The stockperson perspective on euthanasia: Part one

Euthanasia can be one of the hardest parts of a stockpersons career, how do the handle it?

As farmers, you are one percent of our population who knows what it means to care for a living animal meant for food. Able to extend compassion and respect to the animals in your care while making life and death decisions on a daily basis. The farmer’s desire to see their animals prosper and doing what is right for the animal’s quality of life can create a “caring-killing” paradox, which is often misunderstood by the general public.

A farm owner or employee, who works with livestock such as pigs, is considered a “stockperson.” Studies have shown that the successful stockpersons are conscientious, caring, eager to learn, humble, careful observers, empathetic, and have a positive attitude. All of these attributes correlate to both improved productivity and animal welfare.

Understandably, stockpersons whose work involves euthanasia of an animal may experience significant levels of grief and/or distress when completing this task. A considerable amount of research has been conducted among animal shelter workers, veterinarians, and other animal caretakers on their reactions to euthanasia.

Experience strongly suggests that people who enjoy working on farms and are respectful toward animals often have a difficult time making the timely decision of when euthanasia should occur.

Could the way that a stockperson is required to perform euthanasia instill an inner psychological conflict? In psychology terms, this is known as cognitive dissonance, which is the mental discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. When this is experienced, individuals tend to become uncomfortable and they are motivated to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoid situations and information. In euthanasia, one of the outcomes of this dissonance is that euthanasia; especially methods like Manual Blunt Force Trauma (MBFT) are performed incorrectly. With MBFT, frequently not enough force is used, or employees did not stay to monitor the pig afterward, in order to confirm death. Because other employees are experiencing the same dissonance and are dealing with it in similar ways, these incorrect practices can become generally accepted in a farm’s culture. This causes deterioration in euthanasia practices that can go unnoticed because the change may not be easily recognized within the group of employees all sharing in the dissonance. Eventually, these practices can deteriorate to a point that we might be surprised or shocked to see “normal” industry practices on undercover expose.

In part two of this Michigan State University Extension series we will talk about ways for stock people to cope with the stress of euthanasia. 

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