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The 4 Most Humane Ways To Kill A Backyard Chicken

The 4 Most Humane Ways To Kill A Backyard Chicken

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If you raise livestock for meat, naturally part of that process will be learning how to properly euthanize the animals. However, even if you only keep a few loved pet hens for eggs, you still should understand how to put down a chicken in the event of a severe injury or other emergency.

People who are very sensitive about these things may prefer taking a severely sick or injured chicken to the vet or ask a knowledgeable neighbor to dispatch the animal, but remember that having someone to help you isn’t always going to be possible. If you take on the responsibility of caring for a flock of chickens, you also take the responsibility of having to put down a suffering one if such an event does occur. That goes for any type of livestock and, for some people, even pets if they live in a rural area very far from any veterinarian.

Methods of Putting Down Chickens

Do a simple Google search for how to humanely put down a chicken and you will find a whole slew of different answers — some of which work very well while others shouldn’t be used.

First off, if you are someone completely unfamiliar with euthanizing a chicken, it is easy to fall under the assumption that a “brutal” method must not be humane. For example, using a sharp knife or hatchet to lop off a chicken’s head is often seen as gory and even torturous by some, simply because of the blood. I’ve found many threads in forums about the subject of “humane” euthanasia where the person seems instead to be looking for the best way to kill a chicken with the least participation on their part — even if the method they choose isn’t humane at all.

All The Answers To Every Chicken Question And Quandary …

Here are a list of a few of the most humane methods:

1. Decapitation

Probably one of the oldest methods used, decapitation is a quick death for a chicken when done swiftly. You will need a very sharp, heavy knife/cleaver or a sharpened hatchet, plus someone there to hold the chicken. (You also can use what is called a “killing cone,” which requires only one person.)

Typically, people will use a tree stump as the chopping block. You will want to hammer two nails into the stump, just far enough apart that it will hold the chicken’s head in place. The purpose of the nails is that you can stretch the chicken’s neck slightly (this won’t hurt the bird) so you can get a clean cut. This should all be done very quickly but quietly to ensure the bird isn’t stressed. Have your helper pick up the bird, place the head gently between the nails so the neck is straight, and then chop.

It isn’t a pretty process but this method is quick and humane. It is also fairly fool-proof if you use a sharp knife/hatchet and swing down hard.

2. Cervical dislocation

The 4 Most Humane Ways To Kill A Backyard Chicken

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Cervical dislocation, or simply breaking the chicken’s neck, is another method that is humane when done correctly but requires more knowledge and confidence to do correctly compared to decapitation. I cannot stress enough that you must be confident in your ability to use this method correctly. There are many people who actually don’t break the neck completely and this just leads to a painful death for the animal.

There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Snapping the neck by hand ­– This is obviously a very hands-on approach and therefore not suitable for some people. What you will do is hold the chicken in your left arm, grasp the chicken’s head at the base of its skull (you can feel where the skull meets the neck) and snap the chicken’s head in a down and out movement. This is difficult to describe to in text, so I recommend you watch a video on how to do this or ask for an experienced neighbor or fellow chicken owner to show you. I’ve seen people do this on full-grown chickens, but I am not a very big person so I have only used it on young chickens and older chicks.
  • Using the “Broomsticking” Method – The broomsticking method is done by placing the chicken down on a hard surface between your feet, placing a broomstick behind the chicken’s head (just where you would place your hand), stepping down on the broomstick while simultaneously pulling up the chicken’s back legs to snap the neck. Again, please watch a video or have someone show you before trying this to ensure you do it properly. I haven’t used this method on chickens, but it is what I use for rabbits. It is quick, humane and does allow a smaller person to dispatch an animal that may be too large with the above technique.

Cervical dislocation is easy to learn and does have the benefit of being a bloodless method. However, please refrain from trying to just “wring” the chicken’s neck. There are some people who try simply to grab the chicken’s head with both hands and fling it about or over their head in an effort to break its neck. This is incredibly stressful and painful for the chicken since more often than not this fails. Please use one of the two above methods instead!

3. Use a gun or pellet gun

Another humane method is to use a gun (like a .22) or a pellet gun to dispatch the bird. A pellet gun is often more than enough as long as it is powerful enough. The pellet handguns are quite useful. Typically what I will do is wrap the chicken in a towel, place it on the ground and kneel down over the bird.

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I will then use a pellet gun close to the chicken’s head to dispatch the bird. This is a very easy method but not doable from those who don’t have a gun/pellet gun.

4. Using a CO2 ‘chamber’

This final method is better suited for chicks, bantam or young adult chickens. It requires more work but some people do prefer it for one reason or another. I recommend reading this article for more information. Some people also use a paintball CO2 canister as well.

