"And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
--- Genesis 1:26

With that awesome power comes responsibility.

Man has the responsibility to treat animals in a humane manner — to show respect for the creation around him and to demonstrate compassion. And, it’s what the consuming public expects.

This has already become an issue regarding downer cows. In late December, immediately following the discovery of a cow ­in Washington state with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, the government banned downer cows from entering the U.S. food supply. With that restriction in place, you have little choice but to euthanize downer cows and send their carcasses off to a rendering plant or compost them.

Here’s how to accomplish humane euthanasia, using either a gun or penetrating captive-bolt device.


When applying a gunshot to the head, use the anatomical landmarks indicated here. That way, the bullet will be sure to hit the brain, leading to a quicker and more humane death.

Gunshot to head
Properly placed, a bullet causes massive brain destruction and immediate loss of consciousness, points out Jan Shearer, dairy extension veterinarian at the University of Florida.

As the illustrations on this page show, the proper place to aim the gun is above the eyes in the forehead region.  

Make sure that the firearm is held perpendicular to the skull so that the bullet will have the intended trajectory. Hold the gun within 6 to 12 inches of the intended target. 

For a mature animal, such as a downer cow, use a 9mm or .357 caliber firearm and solid-point bullets.

Penetrating captive-bolt device
This will render the cow unconscious. While the penetrating captive-bolt device also may result in the destruction of brain tissue, it doesn’t necessarily lead to death. That is why the procedure must be followed immediately with exsanguniation (or bleeding out).


After a downer cow has been rendered unconscious with a penetrating captive-bolt device, she should be bled out immediately. Insert the knife just behind the point of the jaw and below the neck bones. Draw it forward to sever the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe.

Be sure that you are using a penetrating captive-bolt device rather than the non-penetrating kind.

The devices cost $540 to $850. They can be obtained from Koch Supplies, Inc. in North Kansas City, Mo. (phone: 1-800-456-5624) or Alfa International Corp. in Armonk, N.Y. (phone:1-800-327-2532 or 914-273-2222).

Hold the device firmly against the surface of the head — at the very same location where you would aim a gunshot. The animal must be adequately restrained. Never fire a penetrating captive-bolt when the animal is moving its head.

After discharging the bolt into the cow’s skull, follow up with exsanguniation. Use a sharp long-blade knife that's at least 6 inches in length.  Follow the advice in the photo caption below.

Illustrations courtesy of jan shearer, dairy extension veterinarian, university of florida. they can also be found at www.vetmed.ufl.edu/lacs/humaneeuthanasia.htm