By definition, euthanasia should be timely and humane. On the farm, however, achieving both goals can be difficult. Most managers understand that euthanasia is an important part of good husbandry, but that doesn’t necessarily make the process any easier to carry out. Also, today fewer agricultural employees have a farming background or practical experience in caring for animals.

Morgan Morrow and Robert Meyer, researchers at North Carolina State University, have found little research on the attitudes of farm-animal workers toward euthanasia. However, when the two researchers asked farm workers, most said they don’t enjoy the task.

In a job-satisfaction survey, farrowing managers were the most dissatisfied – 31.3 percent said their job satisfaction “needs to change” or was “poor”. That compares with managers at 17.2 percent who responded the same way; assistant managers, 26.9 percent; and herdsman, 24.4 percent.

“We surmise that part of farrowing managers’ dissatisfaction is associated with the job requirement of having to euthanize poor-doing piglets,” says Morrow.

To help reduce labor turnover, you must be sensitive to factors contributing to employee unease. If it’s related to euthanasia you will need a special effort to resolve those issues.

"We suspect farm workers’ attitudes toward euthanasia vary according to their prior experience,” says Morrow. For example, people raised on farms that have euthanized animals before, or have seen others do it, may be better prepared to deal with it.

Farm managers must recognize differences in people’s aversion to euthanasia, and delegate the responsibilities accordingly. If people are constantly and reluctantly exposed to euthanasia they can experience dissatisfaction with their work. It can cause absenteeism, belligerence or careless animal handling.

“We are limited to euthanasia methods that act through mechanisms of direct neuronal depression, disruption of brain activity, and hypoxia to cause rapid unconsciousness and humane death,” notes Morrow. “Regardless of the method, people are disturbed less by the process when they feel distanced from the physical act of euthanasia or when animals exhibit little or no movement.”

Focus groups consisting of North Carolina swine farm managers told the North Carolina State researchers that they would prefer euthanasia methods “where you could give a shot and the animal goes to sleep” over the physical methods currently in use.

Because the euthanasia process often requires physical restraint of an animal, handlers can become injured. Less well understood, however, is that some farm workers suffer psychological distress when asked to euthanize animals.

“This is a poorly understood area in production agriculture,” notes Morrow.

  He advises that you or your managers spend time analyzing who is most affected, how you can address concerns, how to alleviate their distress. He adds that each farm needs to make this area a priority and provide employees with clear criteria for treatment or euthanasia of farm animals. Also provide appropriate equipment for the job, and follow up with proper and continuous employee training.