Health

Background update:Jul 3, 2019

Gas stunning for small poultry operations

Gas stunning represents a higher-welfare way to deliver an unrecoverable stun to poultry, when compared with an electric water bath. But the expense has been prohibitive for smaller producers – one UK business is trying to change that with a new device.

Gas stunning is used by many larger poultry integrations and is widely considered a higher-welfare and more controllable way to deliver an unrecoverable stun to birds. And retailers in the UK and Western Europe often specify gas stunning for their suppliers. Electric-stun systems typically cause birds’ higher stress, with carcass defects like blood spots or wing tears more common as birds flap through water baths. Gas, in contrast, can offer birds a calmer experience in their final moments, reducing the chance of rejects. But most systems that utilise gas are expensive and designed for larger operators processing thousands of birds an hour.

The new gas stunning unit is highly customisable, but the one installed on Kelly’s farm can stun 300 turkeys an hour. Photo: Jake Davies
The new gas stunning unit is highly customisable, but the one installed on Kelly’s farm can stun 300 turkeys an hour. Photo: Jake Davies

A new joint venture is seeking to redress that balance, with seasonal poultry producer Kelly Turkeys working with poultry consultant Ed Hurford on a smaller-scale system. And after two years of development the Gallus Gas System has been assessed by the UK’s RSPCA, and will be used by Kelly Turkeys to process turkeys this Christmas. The unit is highly customisable, but the one installed on Kelly’s farm can stun 300 turkeys an hour, and the firm plans to install a second machine alongside to double capacity.

Bringing down costs

At present running the machine costs € 0.11 a bird, but a gas recycling system is planned that will hopefully bring costs down to € 0.2/bird, comparable with larger systems. A smaller system designed for small scale producers is also in development that will allow farmers to stun single birds at a time. It is envisioned that a medium-sized operation would potentially have two or three devices operating in tandem.

Mr Hurford says: “The Gallus Gas System is aimed at meeting the challenges of smaller poultry producers and moves one step closer in giving them access to the retailers looking for family-owned brands but requiring gas as a method of stunning. “Complying with current legislative and welfare bodies, the system uses the preferred two-stage method of slaughter which was developed using advice from the RSPCA. “This is a highly adaptable, easily maintainable and affordable system which will integrate into most small producer lines without major modifications to the slaughter area.”

Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys is a partner in the venture. He says: “The major poultry producers have invested heavily in gas stunning technology and established its benefits in carcass quality and perceived welfare benefits. But outlay on this technology, and the cost of buying and storing CO2, has not been feasible for small-scale operations. This is where we see a market for our new product in this country and abroad.” It is expected the larger device will sell for between € 70,000-90,000. The company secured € 90,000 grant support from UK charity, LEAF (Local Environmental Action Fund) to help develop the project.