Another method that seems to get passed around that is not at all humane is placing a chicken in a bag or box which is attached to a car’s exhaust. This is not humane like CO2 and is a very painful death, with the combination of heat and chemicals. If you are going to use anything, go with the above CO2 chamber or use a different method altogether.

Putting down a loved hen or favorite rooster isn’t an enjoyable process but it is important to know how to do it properly – and is necessary if you are raising chickens for meat. As mentioned before numerous times, it is best to watch educational videos or have an experienced person help you. Some rural vets will even give you advice on how to properly dispatch a chicken at home.

What is your preferred method to kill a chicken? Share your advice in the section below:

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  1. At the time of caring for the hens, my decision is to let them die as natural seniors. Did think of killing them for meat after egg production ceases. But checking the methods of killing, rather not.

    In my youth did participate in butchering chickens and pigs for food. Not being a vegan, do care they gave their eggs in service to us, it just seems better as pets.

    This is the difference in old age and life experiences to make this decision for my hens.

  2. Thank you for your article; I am trying to find information on killing some roosters with a pellet gun. This method seems quick, painless and merciful, and it is something I believe an old lady could do. Another reason I think shooting behind the head is superior to some other methods is that it is said to render the bird brain-dead, thereby releasing the skin’s hold on the feathers and making it easier to pluck. I don’t have a pellet gun – yet – and I wish you had said more about them.

  3. Thank you for this article. you set the perfect tone and yes, you are correct, i keep looking for a “more humane” method, when really, i want a less messy way to do it.
    i adopted Daisy the rooster from a family that hatched chicks for fun, and he is very handsome, takes wonderful care of his girls (nice to know they are safe free ranging), but he has become terribly aggressive. i’ve tried every form of retraining (starting with the most passive, gradually becoming more active/aggressive myself) and nothing works, he regularly draws blood from both myself and my husband. i don’t want to kill him, but i also don’t trust someone else to kill him with consideration for his pain.
    you put it factually with compassion, and it has helped me tremendously.

  4. Broomsticking and CO2. Shooting works very well as long as you live where it is legal to discharge a firearm or a pellet gun.

  5. Thank you for this article. I’ve been wanting to give my chicken the how d’you do for a while now, but just can’t decide which method to use. Although you used this example as an inhumane method, the compression of the bird’s head and swinging it overhead sounds quite effective and entertaining to the young ones around the house. Now, I don’t want to raise my offspring to be no-good school shooters, but anything to keep them happy. I imagine the only way I could do this method would be after having a couple of swigs on Nana’s brew with the boys from Chestershire. I see demons behind my eyelids and could see how this could make things end much worse than once thought. Thank you for this article.

    • That’s disgusting. You want to entertain your kids at your house by killing a chicken. Im sitting in my living room, with my sick chicken wrapped in a towel, looking for ways to put her down in a nice way.
      Your chicken might need to be culled, like mine, however, I’d never use killing a sick chicken for entertainment. Shame on you.

      • totally agree. i hope your offspring gets theirs like your chickens.

      • Killing a chicken for entertainment is beyond disgusting. To add you also are showing your kids. I will have to slaughter chickens this Friday and I am dreading the experience. I have raised two chickens that I call mine from eggs, which I cared for with handling and TLC. I will truly miss my two chickens as well as the other one I will be slaughtering. To kill chickens in an inhuman way for entertainment is shocking. I have been looking for the most humane way to kill my beloved chickens.

      • I think he was joking…

    • After exploring different methods of euthanasia over the last several days, I’m also leaning towards using a gun. I used the cervical dislocation method on a duckling several years ago (to the point of literal overkill as its head came off in the process) but am hesitant to attempt it on grown chickens in case I botch the job. I would still consider decapitation, though I think it would be emotionally more difficult for me than the alternatives. The CO2 chamber sounds almost pleasant, but I’m worried it could cause fear or may not be as quick or painless as people think (my reluctance probably stems from an unsuccessful attempt to euthanize a duck with car exhaust – NOT humane!). I have 4 “special needs” chickens in my flock that require lots of extra care, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that they are not going to get well and are probably suffering even with all the love and attention I give them. They are sweet and beautiful and I hate the thought of letting them go..

      • I have witnessed chicks being put to death via actual CO2. It was extremely quick. There was some brief, slight panting and then they were ‘asleep.’

  6. Grandma always hung her chickens on the clothes line by tieing their feet together. Then with a sharp knife, “butcher knife”, she cut off their heads. Seemed gruesome when we were kids, but can be done easily with one person. Very quick, and the beheaded bird can’t run around. My preferred method now.

