Chickens & Euthanasia

By Chicken Girl1 · Mar 23, 2018 · ·
  1. Chicken Girl1
    One of the cons of backyard chicken keeping is being faced with the decision to euthanize your animal. As a first time chicken keeper or an oldie, who hasn’t crossed this bridge, you will have a couple of questions on the subject. When should I euthanize a bird? How should I go about it? Both these questions will be answered, hopefully aiding you in this tough situation.


    First off what is euthanasia?

    Definition of euthanasia: the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.

    When should I euthanize a chicken?

    - If a bird is in serious pain from an illness and there is no hope of recovery.

    - If a bird is unable to live a good quality of life due to injuries.

    - If a bird has a contagious disease which threatens the livelihood of your flock.

    - Excess roosters unable to find a home causing stress to hens or humans. (Granted this last criteria does not fall under the true definition of euthanasia)

    How should I euthanize a chicken?

    Although different opinions vary on what is the most “humane” way to euthanize a bird below is listed the commonly used ways and how to perform them.

    Ax and Stump:

    For this method you will need a very sharp ax or hatchet, a chopping block of some sort, and a bucket. It is a good idea somtimes to practice on some inert object beforehand. Once you are confident with your aim and strength of swing you can get your bird. Hold the bird down with your left hand or have someone hold it for you. Get the bird's neck as flat on the block as possible (some hammer two nails into the stump to place the head in between to keep it in place). Strike hard and clean, if you miss don’t freak out or run away, keep control of yourself and do it again. Be prepared for the bird to spasm, it isn’t alive just reflex. At this time you can place it into the bucket until it subsides.

    The Broomstick method:

    What you’ll need is a broomstick or pole of some sort which won’t break under pressure. Place the bird on solid ground between your feet while holding the legs. Lay the broomstick behind the chicken’s head. Step down on the broomstick while simultaneously pulling up the chicken’s legs to snap the neck. Be sure to force into it so it actually breaks the connection of head to spine. If you pull to hard the head can come off. Watching a video online or an experienced person demonstrate it for you first is best.

    Cervical dislocation:

    This accomplishes the same goal as the broomstick method but with a more hands on approach. You must hold the bird's legs in one hand and it's head in the other, with your thumb wrapping around the bird's throat at the base of the jaw and your fingers coming up to wrap around the top of the head and meet you thumb. Tilt the head slightly upwards and back, so the beak is toward the sky, and then yank your arms in opposite directions as quickly and as hard as you can. If unsure please watch an experienced person demonstrate for you or watch a video.


    I found this method best for birds that are unable to move or hurt to be handled. If you are familiar with guns or know someone who is shooting at the head will cause instant death. You can use a gun (like a .22) or a strong pellet gun.

    Gas method:

    There are several different gassing methods, but I will link you to a specific article showing one way to go about it:

    The most humane way is the best way you can carry out. Some maybe squeamish about the broomstick or cervical dislocation methods, while others still with the axe and the cone. Choose a way that you have the most confidence in completing without causing extra pain to your bird.

    Thank you to all the helpful BYC members for their discussions and sharing of their knowledge on this subject.

