Home Slaughter More Humane and Profitable

Sheep in Iceland

Home slaughter can be more humane for lambs and more profitable for farmers than sending livestock to slaughterhouses, says Þröstur Heiðar Erlingsson, one of Iceland’s first farmers to implement the practice since it was legalised last spring. According to Þröstur, there is growing interest among both consumers and shops for buying directly from farmers. Þröstur and his wife Ragnheiður Erla Brynjólfsdóttir will provide free instruction on home slaughter to other sheep farmers across the country.

Home slaughter of lambs and goats was legalised in Iceland last spring, as part of a 12-point action plan to support farmers in meeting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, sheep and goat farmers in Iceland were required to send livestock to licenced slaughterhouses. A pilot project and virtual inspections in 2020 and 2021 were part of ensuring that home slaughter would conform to health and safety standards.

Farmers who slaughter at home receive all the offal, the head of the lamb, and the sheepskin, by-products that are most often discarded when livestock are sent to a slaughterhouse, Þröstur says. Farmers can then package and sell products directly to consumers or shops. Þröstur points out that when lambs are slaughtered at the farm, they also do not have to be transported long distances and put in unfamiliar surroundings, which makes the process more humane.

Þröstur and Ragnheiður received a grant to share their experience with other farmers, and will soon provide free instruction on home slaughter in the form of virtual meetings. “We got into this to help farmers, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Now we’ve gained experience, slaughtered at home, and gone through it. We just want to share that knowledge and information with other farmers,” Þröstur stated.

Home Slaughter of Lambs Legalised

sheep lambing Iceland

Minister of Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson has signed a regulation permitting farmers to slaughter their own lambs and goats on their farms and to distribute the meat themselves. Farmers were previously required to send livestock to slaughter at licensed slaughterhouses. The regulation has been in discussion for years and is one part of a 12-point action plan in support of farmers to meet the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s long been called for that farmers be allowed to slaughter sheep and goats on the farms themselves and distribute them on the market,” stated Kristján Þór. “Over the past two years, extensive work has been carried out in consultation with farmers and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) to find ways to authorise this production so that it meets food safety requirements and animal welfare and animal health are safeguarded. This change that we’re making today marks a turning point, as this change involves an important opportunity to strengthen value creation and farmers’ profits in the future.”

Last summer, the Minister signed a contract with the chairman of the National Association of Sheep Farmers to conduct a pilot project on home slaughter in the fall. The project went well overall and samples showed good results, though remote monitoring proved a challenge. The regulations, therefore, stipulate that publicly-employed veterinarians carry out health inspections both before and after slaughter, paid for by the state treasury.

MAST has prepared an explanatory booklet for farmers on the new regulation.

The measure should help farmers create more value, which has proven a struggle in recent years. Indeed, there have not been fewer sheep in Iceland since 1861. The relatively low price of lamb and changing consumer tastes are two of the factors that have led to farmers reducing numbers in their flocks or leaving the industry.

Vets to Conduct Virtual Inspections as Part of Home Slaughter Pilot Program

Veterinarians will conduct their health inspections of meat over the internet as part of the new pilot project which allows farmers to slaughter at home, RÚV reports. The project is hoped to support innovation in the sheep farming industry and help farmers hold on to more of the profits from their lamb. Thirty-five farms around the country are taking part in the project. Each farm is allowed to slaughter five lambs at home.

Farmers have long called for changes to made to existing laws on home slaughter. Currently, farmers who sell meat must take their sheep to a slaughterhouse and then pay fees if they want to sell their products to the public.

See Also: Iceland to Permit Limited Home Slaughter This Fall

In addition, current regulations require a veterinarian to inspect any meat that intended for sale to the general public. Project manager Hólmfríður Sveinsdóttir says that one of the first things that needs to be done, therefore, is to determine if there’s a way for this inspection to take place remotely, as bringing a vet on-site can be costly for farmers. Online meat inspection has been carried out with varying degrees of success abroad, and there are many factors that determine how well this process works, such as the quality of the internet connection and the cameras being used.

As part of the pilot program, 19 of the participating farms will have a vet visit them to conduct on-site inspections. Sixteen will have their health inspections conducted online. Hólmfríður says that the inspection process will be the same in both cases—one will simply take place virtually. Farmers undergoing virtual inspections will take samples themselves, measuring the microbial and pH levels in the meat.

These individuals will also be responsible for ensuring that byproducts are handled correctly. Burying slaughter byproducts directly in the ground is forbidden. As the home slaughter only involves lamb, Iceland’s Food and Veterinary Authority has stated that farmers can take their byproducts to a carcass dumpster that each municipality is required to have.

Authorities will decide how to proceed with home slaughter based on the results of this pilot effort.

Iceland to Permit Limited Home Slaughter This Fall

Icelandic sheep

Home slaughter of lambs will be permitted in Iceland this fall as a pilot project, RÚV reports. Meat from the lambs will be tested to ensure quality and safety standards are met. The project is expected to support innovation in the sheep farming industry and help farmers hold on to more of the profits from their lamb.

The pilot project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the National Association of Sheep Farmers (Landssamtak sauðfjárbænda), and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). Sheep farmers in Iceland are only permitted to slaughter and butcher lambs at home for their own consumption – any lamb that will be sold must be sent to a slaughterhouse. If the farmers then want to sell the meat themselves, they must pay a fee to do so.

Þröstur Heiðar Erlingsson, a sheep farmer in Skagafjörður, North Iceland, is supportive of the project. According to Þröstur, home slaughtering produces better quality meat, as the process is slower and the meat has more time to hang and become tender than in an industrial slaughterhouse. When farmers take their meat home from a slaughterhouse, they also receive neither the skin nor the offal. “We could make ourselves a lot more food out of this if we got to sell it ourselves and process it ourselves,” he stated.

Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson has expressed support for the initiative. The Ministry is ensuring home slaughter regulation can comply with international agreements that Iceland is party to.