  7. Pedro A Rodriguez

    I know that the belief is that the chicken is dead right after decapitation, but I am not taking any chances. After killing my first chicken and seeing its head showing activity for some time, I built a guillotine weighted down by a concrete block. the block is raised 3 feet and secured with a lever. once the chicken is calm and in place, the lever is released. As the block falls, the blade slices through the neck and immediately after that, the head is destroyed by the falling block and killed instantly, the chicken body is hung to bleed, the guillotine is cleared, block is lifted, resettled and is ready for the next chicken.

    • Yes you are right rodriguez. The french did an experiment back in the day when they were using guillotines. One of the people who was getting their head cut off agreed to participate in this experiment. After the head was cut off they were to blink their eyes for as long as they could if they were still conscious. Reportedly they did blink a number of times. The severing of the spinal column is not what causes the death but rather the lack of oxygen from the fresh blood not being able to reach the brain is what finally causes death after some number of seconds when the oxygen slowly runs out. In the case of just breaking the neck, death would ultimately be from the same thing, the spine being screwed up so the organs cant get their signal to properly pump fresh blood/oxygen to the brain.

      Your guillotine/head smasher is a brilliant idea for a humane death. Just the head smashing should suffice for killing humanly, cutting it off shouldn’t be necessary but as you say is useful for draining the blood out of the bird. Although the cells would still be alive for a number of seconds after the head is smashed, until the oxygen is used up, the smashing of the brain should immediately end consciousness/suffering. Great idea!

    • I would like to see a picture of this so I can get a better idea on how to make one. Thank you

  8. ~ My chicken is no longer suffering. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to do it. But watching her struggle was by far worse than helping her into the next life. Thank you for the guidance.


    • I’m in the same boat you were in. My beloved bird is suffering, and I need to help her. You did it, and that gives me courage to do it too.

    • your comment gave me courage to put one of my birds out of her misery. it wasn’t actually that bad – it made me far sadder to see her flail around and unable to work the feeder. i didn’t realise how thin she was until i saw her wet and realised she had been sleeping outside in the winter. no amount of putting her back in the henhouse would help, next night she would be there bedraggled.

      i read this article then your comment and walked up to their area. she was standing, half the weight of my other girl from the same batch – i just made my resolve. made the killing board and took her downstairs to the driveway. fair warning – the body makes the “book book” noise the chook makes and not its head – i was really surprised, but it was going book book whilst blood was rushing out of its neck. a machete was used for a clean cut and i got it perfect.

      not fun, but neither was her life.

      now she’s at peace, turning back into dust from whence she came. there will be other hens, and i can take solace knowing she had a good life.

      FYI i believe she was spooked or attacked by a rat. she went from healthy to stumbling and weak. kept her for a few more weeks and she went good then bad then good. even had a vet house call and he said she looked ok that day – but today – today was different.

      RIP Alice. you were a lovely black orpington, who never laid an egg and freeloaded off me for 8 months, but you were my orpington and you were a proud and beautiful bird.

      ill say this – i let her go on too long. and thats the only part i feel bad about. i loved her and thought she would get better, but i should have drawn the line a month ago.

  9. We have always shot chickens that need to be culled. One shot and it is over.

  10. Got some hens in my backyard and I never try to kill a chicken even once, that’s so hard for me.

  11. This was a helpful article as I was concerned about finding a proper and humane way to dispatch one of our old hens. Ive cut the head off another one using an axe before but was looking for a cleaner method. I decided to use a .22 rifle. I placed some grain on the ground and as she pecked away I stood about five metres back and took careful aim. I can tell you that death was absolutely instantaneous and she dropped without making a sound. It’s the method I’ll be using in the future. Thanks again.

  12. Thank you so much for the advice. I have just dispatched a crippled juvenile chicken who’s legs stopped working. It was so emotional and took days to work up the courage but I sharpened my axe and used the 2 nails in the chopping block method. Honestly it was so quick and humane -the chicken was calm and the whole process was all over in 1-2 seconds. I am glad I read this post. Thank you again.

  13. Having a rat get into the coup and attack some of our meat birds leaving them half eaten but alive, we’ve had to find a way to dispatch them quickly, painlessly and dispose of the body at the same time. We’ve buried them alive. It sounds cruel at first, but having a backhoe, we are able to dig a 3-4′ deep hole, place the chicken in the hole – gently and with a lot of soothing attention – and drop a bucket load of the dirt on top, and making sure they are dead by dealing a crushing blow by tamping the bucket down on top. It’s over quick.

