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Successful reindeer stunning requires expertise

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25.1.2023 8:00

Authors: Mari Ronkainen, Bachelor of Natural Resources, Bachelor of Hospitality Management, Specialist, (Future Bioeconomy), Lapland University of Applied Sciences; Karoliina Majuri, Master of Natural Resources, Agronomist, Project manager, (Future Bioeconomy), Lapland University of Applied Sciences; James Biondic, Technical sales manager, Frontmatec Accles & Shelvoke;

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Several factors affect the well-being of reindeer to be slaughtered at the different stages from roundup to slaughterhouse. The consideration of the well-being of individual reindeer ends with stunning, bleeding and verifying death. In addition to the animal’s well-being, successful stunning secures the quality of the meat and the occupational safety of slaughterers.

According to EU regulations, the person carrying out stunning must have a certificate of competence that verifies they have received training for the task and know how to act appropriately (Council Regulation No. 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, Article 7).

Stunning is a critically important stage for the well-being of reindeer to be slaughtered. Successful stunning ensures that reindeer lose consciousness quickly and do not feel any pain. (Majuri & Muuttoranta 2019, 8.)

In the past few years, it has been possible in Finland to apply for a qualification after completing a training course that contains both theoretical studies and practical training. Competence has been demonstrated through a written examination and an examination of practical work. In the examination of practical work, the focus at the stunning stage has been on evaluating the handling and holding of reindeer, the handling of the stunning tools, the actual stunning and monitoring the successful stunning of the animal. However, the person carrying out stunning also needs to have competence in the maintenance of stun guns and identifying malfunctions in them.

Stunning tools

The permitted methods for stunning reindeer are a penetrating bolt gun, a firearm with ammunition, and electrical stunning. There are two types of stun guns: those operated with cartridges and those operated with air pressure. At Finnish reindeer slaughterhouses, the most common stunning method and tool involve the Cash Special cartridge gun.

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Image 1. The Cash Special cartridge gun.

Maintaining stunning tools

The ability of the captive-bolt stunner to deliver an effective stun is mainly dependent on the velocity of the bolt. Lack of regular maintenance can significantly reduce bolt velocity and the efficiency of stunning. Increased friction caused by a build-up of carbon deposits and/or defects in the firing chamber are the main conditions which lead to reduced bolt velocity. A build-up of carbon deposits in the breech of a stunner can reduce the velocity of its bolt by up to 50 per cent.

If the bolt cannot retract fully into the breech, the explosive pressure exerted on the piston will be reduced, due to the increased size of the expansion chamber. This can also occur if any of the recuperator sleeves are worn. Similarly, if there is excessive wear on the piston, cylinder or flange, gases will escape around the piston and the propulsive force will be reduced.

Corrosion, or build-up of carbon, can also cause increased friction around the cylinder, bolt and undercut. The biggest single cause of power loss is the failure of the bolt to return fully into the breech after the shot. Where recuperator sleeves are fitted, care must be taken to ensure that, when the muzzle is screwed into position, it causes the sleeves to be compressed. If this does not occur, either insufficient washers and sleeves have been fitted, or some sleeves are worn and must be replaced.

Stunning gun should be dismantled, cleaned and lubricated after use, even if they are employed only a few times a day, or even less frequently. Back-up equipment must also be regularly serviced, even if it has not been used. The continual use of the captive-bolt, as occurs in a busy slaughterhouse, causes comparatively less build-up of carbon than sporadic use for a similar number of shots.

Daily maintenance must include: dismantling of the stunner, visual examination for evidence of damage and signs of excessive wear, removal of blood and water, removal of carbon deposits from the breech and checks on the condition of recuperator sleeves. Daily removal and cleaning of the bolt assembly reduces the chance of excessive wear on any one part of it, ensuring continued, efficient operation.

The actual stunning operation

For the well-being of reindeer, it is important that other reindeer cannot see the reindeer being stunned. Stunning is carried out in a space reserved specifically for this purpose. For successful stunning, the reindeer must be kept well in place. Usually, this requires at least one person in addition to the person carrying out stunning. (Majuri & Muuttoranta 2019, 8–9.)

The correct stunning spot can be determined by looking at the intersection between lines from the inner corners of the reindeer’s eyes to the opposite horns. The correct spot is 1–2 cm up from the intersection. The gun is placed firmly perpendicularly against the head. However, stunning must not be too powerful so that it will not make the reindeer vomit, for example. (Laaksonen 2020.)

Monitoring success

The success of stunning must be continuously monitored. If stunning is successful, the reindeer collapses immediately, its head, ears and tongue become flaccid and its eyes are lifeless. A reindeer may writhe even violently for twenty seconds from stunning. If stunning fails, the reindeer bends its neck, lifts its head, blinks its eyes and breathes rhythmically. In this case, the reindeer must be stunned again immediately at a slightly different spot. (Laaksonen 2020.)

Virtual Slaughterhouse

Practical training is required for carrying out successful stunning, as well as other work tasks related to slaughtering. At the same time, it is important to know the theory that forms the background for the work. This highlights the significance of rules and best practices and increases the motivation to follow them. The Lapland University of Applied Sciences has created the Virtual Slaughterhouse as a digital learning environment for slaughterhouse work.

The learning environment includes a website (in Finnish) offering information on slaughtering, the Web Slaughterhouse that works on a web browser (some of the content is available also in Swedish, Sámi and English) and the 3D Slaughterhouse used with the help of VR glasses.

The 3D Slaughterhouse is a virtual learning environment that offers the most effective learning experience when used together with an instructor. It creates a simulated multisensory learning experience for the user. The 3D Slaughterhouse includes three functional work stages: aiming and firing the stun gun, recovering blood from the jugular furrow with a sticking knife and aiming the cuts needed for removing the head.

The Virtual Slaughterhouse encourages especially young people to study slaughtering. Visually appealing digital learning environments motivate and enhance learning. In addition, the simulated slaughterhouse can be used to practice specific stages of slaughter work without risking the well-being of animals. Within the simulation, training in slaughtering can be offered in an environment that feels genuine, regardless of time and place.

The Web Slaughterhouse supporting independent learning can be accessed at www.virtuaaliteurastamo.fi/webbiteurastamo. Contact details for ordering the 3D slaughterhouse used for teaching slaughtering can be found at www.virtuaaliteurastamo.fi.

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Image 2. Overall view of the Web Slaughterhouse.

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Image 3. View of the inside of the Web Slaughterhouse.

The Virtual Slaughterhouse has been funded by the North Ostrobothnia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment from the European Social Fund. It has been implemented by the Lapland University of Applied Sciences, the Sámi Education Institute and the Reindeer Herders’ Association in the POROPEDA project.


Laaksonen, S. 2020. The “Lopetusasetuksen mukainen kelpoisuuskoulutus” material: Tainnutus. The POROPEDA project.

Majuri, K. & Muuttoranta, K. 2019. Hyvät käytännöt poroteurastuksessa. Accessed on 8 July 2021 https://paliskunnat.fi/ohjeet_oppaat/Poroteurastus__laitosteurastus_2019.pdf

Council regulation No. 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing

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