Humane Culling for Pet Chickens: Chopping Block or Kill Cone?

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7 Years
Mar 21, 2016
Maine, USA
My Coop
My Coop
We had to put down one of our beloved flock not too long ago: a production red that was succumbing to internal laying. We had always heard a kill cone was the most humane way to cull a bird, so that's what we tried. It was a disaster, actually. But we learned from our mistakes (didn't make the cuts properly at first) and will not repeat them.

However given the involved process of the killing cone, I have to wonder how it would be less humane to just use a chopping block?

I ask the question because we have one more production red exhibiting very similar laying troubles. For two weeks we've been carefully managing her, but we are unsure if she will get back to normal laying or if things will go bad the way they did with her "sister." If things do go badly (or even if they don't) I want to be able to put our girls down with the least suffering (most important) and the most dignity (secondary concern to suffering) as possible.

Here are my concerns about the humane aspects of the typical kill cone process:
- How long do they take to bleed out when the cuts are made well? Does it take a minute?
- The cone restrains, but our girl flailed her bleeding neck and scratched constantly with her feet while she was bleeding out until she was gone. Disturbing is an understatement. We had her upside down for more than a minute before putting her in the kill cone so she would "red out" before the cutting. I'm sure that helped, but body did not seem to be "suffering minimally."

I am considering a "hybrid" chopping block technique. Invert the chicken to calm it, put it in the kill cone. Hang the cone so that the bird's neck is adjacent to a heavy, fixed wood block (i.e. the chopping block's face is vertical, not horizontal). Gently stretch the neck out on the block and with a very sharp hatchet, take off the head.

It is unceremonious to decapitate a loved pet, for sure. But it's over instantly in one stroke (at least the *suffering* is over, even if it takes the body some time to die). Even done well the kill cone process seems to take far longer.

Anyone out there with experience along these lines? I have no interest in raising birds for meat and processing them. Just trying to send pets along as quickly/easily as possible.
The kill cone and knife takes time to get it right and a very sharp knife. They will always flail as that's a normal nervous reaction. If done right, they'll fall asleep before the cut and never wake up. It does take a couple minutes for them to bleed out.

I know several people who use tubing cutters to remove the head in one quick motion. Others who use starting fluid and others who use the ax or broom methods.

In the end, you have to decide what's best for both you and the bird.
To me the most humane way to kill a chicken is the way you can. You want it to be fast and sure. You don't want to hurt yourself doing it. You don't want to flinch or close your eyes at a bad time. There will be death throes but if the nerves are severed there is no pain.

I use the hatchet and chopping block method. I grew up using hammers, axes, things like that. I'm confident I can hit the target. If you don't have that confidence it may not be the way for you to try. I drive two big nails in the stump to form a Vee, the bottom maybe 3/4" apart, the top maybe 1-1/2". I fit the head in there to hold it steady and gently stretch out the chicken. They are usually very calm, very little movement.

One thing that concerns me about your proposed cone and hatchet method. You want to chop into the wood grain, not against it. If you cut into the grain, like the top of a stump, the hatchet head will sink in and make a good cut. If you hit against the grain the hatchet head will bounce off. It's harder to get a clean cut. You'll still kill the chicken if you hit it right, but your margin for error is less.

There are other methods but I don't use them so I can't help you much with them. As long as you can use them and follow through without flinching most of those are going to be humane to me. It's the suffering I want to avoid, blood and death throes do not equate to suffering to me.
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