Euthanising or killing a chicken is one of the less attractive aspects of keeping chickens and of course, a vet can do this for you but it is sometimes necessary for us to kill a chicken at home.
We have a duty of care for every chicken in our flock and must prevent unnecessary suffering. If a bird is clearly suffering and has no chance of recovering, it can sometimes be kinder to kill it than to leave it in the hope that it might get better.
Many newcomers to the hobby will buy an incubator and hatch out some chicks to find they have more cockerels than they can keep or re-home. At first, cockerels will get on together but come next year when they have matured and the breeding season starts, they will start to fight so it is better to face reality sooner than later. The younger they are, the easier they are to kill so if you are attempting this for the first time, don’t put it off. Alternatively, you could fatten your cockerels to eat.
Surplus male birds in a flock cause problems: fighting amongst themselves and causing injury to one another as well as mating excessively with the hens, causing spur wounds on their sides and back.
Cocks will usually fight – often to the death.
Before you decide to kill a chicken, I would recommend you read the correct method to dispatch a chicken. Whilst I have used the neck dislocation method for years, when researching other possible methods for this article, I wondered whether this was the most humane that could be practiced at home. The people who know about this in the UK are the Humane Slaughter Association and I found some interesting information out about the various methods of killing a chicken and created a separate article around this.
The Neck Dislocation Method
When killing a chicken, the aim is to minimise suffering so the bird becomes unconscious as quickly as possible. If done correctly, the neck is dislocated and the bird becomes unconscious immediately.
Ideally you should have an experienced poultry keeper show you how to do this as it is not easy to describe the method or show in pictures. This method can also be used on other small poultry but unless you are experienced, do not attempt it on larger birds like heavy breeds of ducks. Other methods such as a killing cone or the broomstick method can be used for large ducks, geese and turkeys.
1Catch the bird calmly, ideally in the evening when the bird is roosting and calm. Take it to a quiet location away from the sight of others and where the other birds won’t become stressed if hearing any noises such as flapping of wings. A garage or outbuilding is ideal.
2Hold the birds legs firmly with your weakest hand (i.e. your left hand if you are a right-handed person). The legs should be held tightly together, just above the feet making sure you avoid any spurs from hurting you if it’s a male bird.
3Place the birds chest on your thigh to support its weight during the dispatch process. The bird is now upside down with the head being the lowest point of the bird and the legs the highest point.
4Open your first finger and second finger of your right hand. Place the back of the bird’s head tightly between these fingers and your thumb under the bird’s beak, tilting the head back slightly as shown in the photo.
5With a firm action, pull the neck sharply downwards bringing the head backwards at the same time, pressing your knuckles into the vertebrae of the bird so the head is bent back and neck stretched at the same time.
6Expect a lot of flapping of wings and kicking of legs. This can sometimes happen a few seconds after the dislocation. This is the reaction of the nervous system when the bird dies and the bird is not in any pain at this point providing the neck is dislocated.
If you have done the job correctly, you should have felt the neck ‘stretch’ and the head move downwards. You should be able to run your finger and thumb down the vertebrae and feel a gap where they have been dislocated.
If you are planning on eating the bird you will need to follow the final step detailed below:
Before plucking and dressing, hang the bird by its feet so that the blood runs to neck. The gap that you felt in the vertebrae where the neck has been dislocated will hold some of the blood and you will need to cut a slit in the neck here, severing the main artery in the neck to ‘bleed’ the bird. You will need to do this over a container. I use a black plastic rubbish bin with a plastic bin bag in it as the blood will splatter if a bucket is used and leave your floor looking like a horror film. The bin and plastic bin bag can be used to hold the feathers and insides when plucking and dressing before being knotted and disposed of.
You may find it easier (especially with cockerels) to use the broom stick method. Instead of holding the neck, place the bird’s head on the ground, comb upwards, beak pointing away from you and place a broom handle over the back of the neck up against the comb. Place your feet either side to securely hold the head and pull upwards on the feet to stretch the neck in one motion.
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