Chickens & Euthanasia

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.

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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.

Shooting:

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: https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/the-chicken-worlds-worst-chore-culling-the-injured-and-sick-babies.72140/


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
About author
Chicken Girl1
A chicken girl raising her flock of hens on 10 acres, with lots of woods and privacy.

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Is is possible to obtain medicine from my local farm store to give or inject into the suffering chicken to euthanize it?
Thanks for writing about this
Very informational!
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Comments

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.
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!
 
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...
great advice, thanks for posting!
 
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?
 
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?
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.
 
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!
 
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.
 
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.
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.
 
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.
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.
 
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.
 

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