    Further recommended reading: Topic of the Week - Let's talk about euthanasia

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    About Author

    Chicken Girl1
    A chicken girl raising her flock of hens on 10 acres, with lots of woods and privacy.
    You, DiYMama540, Miss Lydia and 8 others like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. rbnk1
    "Good, but I have questions"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Aug 27, 2019
    Is is possible to obtain medicine from my local farm store to give or inject into the suffering chicken to euthanize it?
  2. ronott1
    "excellent article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 31, 2019
    Thanks for writing about this
  3. Miss Lydia
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jan 12, 2019
    Very informational!
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  1. Rajandura
    Thank you for posting this. I havent had to cull, or euthanize a bird yet, but, since all of mine are "pets" at the moment, i imagine it is going to suck no matter which method i choose. It is one of the reasons i waited so long to get into farm animals... here's hoping for several more years before I have to worry about revisiting this thread again!
  2. shelbyw
    What about hanging the bird upside down and severing the main arteries in its neck? I have done the ax and stump method, but I was wondering if the draining of the blood was more efficient and better for the bird? I have a cockerel that I am going to have to cull soon so suggestions are welcome :thumbsup
      Abriana likes this.
    1. Abriana
      You can purchase a cone specifically made for culling the bird this way, or make one out of an old sack even. There are ideas online for a DIY cone.
      shelbyw likes this.
    2. shelbyw
      Thank you!
      Abriana likes this.
    3. Abriana
      No problem!
      shelbyw likes this.
  3. Clairenh
    As much as I hate to think of when this time comes, I have another question, particularly for those who have chickens as pets, or at least beloved egg-laying yard mates - what do you do with their body? I really don't think I could eat them. We only have 3. I was thinking if and when the time comes I could find a local farm that would euthanize them then do whatever they do. I can't imagine just throwing one of the girls away, yet I also don't want to start a chicken graveyard in the yard.
      Abriana likes this.
    1. Abriana
      I have a garden that is beautiful in the summertime, and they have a little spot in it. Pumpkin or watermelon vines grow over their little resting place and so space is not wasted by any means (not planted over them though). No grave markers or anything, I just lined the area with some rocks because I prefer that people at least try not to walk all over it. I don't think that I could do anything give them a little funeral there, it just would feel like I wasn't taking care of them until the very last time I saw them and I'd feel guilty just tossing them out. I'm sure with three it won't turn into a whole graveyard, even if you get more. You just need a little private space where you can lay them when the end comes.
      Clairenh likes this.
  4. blackandtan
    I always shoot them, I use .22 rat shells, which are mini shotgun type shells, they cleanly destroy the head...a poorly aimed .22 bullet might not (I know).
    Head chopping and especially cutting the throat just feels too murder-y to me.
      SJhomesteader likes this.
  5. Sylvester017
    Before starting a backyard flock I was so concerned about housing, feed, predator safety, etc, that thinking into the future about the death of our new birds was a distant thought -- then about a year into having a backyard flock one of our precious hens seemed on the verge of breathing/wheezing to death as we sat with her through the night thinking we were losing her. First thing in the morning when the vet office opened we rushed her to him and he gave her an injection of Baytril and she was fine by the time we got her home -- as if nothing was wrong or that we sat up with her through the night waiting for her demise!!!!

    That hen had various reasons for needing our vet during her 6 years of life -- until she had a hard rubbery egg stuck to her vent and we rushed her to the vet again! The egg was part of a bleeding ovarian tumor and sad as it was we asked the vet to put her down for us. There comes a time when there are just no other options left inasmuch as this wonderful vet did so much throughout her life to pull her through respiratory issues, bruised/winded from being knocked down from a perch, and losing toes and toenails from scratching so hard in wooden nestboxes (which were immediately lined with plexiglass to avoid further splinters from scratching hen feet!). Our vet loved our little Silkie hen having pulled her through so many injuries and health issues but the bleeding tumor was just too much and we made the decision to put her down.

    We were fortunate to find a vet who treated not only dogs/cats but also exotics and birds -- plus he had once worked in the poultry industry and was comfortable treating our chickens. Our chickens are our pets and we could no more give them away or euthanize them ourselves so we choose going to our vet. He not only helps us with our flock's health issues but he helps owners to rehome animals too.

    We know a farm friend who rescues unwanted roos and battery hens, so re-homing our hens has never been a problem -- but when it comes to euthanizing -- I am thankful for having found such a great veterinarian who also happens to treat the wildlife that the Forest Rangers bring to him. Finding such a great vet is not an available option for all chickeneers so I appreciate those of you that have no other option but to euthanize your own animals in whatever humane way you can.
      anderstr196 and Abriana like this.
  6. Helenahenbasket
    I use very sharp hedge trimmers. I don’t pick up the bird or anything. Wherever it is, I just place the hedge trimmers around its neck.
  7. Yuki
    I would rather take my hens to the vet to be put downno offense its just my opinion
  8. Poultrybonkers
    The gas method doesnt work I tried it before and all it did was gasp for air
    1. View previous replies...
    2. duluthralphie
      I have never had it take long and they simply go to sleep for me. They might have some gasps in the end, but they are asleep at that point and never know it. I use either, the same stuff they use to give humans for surgery.

      I am curious what do you use that you consider humane?
    3. pitbullmomma
      It didn't take that long. I don't remember exactly how long, it was a while ago . I used starting fluid. She wasn't gasping for air, she basically went to sleep. FWIW, I used to be a small animal vet (and a hospice nurse as well) and put many animals down, so I would not do anything that was inhumane. I was all about comfort care and quality of life and did not perform euthanasia lightly (ie, convenience euthanasia).
    4. pitbullmomma
      Ether=starting fluid. It's what they used to give humans for anesthesia back in the old days, prior to isofluorane and the other drug/gases they use now. NOT inhumane. If I still had access to vet drugs I wuld give Fatal Plus, but I don't want to pay the $500/year to keep my CDS license up. If I didn't earn about @duluthralphie 's method--or if it didn't work for whatever reason--I would take my chicken to a local vet friend in a heartbeat. Just sayin'.
  9. Chickem707
    Could just actually get it done properly, say at a vets, but but if you like ripping apart the necks then sure. If somehow you can afford chickens but not a vet trip, then I suggest the traffic cone method, as it is quick. Always do a good amount of research on whatever way, or even get a professional or experienced person to assist the first time.
      Yuki likes this.
    1. duluthralphie
      I am sorry, if this is against your values, but I have hundreds of birds. I cannot afford to run to the Vet every time I have an animal that I need to put down.

