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This article is about the trade and slang term. For the Canadian band, see Knacker (band).
"A Dead Horse on a Knacker's Cart", drawing by Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827).

A knacker /ˈnæk.ə(ɹ)/ is a person in the trade of rendering animals that have died on farms or are unfit for human consumption, such as horses that can no longer work.[1] This leads to the slang expression "knackered" meaning very tired, or "ready for the knacker's yard", where old horses are slaughtered and the by-products are sent for rendering. A knacker's yard or knackery is different from a slaughterhouse, where animals are slaughtered for human consumption. In most countries, knackery premises are regulated by law.

A horse carcass, rendered, had many uses. In the U.S., the meat could be used as food at a mink ranch, pig farm, fox farm, or greyhound race track, in pet food, or in zoos. Bones were ground up for bone meal fertilizer. Hides were made into leather or, along with joints and hooves, processed to make glue for the furniture and book binding trades (hence the idea of old horses being sent to the glue factory).

In modern usage, especially in Ireland, the word has come to describe both those from lower-class backgrounds who tend to engage in anti-social behaviour, as well as those of an Irish Traveller background. In this sense, the usage of the word "knacker" is akin to the usage of the term "chav" in England and ned in Scotland. The variant term of 'Bulls Knacker' is prevalent in Newcastle upon Tyne, meaning someone who deliberately misbehaves.

The word "knacker" was first used in 1812.[2] It is from the Scandinavian word represented by O.N. hnakkur saddle and hnakki "back of the neck".[3]

Use of term[edit]

The term is in this literal sense in British English and Irish English, and gained some notoriety during the outbreak of mad cow disease (BSE) in the United Kingdom. The Slaughterhouses Act 1974, the Meat (Sterilisation and Staining) Regulations 1982, and the Food Safety Act 1990 all define a "knacker's yard" as "any premises used in connection with the business of slaughtering, skinning or cutting up animals whose flesh is not intended for human consumption".[4]

Knackery by-products are rendered under regulation into fats and meat and bone meal for incineration. Cattle hides may be recovered for leather production. The kinds of animal processing which can occur at knackeries are defined by law, for example, in Australia by the Commonwealth Meat Inspection Act 1983.[5] In the EU the legislation covering knackeries is the REGULATION (EC) No 1069/2009 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 21 October 2009 laying down health rules as regards animal by-products and derived products not intended for human consumption.[6] The trade of collecting and rendering is by its nature unpleasant and pungent. The trade and those who practice it were considered to be repellent in many societies, resulting in a social separation. This is so not only in Ireland or Britain, but also, for example, in Japan, where it is performed by burakumin. In the past this deterred people from entering the trade but in modern times knackeries have become profitable businesses.[citation needed]


"Knackered" meaning tired, exhausted or broken in British and Irish slang is commonly used in Australia, Ireland, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In southern parts of Australia if something is rendered useless or broken by an inept person it is said to be 'Knackered'. "Knackers" is also British/Australasian slang for testes,[7] although this usage may be derived from nakers – small mediaeval kettle drums which were typically played in pairs suspended from a belt around the waist.

The term "knacker" is sometimes used in Ireland to denote an Irish Traveller. In 1960, senior politician James Dillon explained the term to the Irish parliament as denoting "the tough type of itinerant tinker".[8] The use of the word is considered pejorative.

The British satirical magazine Private Eye often refers to senior police figures as "Inspector Knacker" or the police force in general as "Knacker of The Yard", a reference to Jack "Slipper of the Yard" Slipper.[citation needed]

Automotive junkyards, salvage yards or recyclers may also be referred to as "knackers' yards" or "knackers".


  1. ^ What is a Knackerman, undated (accessed 18 February 2007)
  2. ^ "Knacker". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-07-07. 
  3. ^ "Knacker". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-07-07. 
  4. ^ Food Act 1984,
  5. ^ Meat Inspection Act 1983 (Cth)
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ e.g. Thomas in The Virgin Soldiers
  8. ^ "Dáil Éireann - Volume 183 - 29 June, 1960". Dáil Éireann. 1960-06-29. Retrieved 6 December 2011.