  14. Some of you have alot of nerve. Smh how dare you tell someone they are sick and kids deserve to die the same way. You are the example of what’s wrong with Americans. And No I’m not talking about killing a chicken which in our culture unless you are a vegan since birth you have a part in killing since u created the need for dead chickens. NOW what I meant by you are what is wrong with America I mean you are a coward by talking to people that you will never see with disrespect over the internet. You will never say anything to anyone’s face yet here you are online talking smack. Smh pathetic Loser. …

  15. I’ve had to dispatch several sick hens over the years and agree that it’s no fun. Bear in mind however that a suffering chicken may not appear to be all that ill as they pretend that nothing is wrong as their only defense mechanism. Better to euthanize than allow any animal to suffer. My preferred method is to dig a hole. place the bird inside, hold her body down with the shovel, and one shot to the back of the head with a small caliber handgun. Reflexes will cause her to move a bit for almost two minutes but I believe death is instantaneous.

  16. What about something like a bolt gun? They use them on cattle.

  17. Don’t use CO2! Use nitrogen.
    CO2 incites panic and terror (this is like putting a plastic bag over your head).
    Nitrogen just feels like normal breathing, but you black out because there isn’t oxygen.
    Both are available at your neighbourhood welding shop, and cost the same.

  18. Referring the the gas method, avoid using CO2. Use argon, helium or some other noble gas. They are odorless, non-toxic and do not hurt to inhale. I know it’s morbid, but humans who want to end their own lives have developed something called an exit bag which you can modify for your chickens very easily. They lose consciousness after breathing normally – with no gasping or struggle whatsoever – for only a few breaths. They are brain dead after three minutes with no oxygen. They are allowed to proceed through the death process in a very normal, non-traumatic way. The use of argon can be done wither with an exit bag (an oven bag, a rubber band, a flexible tube and a tank of gas) or in a chamber.

    I share all this as someone who studied both chemistry and neuroscience, who killed and dissected rats for research when I was in college, and as someone who has had a near death experience. Here’s what I know:

    The brain is the physical mechanism of consciousness. It relies on oxygen to stay alive. When oxygen is used by body cells, including brain cells, to create ATP (the form of chemical energy that animal cells use to perform work) through a complex chemical process called the Kreb Cycle, CO2 is a byproduct. This is why we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide (CO2). When CO2 is allowed to reach too high concentrations in the body the brain signals us to take a new breath. If CO2 levels get high enough animals gasp for air desperately and this process of not being able to breathe is painful. When oxygen is replaced by inert (noble) gasses the Kreb Cycle is interrupted and the body does not build up too high concentrations of CO2 so there is no gasping reflex, no sense that one is being suffocated.

    Decapitation may seem quick and, sure, you know they are dead once the head is off, but the brain takes several minutes to die when there is no oxygen. The severed head is still very much alive and capable of consciousness. Moreover, all of the nerves that relay pain to the brain run through the neck, of course. So decapitation affects all of those nerves, in fact sending pain signals to the brain until it loses consciousness. I suspect that being decapitated is actually one of the most painful deaths that could occur simply due to the damage done to nerves in the neck – all of them.

    Last, when I died I was a scientific rationalist agnostic. I didn’t believe in souls or God or life after death of any kind. What I experienced fundamentally changed my perspectives. We very much have souls and our souls very much recognize the process of death for what it is. We are familiar when death when it happens to us, strangely so. And it can feel frightening but it is also extremely peaceful if met with surrender. In my experience the moment of death felt like I was opening and peeling out of my head, moving up through the layers of my being. My body twitched and jerked violently and rhythmically not from mere nerve impulses as I had once been so arrogantly sure of, but from the process of untethering the self from the body. I believe that being able to move your body in ways that feel normal to you as you die is an important aspect of being able to exit peacefully and with minimal trauma.

    • Thank you for this. It makes so much sense to me. There is so much about death we don’t understand. Having seen chickens killed (by my husband for meat), I have always felt that the bird wasn’t instantly dead although it’s head was off. I am one of the biggest animal lovers that ever lived and can’t stand the thought of an animal suffering needlessly at my hands. That’s why we started raising our own meat birds in the first place. I am considering using a high powered pellet gun to the back of the head. Any thoughts on that?

  19. What about giving the sick chicken sleeping pills? Anyone tried that?

    • I am thinking the same thing. My neighbor has a sick chicken and there must be a pill that will kill thus chicken without having to murder it.

  20. I have a crippled hen that I raised from a chick and she is 5 months old now, and getting worse and worse. I pick her up and put her in a nest inside the coop at night, and I take her out and put her in front of food and water in the morning. She’s real sweet, and I know what has to be done, but I just can’t do it! I CAN’T! I’m such a woos but I can’t kill a pet – it’s just not in me. It breaks my heart to even think of having to do it myself. Isn’t there something like ether that they use in labs for rats? Doesn’t that just put them to sleep? If someone knows of something that can let them go to sleep – would you let me know PLEASE?

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