A substitute for the slaughterhouse; an alternative to the abattoir? Instead of killing cattle with a stunbolt in the grinding and gristly environment of a stressful slaughterhouse, what about shooting them with a high-powered rifle? Take a cow, let her enjoy the last moments of bliss in the same fields where she was raised, and then pull the trigger on her from a deer stand a few yards away. The rest of the herd looks around, but doesn't panic, and then gets back to grazing. Lock, stock and smoking barrel.
Cattle producers in Europe have begun using this "gunshot method" and in green-leaning Germany, it's gaining steam. Spiegel, in an article titled 'Are Guns More Humane than Slaughterhouses?' gives this description from Bunde Wischen Organic Farm in Schleswig: "In this method, a group of cattle stand together in an area enclosed by a solid wooden fence and an earthwork wall. The maximum distance between the cattle and a marksman working from an elevated hunter's blind is 10 meters (33 feet). Previously, the cattle have sometimes received feed in this particular pasture, so they are accustomed to both the wooden shelter and the open-air enclosure around it. Their last day begins just as innocently as every day before it. The marksman must often wait several minutes, until one of the cattle is standing in just the right position."
(Not sure why Spiegel believes someone shooting out of a deer stand from 33 feet at a cow's forehead qualifies as a "marksman.")
Kassel University researchers have been monitoring the deer rifle approach and agriculture scientist Stefanie Retz says, "The idea is that the animals should die in same place they lived, and that they should have a stress-free death — that's the paramount goal."
But there's a big hitch in that stress-free death; a cattle fly in the ointment of bliss. Veterinarian Martin von Wenzlawowicz, from Schwarzenbek, says that sometimes the trigger-men have a tendency to be a little jumpy. In short, they miss. Schwarzenbek admits, "What we’ve found is that many marksmen are not able to produce consistent results. In cases where I've been invited to attend, I've found that one in four shots was off-target."
One in four? A quarter of shots fired by "marksmen" from 33 feet missed? Bent barrels or bovine fever? Regardless, it's a fair assumption that this unfortunate 25 percent of livestock, once wounded by a high-powered rifle, probably endure a meteoric rise in stress levels.
The stress-free, gunshot method approach to livestock slaughter is a nice sentiment, but like most green ideas, it’s simply not viable. In the real world cattle industry where production and efficiency are vital, "marksmen" in deer stands will last as long as a snowflake in summer.
If cattle producers want to kill livestock with the "gunshot method" and advertise a humane death, then let the free market roll — just don't let PETA find out about the jumpy trigger-men.
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