"Pithing" Slaughter?


14 Years
Oct 13, 2008
Has anybody slaughtered their chickens with the "pithing" method, or whatever you call it--the one where you pierce the brain to kill it instantly and then sever the arteries in the neck to bleed it out? I'm not new to slaughtering chickens, FWI--I used to do the "stump and hatchet", then I moved to the "decapitation with sharp knife", but currently my favorite technique is dislocating the neck. I'm always most concerned with what's quickest and most painless, as well as most dignified. Then I recently read a reference to this "pithing" method, and thought it sounded very civilized, but I was also given the impression that it requires some skill. Anyone have any specific tips or experience to share? I don't want to try something like this unless I know for sure it will work and I know I can do it right...

I do not process myself but I have read some horror stories about pithing. Try searching through to old threads for more info.
cutting the head off is quicker, easier and more humane than trying to use a method that may or may not work.

in less than a second, you can remove the head and the chicken feels nothing.
It's rather tricky to do, and you have to aim toward the back of the bird's comb, through the groove in the roof of the mouth. Use a slender knife or skewer, stick sharply and then twist. If your aim is even slightly off, you may miss the vulnerable part, and instead of loosening feathers it will set them harder (and the bird will take longer to die, which is always upsetting).

If you've hit right, the bird will give a characteristic squawk and then start to shudder. You have to cut the throat instantly so it bleeds out. In practice I often found it was hard to cut the throat quickly enough to have a good bleed, but I guess if I'd kept doing it I would have become quicker. However pithing in this way distressed me, as I felt the mouth is a sensitive place to stick a knife, so I moved to other methods.

Incidentally, neck dislocation, if done properly, supposedly destroys the brain and allows full bleed-out in the same moment, and to be honest I prefer it. I use a piece of slightly bent reinforcing rod and the bird isn't in any distress as the bend keeps the rod from squashing its neck even when I stand on either side. Birds that are well tended and used to handling seem to stay quite calm and then pretty well instantly it's over with a sudden jerk upward on the legs. I've never had a near miss this way, though when it comes to a big rooster I tend to use the axe.

But you have to find what works for you and satisfies your own conscience. Good luck.
Salty, I agree, that's why originally chose decapitation and stuck with it for so long, as I said... I too have no desire to experiment on a living animal under my care with methods that "may or may not work." Hence my post original post...

Erica, thanks a lot for the info. I use neck dislocation currently, and I like it a lot. All the advantages of decapitation but less grizzly! Once, however, I had a young cockerel fail to bleed out when I dislocated the neck. Not sure why it didn't. But the visibly bloody meat became foul smelling and unusable after 48 hours in the fridge, which was only discovered when we brought it out to cook for a friend's going away dinner--it was very sad. This was part of the reason I started exploring other possibilities for killing techniques. This could have just been a fluke. Or maybe my technique is imperfect--I hold the feet in one hand and the head in the other and stretch the neck out a little and then bend the head back while giving a firm jerk (it takes less time to do than describe)--not the same technique you use, but it sounds like the mechanics involved should be the same? (I learned in from an article by Harvey Ussery of the Modern Homestead.) I killed several chickens that way, and I was totally sold on it. It works great! But then I had that one time when it didn't bleed out, and although I didn't figure out for sure why, it got me thinking, and wondering about other methods once more...
Hi skythechickenman,

I've had a non-bleed too. Was yours a heavy meat bird? I feel that sometimes with the cornish x types, due to general heart weakness, they have a heart attack at the same time as brain death. I've also seen it in a cornish x cockerel with a different method of dispatch (pithing/throat cutting) though it isn't exactly common.

I too hate wasting a life... I wonder if cutting the meat off and brining it could help if it happens again? I guess I'd try that, washing the meat before use, but if I still felt it wasn't great I'd probably make dog food.

best wishes,
Thanks, Erica,

the bird in question wasn't a "meaty." He was a mixed-breed dual purpose cull, about 7 months old, with some Rhode Island Red and Dark Cornish. (Most of my Chickens are mutts now...
) Although, come to think of it, he was always kind of a high-strung little guy (partly why he was culled), so maybe he did have a heart attack...?

I figure if I see it again in the future, I'll know now, and I can try other fixes such as you suggest, or just cook the meat up same day--rather than letting it sit for the two days I usually do...

Unfortunately, I don't have dogs...

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I pithe before cutting the arteries and find it a very humane way to slaughter. It may take a little practice but it is easy to learn. It creates a nice, relaxed carcass, too. No "horror stories" here.
X2 Pithing is not as good as many would have you think, I process many many birds every year and this year I tried Pithing. It didn't work as well as the old chopping block method and I don't think the bird suffers any less by using the Pithing method. It is a hit or miss way and as of now I am not a fan.
See, that's the problem for me though... How am I supposed to PRACTICE pithing? No offense, but to me it begs the question: if it can't be done right the first time, does that really make it a HUMANE technique??

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