody explains. “The 24-hour rule refers to the animal that is down and has been unable to eat or drink in the last 24 hours and has no chance of improvement.

“If we think a pig has a chance of recovery, it goes into the 48-hour rule category. We separate the pig off into a sick pen, treat it appropriately and at the end of 48 hours, if the pig is improved, we'll continue to work with it. If it has not improved and it doesn't look like it's going to improve, we make the decision to euthanize it. We don't want to make it more complicated than that,” he explains.

The options for effective euthanasia outlined in the Pork Checkoff guidelines include blunt force trauma (pigs 12 lb. or less), non-penetrating captive bolt, penetrating captive bolt, gunshot, carbon dioxide, electrocution (head-to-heart and head-only), and veterinarian-administered anesthetic overdose.

Confirming Death

Moody and Jens agree that specific euthanasia guidelines should be written for each farm/site. The method of choice must be appropriate for the size and weight of the pig, Jens reminds.

Some key considerations in writing a euthanasia protocol, including the method of choice, are:

  • Risk to human safety — The chosen method should not put producers/employees at risk.

    “Safety is very important,” Moody emphasizes. “Over the years, I have seen people who have accidentally shot themselves while using a bolt gun and I've seen people who have accidentally electrocuted themselves. Training is very important.”

  • Skill required — A critical part of the training is learning the landmarks for the most effective application of the captive bolt or other methods. Jens reminds that these landmarks are different based on the size and shape of the animal (See Figure 1). Especially for mature sows and boars, the shape of the head and face (dish, flat, bulge) affects the thickness of the skull bones and the size of the sinus cavity, which must be penetrated to reach the brain.

  • Aesthetics for the observer and the operator — “There is nothing about euthanizing an animal that is pleasant, but there are some techniques that are better than others,” Moody continues. “Work with your people to make sure they are comfortable with what they are doing. If they are not, find someone else or find an acceptable alternative for euthanizing a pig.”

  • Understand the limitations of the method — “Some techniques require a two-step process. I try to stay away from those,” Moody says. With those methods, the animal is rendered unconscious, requiring a second step to complete the euthanasia process.

    C. Scanlon Daniels, DVM with Circle H Headquarters, LLC, Dalhart, TX, adds: “Some people commonly refer to captive bolt guns as ‘stun guns.’ The thing about stunning an animal is the stunning is what causes the insensibility or loss of consciousness. Stunning may or may not be permanent, so when we talk about some captive bolt guns, the length of the bolt and how well that captive bolt gun is maintained is important.

    “Some captive bolt guns may only cause stunning, where if the animal is left, it may regain consciousness. The other point, of course, is that stunning or temporary insensibility must be followed up with a secondary step, such as bleeding out or pithing in order to cause death.”

  • Cost — From a practical standpoint, the cost of various options must be considered, Moody notes.

Continue on Page 2: Confirming Death

Confirming Death

The final and critical step in the euthanasia process is determining if the process was successful — confirmation of death. “We need to make sure we and our employees are trained to distinguish whether a pig is dead or alive,” Moody states.

Jens describes this step as “the confirmation of insensibility or an animal's inability to consciously recognize pain. Effective euthanasia should be achieved as immediately as possible after administration — preferably within 30 seconds — and the animal should be monitored until death is confirmed — within three minutes after the method is administered,” Jens explains.

Moody and Jens offered the two most reliable methods for confirming insensibility:

  • Checking for corneal reflex — Touch the eyeball to make sure the pig doesn't blink.

  • Response to stimulus — Prick the pig's nose with a needle. If there is no reflex, the pig is unconscious.

Death means no breathing, no heartbeat, no vocalization, and no muscle tone or muscle movement.

“We've added the confirmation of death to our standard operating procedures and our training programs for euthanasia,” Moody adds.

For an electronic/pdf version of “On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine Recommendations for the Producer.” Print copies may be ordered by calling 1-800-456-7675 or at