Safe handling of animals for butchering (processing) starts with the facility layout. It begins with the management of the animals as they move through the process, and ends with a properly trained worker in butchering techniques.
Pens, yards, and gates used to hold the animals should be sturdy and well maintained. Protruding boards, nails, and other sharp objects can injure you and the animals. Try not to enter animal yards or walkways; use of protected catwalks are safer. If you must enter animal areas, make sure that you have an escape route that is easily accessible. Wear sturdy work boots to protect your feet from the animals, and work gloves while handling animals, gates, ropes, hooks, and other apparatus.
As animals enter the processing area, the goal should be to keep them calm while moving. Animal alleys and chutes should be wide enough to allow more than one animal to pass, but not wide enough for them to turn around and disrupt the flow. Solid walls prevent distractions and fear. Diffuse lighting prevents casting shadows that could startle the animals. Walkways need solid, non-slip surfaces to keep you and the animals moving without slips and trips. Walking surfaces should be continuous and even; avoid transitions or obstacles that will cause animals to hesitate or stop.
Know the animal and its typical behaviors before you work near them or one-on-one. Know what signs, sounds, and environments can stress the animal so you can avoid or control them. Know the signs and symptoms of sick, stressed, and aggressive animals. Animals have a social order, so avoid creating conflict between dominant and submissive animals; give them enough room to move in their accepted order. Herd animals like to be handled in small groups; isolation makes them nervous and unpredictable. Mothers are very protective of their offspring, so use caution when separating them and working with them.
In general, approach animals slowly and from the front or side so you don’t spook them and cause them to kick or rear up. Avoid quick, aggressive movements that will distract animals. Get training in how to secure and handle animals. If an animal acts aggressively or loses control, try to let it go and escape the area so you don’t get trampled, crushed, or pinned against the wall or enclosure. You may need to wait for a calmer state or more helpers and tethers to control this animal.
Use caution when stunning, sticking, and eviscerating animals. Get training in your facility procedures and equipment. Never enter animal wells. Make sure an animal is fully disabled before you get near it.
Equipment with moving parts in butchering facilities poses a hazard if you get your body or clothing caught in it. Make sure moving parts are guarded. Don’t reach into moving parts to clear jams and don’t move between conveyors unless they have been fully tagged/locked out. Perform regular inspections and maintenance to ensure this equipment operates properly.
Cuts and punctures can be caused by knives, saws, and grinders/mincers, as well as bones and sharp surfaces. Make sure blades are sharp. Inspect them frequently and replace or repair items as needed. Wear mesh gloves, gauntlets, and body aprons to protect yourself from cuts.
There are exposure concerns when you handle live animals and process their meat. Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans. Get training in zoonotic diseases and prevention steps. Avoid stirring up dust. Use water and low-dust cleanup methods. Use good hygiene by wearing protective clothing and equipment, decontaminating surfaces and equipment frequently, and washing your hands often. Keep work areas well ventilated. Wear respiratory protection such as a dust mask or respirator to prevent inhaling dusts and other contaminants.
Your knowledge of animal behavior, handling, and processing safe work practices can protect you from serious injury during the butchering process.