Animal health and welfare

The advice sheets below have the latest information on animal health and welfare. If you need more advice call 01753 475111 (Enforcement & Regulatory option).

Home slaughter of cattle

In the guide

This guidance is for England

Whether or not an owner is permitted to kill cattle for private consumption depends on the cattle's date of birth, whether it has a valid cattle passport, and whether the slaughter takes place outside or inside a licensed slaughterhouse.

There are two lawful ways to have your animals slaughtered and prepared for your own consumption: in an approved slaughterhouse, or on your farm by you for your own private consumption or that of immediate family living there.

On-farm slaughter of any livestock is an extremely difficult option to achieve legally in terms of food hygiene and BSE controls, and in terms of application of humane methods of restraint, stunning and slaughter. You need to ensure that you dispose of the carcase and any animal waste in accordance with the Regulations.

When were the cattle born?

Before 1 August 1996

Cattle born or reared in the UK before 1 August 1996 are not eligible for human consumption. It is an offence to send cattle born or reared in the UK before 1 August 1996 to an approved slaughterhouse.

Since 1 August 1996

Cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 can be slaughtered for private consumption whether they have a cattle passport or not.

If an animal does not have a cattle passport, the keeper must notify its death to the Secretary of State (normally via the British Cattle Movement Service - BCMS) in writing within seven days, and include the ear tag number, the date of death and the holding on which it died.

Slaughter in a licensed slaughterhouse can only be carried out if there is a valid cattle passport for the beast.

Wherever cattle are slaughtered, cattle passports should be returned as normal following the death of the animal.

Slaughter outside a licensed slaughterhouse

EU Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin states that in most cases meat for human consumption must be from animals slaughtered in an approved slaughterhouse (an approved slaughterhouse could include a licensed mobile slaughterhouse but not an itinerant slaughterman). A full list of meat establishments that are approved to slaughter livestock and/or cut meat can be found on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website; contact details for those wanting further information about approved meat establishments across the UK are also available by following the link.

At present it is the FSA's policy that you are not able to use an itinerant slaughterman to kill animals at your farm. It would also be unlawful to have the animal slaughtered anywhere else away from your property other than in an approved slaughterhouse.

Under EU Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 it is an offence to sell, or to supply to another person, meat that has not been slaughtered and health-marked in a licensed abattoir. It is for this reason that meat that has been slaughtered on-farm can only be consumed by the owner and their immediate family.

Can I slaughter the cattle myself?

It is lawful for your cattle to be slaughtered on your farm by you, as long as you observe certain requirements.

You must have the necessary skills and training to ensure that you slaughter the animals humanely. Also you need to have the necessary equipment and be sure that you can use it competently.

It is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations 2015 and EU Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing create offences for failing to comply with provisions relating to restraining, stunning and killing. Unless you are using a firearm to kill cattle, you must restrain them. The Regulations also make it an offence to cause or permit any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering to any animal or bird during the slaughter or killing process.

Under these Regulations, religious slaughter is only permitted in approved slaughterhouses, as all on-farm kills must be stunned before bleeding.

More information on the legal requirements you will need to comply with for home slaughter can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Detailed information relating to the practical considerations of captive bolt stunning, equipment, restraint, and bleeding and pithing can be found on the Humane Slaughter Association website.

Information on the humane killing of livestock using firearms is also available.

Do I need a slaughter licence?

A slaughter licence is not needed when slaughtering your own animal for your own consumption or consumption by your immediate family who live with you. However, certain operations both in slaughterhouses and when carried out on farms for the purpose of killing animals require a certificate of competence (CoC).

Information on when a CoC is required and how to obtain one can be found on the GOV.UK website.

BSE testing requirements

A person who has in their possession or under their control the body of a bovine animal that needs to be tested for BSE must, within 24 hours, either:

  • make arrangements with another person for that person to collect it and to deliver it to an approved sampling site within 72 hours
    ... or
  • identify an approved sampling site that will carry out the sampling and deliver the animal to that site so as to arrive at the site within 72 hours

The head of the animal requires testing and the rest must be treated as specified risk material (SRM - see below).

Cattle requiring BSE testing must test negative before consumption.

The following cattle must be tested for BSE:

  • fallen cattle aged over 48 months
  • healthy cattle aged over 30 months, slaughtered for human consumption, and born in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia or any non-EU country
  • cattle for emergency slaughter and cattle that are identified as sick at ante-mortem inspection if appropriate (when aged over 48 months; or when aged over 24 months if born in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia or any non-EU country)

Disposal of waste material

Animal by-products must be disposed of in accordance with the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013. This is all slaughter waste not destined for human consumption or classed as SRM, including the horns, hides, hooves and blood. (See also 'Disposal of animal by-products'.)

The spinal column must not be split. It must be removed whole and disposed of as SRM.

The carcase or any product of animal origin must not be offered for sale or otherwise to a third party or the public, which includes giving away to friends, relatives, etc. If the carcase is to be sold, given away, etc the rules for slaughter on-farm do not apply, a licensed slaughterhouse must always be used and a valid passport is always required.

The beast must be free of veterinary medicine residues.

Specified risk material

The owner must stain, store, dispose of, etc the specified risk material (SRM) in accordance with the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (England) Regulations 2010.

Definitions of SRM will depend on the age of the animal being slaughtered:

  • cattle of all ages. The tonsils, the intestines, from the duodenum to the rectum, and the mesentery
  • cattle over 12 months of age. The SRM is defined as the skull (including the brain and eyes), the tonsils and the spinal cord
  • cattle over 30 months of age. The vertebral column, excluding the vertebrae of the tail, the spinous and transverse processes of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, the median sacral crest and the wings of the sacrum, but including the dorsal root ganglia

Penalties

There are a number of offences for failing to comply with the requirements detailed above. The penalties that may be imposed vary, with the maximum being a fine and two years' imprisonment.

Additional penalties can be applied under the:

  • Food Safety Act 1990. Where meat has not been produced in compliance with food hygiene requirements the meat could be condemned
  • Animal Welfare Act 2006. A person may be deprived of owning, keeping or participating in the keeping of animals; and the dealing, transporting or arranging the transport of animals. This disqualification may be applied for life and cover any and all species of animals

Further reading

For more detail on home slaughter of livestock generally, please see 'Home slaughter for private consumption'.

Further guidance on the legal basis for home slaughter can be found on the Food Standards Agency website. The FSA is currently considering a policy revisal to include the option for home slaughter and dressing to be carried out by a licensed slaughterman. The final policy decision may affect some of the advice included in this guidance.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: August 2017

PixelPlease note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

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