Those of you who have eaten home-killed meat will have noticed that it is more tender and tastier than meat from animals killed in the freezing works. This is partly because commercial operators must comply with a regulation requiring that stock is visibly clean when presented for slaughter. Yet stock may be daggy and muddy when they arrive (especially if they've come off turnips), and they will have defaecated on each other when packed in the truck or in the yards.
Cleaning sheep, cattle, and goats on arrival at the meat works isn't easy, and the meat works usually opt for methods that are cheap and convenient. For sheep (and perhaps goats) this can mean swim-washing (being dropped from a moving ramp into a 20-metre-long channel of cold water and scrabbling to the far end where another escalator lifts them out). Sometimes after drying off they are washed again. Some works use another method of cleaning – spray washing, which involves prolonged and very high-pressure/high volume jets of cold water from all sides.
As you can imagine, both types of procedures are very stressful for livestock. They are particularly hard on cull animals, which are often older and in thin condition. For all animals, the cold stress is of course much worse in winter.
From the time they leave the farm until they are killed, the stock has to endure fasting (sometimes for two days or more), transport (often for many hours), and prolonged yarding as well as the washing procedures. By the time most animals get to the slaughter box, the combined effect of all these stresses has resulted in the muscles' energy store (glycogen) being depleted and as a result, the muscles' pH is increased and the quality of the meat drops. Ironically, although washing in the yards may make the animal look cleaner at slaughter, it actually increases the bacterial contamination of the carcase.
It is now generally recognised that washing compromises welfare and meat quality, and over the years standards in lairage (meat works' yards) have improved. For example, stock are not now subjected to more than two washing episodes, most works employ an animal welfare person to oversee the washing procedures, and some works offer incentives for clean stock particularly lambs.
However, like most lifestyle farmers, you probably try to ensure that your animals are farmed well and treated humanely, and you would no doubt like to ensure their good welfare right up to the end. For this reason and if you have relatively few animals, you should consider home-kill. In most areas, there are skilled licensed home kill operators who will do the job efficiently and economically, with minimum distress to all concerned. Standards vary between operators, so ask around for advice on the best in your region.
Remember that home-killed meat cannot be sold, it must only be used for home consumption. However, there are many economic benefits from using home-kill butchers. You get the whole carcase including offal that can be cooked for pet food, and bones for dogs, and the hide for tanning.
If you decide to send your animals to the works, make sure they are as clean as possible when they set off. Trim off any dirty wool or dags and to get rid of some of their gut fill keep them in yards overnight with water and maybe just a little hay but no pasture.