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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.

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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.

  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.


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

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