Euthanasia: Manual versus Mechanical Cervical Dislocation for Broilers

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Simple Summary Poultry are euthanized for several reasons, most commonly because a bird is sick or injured and unable to eat or drink. Euthanasia can be a challenge to perform, especially when birds are heavy, like broiler chickens (produced for meat). Manual cervical dislocation (CD), or "breaking the neck", is the most commonly applied method, but can be challenging. Therefore, using a tool (the mechanical method) such as the Koechner Euthanizing Device (KED) could be an alternative. Here, we aimed to compare CD with KED application for their impact on duration of induced reflexes and time to brain death. We assessed loss of brain stem reflexes, which indicate deep unconsciousness and/or brain stem death, and cessation of musculoskeletal movements. We applied both methods (CD and KED) to 200 broilers of 36, 42, or 43 days old on 3 experimental days. On days 2 and 3 an additional method was added, in which the bird's head was extended at a similar to 90 degrees angle after the application of the KED (KED+). Our study indicated brain stem death occurred sooner when birds were euthanized with CD compared to KED or KED+; all reflex durations were sustained for longer in the KED and KED+ birds. The aim was to assess the onset of brain stem death for two euthanasia methods-manual cervical dislocation (CD) versus the Koechner Euthanizing Device (KED). Over three days broilers of 36 (n = 60), 42 (n = 80), or 43 days old (n = 60) were euthanized. On days 2 and 3, a treatment was added in which the bird's head was extended at a similar to 90 degrees angle after application of the KED (KED+). On those days, gap size was recorded between the skull and atlas vertebra by 1-cm increments. The onset of brain death was assessed by recording the nictitating membrane reflex, gasping reflex and musculoskeletal movements (sec). Additionally, skin damage and blood loss were recorded (y/n). On all days, CD resulted in quicker loss of reflexes and movements compared to KED or KED+. Reflexes returned in 0-15% of CD birds, 50-55% of KED birds, and 40-60% of KED+ birds, possibly regaining consciousness. Skin damage occurred in 0% of CD birds, 68-95% of KED birds, and 85-95% of KED+ birds. On day 2 (p = 0.065) and 3 (p = 0.008), KED birds had or tended to have a narrower skull-to-atlas gap compared to CD and KED+ birds. Based on our results, CD would be the recommended method for broilers.



culling, killing, poultry, euthanasia, cervical dislocation, reflexes, animal welfare, brain stem death