FOR a business that administers the mass slaughter of sheep and cattle it may come as a surprise to hear that Manildra Meat Company is serious about animal welfare.
Yesterday during a personal tour of the Cootamundra-based abattoir, livestock manager David Alexander emphasised the company’s commitment to not only meet industry standards, but to be industry leaders.
“Animal welfare is the single biggest issue we’re facing at the moment, and we’re making improvements to ensure the process is calm and stress free as possible,” he said.
The sheep being ushered towards the ‘stick hole’ yesterday, where they’re stunned, hung up, slit at the throat and bled out, did seem to be blissfully unaware of their fate.
Workers are building a new shed which, when completed in mid April, will increase the undercover capacity to 7000 animals.
“We need to keep them as dry and clean as possible,” Mr Alexander explained.
Once the new pens are built sheep will have better access to water.
“We used to have one trough between two pens. We’re doubling the capacity of the troughs and putting one on each fence line,” Mr Alexander said.
Rather than using timber floors like the old wool sheds, the shed floors are made of steel mesh.
“Timber breaks away and causes injuries,” Mr Alexander said.
A vet visits Manildra each morning and assesses each animal for injuries and ailments.
“Any animal inspected and deemed unfit for slaughter is euthanased.”
Sheep are moved along a graded ramp before they are stunned. The ramp is about three to five storeys high, and after noticing that sheep were unsettled as they could see they were elevated, Mr Alexander recommended the construction of a corrugated iron floor beneath the steel mesh to conceal the height of the ramp from the sheep.
His concept was trialled beneath a small section of the ramp.
“It’s a good innovation, they’re much more calm there,” Mr Alexander said.
Eventually the whole ramp will be concealed.
Working dogs are used more sparingly than in the past, “it reduces the stress on the animals,” he said.
The company relies on manpower, with four men systematically herding the sheep through the gates and three men are at the helm of the operation at the stick hole, one on the stunner, and the remaining two hanging the limp carcasses.
It’s not a job for the faint-hearted, but someone has to do it, in a market where demand for sheep meat is more robust than ever before.
Manildra processes 3400 head of sheep and lambs each day and 100 head of cattle, and the company is upgrading the site so it can process 4000 sheep and lambs and 300 head of cattle each day.