      I use the ether in a can method as an easier to do method for those of us that hate doing the job, but know it must be done. I have nothing against the other methods and have used many of them myself on birds or other animals.

      The one I would not do is shoot them, that would be too much money and work having to buy the shells and then clean the gun.
      shawluvsbirds likes this.
    2. path.otto
      I was told by my vet that for home euthanasia cervical dislocation is the accepted (he actually said "only accepted", but I hesitated to say that here) humane method of euthanasia. It renders the chicken unconscious immediately and death occurs within seconds.
  10. FlyWheel
    I'm dubious about the "humanity" of many of these methods, especially the physical ones like beheading. The reason being that the brain does not instantly die after the rest of the body is killed or detached; doing so only deprives it of oxygen by interrupting it's supply of blood. So essentially the bird can still suffer until actual brain death occurs, which can take minutes after it's oxygen supply is interrupted, all the while it will be receiving pain signals from the damaged area/severed nerves. This is why physical forms of executions are no longer used on humans.

    The only way I could see that would prevent any possible post mortem suffering using physical means would be killing it by actually destroying the brain. A head shot, for example. Or using an odorless anesthetic gas, putting it to sleep.
      BlklogVlygirls and shannon84 like this.
    1. Tesumph
      While those would hurt the least, it’s not exactly practical on a large scale processing operation or typical farm work. For a beloved pet, for sure. But to an extent, any way they go will cause some degree of stress or pain just before death, except maybe a totally unexpected gunshot to the head.
      BlklogVlygirls likes this.
    2. Henrik Petersson
      In Sweden there is a law that you have to make the bird pass out before you kill it. The common method of euthanasia here is to hit it hard in the head with something, then behead it.
    3. Helenahenbasket
      Depriving a brain of oxygen doesn’t hurt. It’s an increased loss of consciousness. I would think the lights go out before the bird can feel any anxiety from loss of oxygen. Its just like a human passing out. Passing out is fine when you compare it to other deaths.
      BlklogVlygirls likes this.
  11. Abriana
    I couldn’t ever use any of these methods. I’m way too attached. As the person below says, I would take mine to a vet. Great article tho, all humane methods that keep the bird’s comfort in mind. Great job!
      DucksOhio and Chicken Girl1 like this.
    1. DucksOhio
      I agree with you. I’d go to the vet.
      shannon84, Abriana and VeganGal like this.
  12. basement chick
    For some, like me, I just can't do any of these. I h ave had just a few chickens for eggs for me and my husband and I love them as pets. I have taken two to a veterinarian and have them put down. I know this is an expense but better than letting them suffer, right?
      Yuki, VeganGal and Chicken Girl1 like this.
    1. path.otto
      I think it's good to know what you are capable of and having a contingency plan. Nothing wrong with having a vet euthanize your pet chickens.
    2. ChickenyChickeny
      I would do that to... I couldn't kill any of my chickens
  13. path.otto
    Thanks for writing this article! I know if I am going to have chickens I will be faced with this eventuality and I need to be the one, not my husband, as they are my girls.
  14. peterlund
    If i may....if you are faced with a "first time" need to dispatch a bird.... bring in a seasoned friend... be sure your bird has no head and you still have all your fingers when the dust settles...
    1. Chicken Girl1
      great advice, thanks for posting!
  15. Tesumph
    You forgot cutting the throat. We put them in an upside down traffic cone with a notch cut out and slice deeply just under the jaw.
    1. Chicken Girl1
      Yes, I was going to put that in but didn't get around to it. Once I research it thoroughly I would like to to add it. Thank you!
      Tesumph likes this.
    2. Little Jerry Seinfeld
      I agree. This needs to be in the article when they can. I find that a sharp knife is easiest and quickest, I hold mine in my arms, not a cone, because they are tame and I think it comforts them.
  16. duluthralphie
    Good article, You hit the reasons to do the nasty deed.

    You are so right on doing the one that works best for you. None of them are fun. I have been using a PVC cutter on the birds I want to eat, less chance of losing a finger or hand than with an axe.
  17. Dayrel
    Thanks for writing about a tough, but necessary subject.

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