How to Humanely Cull Chickens?

When raising chickens, you should be comfortable with the fact that you might have to put one down at some point. Refrain from assuming that you will only put down a chicken when you want meat. There are many reasons for culling chickens.

Culling encompasses the identification and removal of birds that do not have the qualities you deem beneficial. This is a continuous operation that should be practiced on all poultry farms, intent on remaining profitable.

Culling your chicken allows you to save on feeds and water, bring uniformity to your flock, reduce production costs and save on vaccination or medications.

It also increases the living space for your remaining birds, reduces the spread of diseases, and increases the average growth rates of your remaining chickens.

Unfortunately, culling chickens is not so easy for everyone.

The article below will consider some humane ways of culling your birds and a few reasons for doing it.

Humane Methods of Culling Chickens

Here are two main humane culling methods.

1. Snapping the Chicken’s Neck

Snapping a chicken’s neck is also called cervical dislocation. When done correctly, this is a humane culling method that makes no mess. It can be done immediately if you identify a bird that needs culling and has no tools nearby.

Cervical dislocation will cause unconsciousness in your chicken within about forty seconds. The technique will stretch your bird’s neck and dislocate the joint at its skull’s base. This leads to the snapping of the bird’s very elastic neck.

The resultant recoil leads to brain damage and unconsciousness by causing a concussion. Death occurs by breaking the jugular veins and carotid arteries so that the bird’s brain will run out of oxygen.

Keep in mind that cervical dislocation will be an ineffective culling technique if the breaking happens far down your bird’s neck when you have not stretched the neck lengthwise or if you crush the bones.

As such, be careful and aim for the joint at the skull’s base to get it right. Spinning your bird, sometimes called the helicopter method, is unacceptable. Conversely, the “broomstick” method is questionable.

This is because if there is too much weight on your broomstick or you stand on it for too long, you will be causing unnecessary discomfort and pain to your bird.

Here are the basic steps of the cervical dislocation method of culling:

  1. Use your dominant hand to grab the chicken’s head between the two fingers, or use the first finger and thumb.
  2. Tilt back the chicken’s head so that it points towards the tail. This position will align the joints so that the head becomes easier to dislocate from the neck.
  3. Firmly push the bird’s head from your body until you feel the joint letting go. Pinch just behind the head to ascertain that the neck and head have separated when you feel a definite gap. Following the snapping of the neck, the chicken will convulse as there is a loss of central control over muscle control. These movements do not mean that your bird is suffering or conscious. You can monitor the bird until after the spasms stop or observe for lack of breathing or heartbeat to ascertain the bird’s death.

2. Decapitation of Chicken using a Killing Cone

Decapitation is also effective and humane but is not instantaneous like cervical dislocation. Moreover, the method is messy because blood will flow, so it is often used when butchering chickens for meat.

In decapitation, unconsciousness occurs within 40 seconds when the head is removed, and the cerebral spinal fluid escapes the cut spinal cord. The loss of blood flow to the chicken’s brain causes death.

A killing cone comprising a restraining cone and a clamp device is used to snap the chicken’s neck in decapitation. The bird will be placed in the cone with its head hanging below.

The neck is gripped in a clamp, and a handle is firmly pulled down to release a blade that cuts the neck. Remember that only cutting major blood vessels will see the bird bleed out slowly and inhumanely as the brain slowly runs out of oxygen 3-4 minutes later.

This is unacceptable. The blade should thus be as sharp as possible to decapitate the head in a swift blow. In some jurisdictions, decapitation is only used for birds below 5kg.

Reasons For Culling Chickens

You might not have culling in mind when starting your poultry farm. However, here are some of the reasons that might necessitate the practice.

1. Culling Sick Chickens

You should routinely check your hens to ensure they are active and alert, have smooth feathers and their nostrils and eyes are clean.

Some of the obvious signs of disease include discolored wattles or combs, labored breathing, drooping wings or tails, inability to walk, lethargy, diarrhea, and nasal or eye discharge.

When you notice these signs, contact your veterinarian. He/she will guide you on whether culling is the best choice to save your flock, more so for highly contagious incurable diseases, or whether simple quarantine of the diseased chicken will do.

2. Culling Male Chickens

In the fall, chicks hatched in the spring, and those you purchase will start maturing, and about half of them will often be roosters.

Most flocks will only need a few roosters, so most suburban and urban poultry farmers might not have enough space or resources for extra roosters.

In this case, you can cull the roosters at the bottom of your flock’s pecking order, the small ones and those that do not look healthy.

Besides the overall appearance, check the space between your roosters’ legs to check their suitability for your flock. If the space can only accommodate a finger, consider culling the bird because this undesirable trait might be passed on to hens and cause eggs to be bound.

The better breeding choice is a rooster whose legs are 2-3 fingers apart.

3. Culling Chickens for Meat

The leading reason for culling chickens is for meat. Broiler chickens will take at least seven weeks to attain their market weights and be suitable for culling.

In this instance, the chickens are transferred to modular bins or holding cages so that they will not hurt themselves if they are being transported to a processing plant for culling.

4. Culling Old Chickens

You can also cull hens that are past their egg-laying age. The easiest indicators of an old chicken are the wattles and comb.

A young egg-laying hen has a vibrant red wattle and comb. Before culling a non-layer, isolate the hen for a few days to ascertain that there are no eggs laid. In most instances, chickens that are over five years old no longer mate or lay eggs though some live for 8-10 years.

Though telling their exact ages is challenging, old chickens are lethargic and relatively calm. Their feathers look messy, and they look tired and stressed.

The eyes might also drop. Though old chickens might seem like exceptional pets, they are prone to diseases and expensive to keep, so culling them is often the best choice.


Culling is not simply about killing your bird but how you kill it. Some people choose to drown their chickens, poison them or freeze them to death, among other inhumane ways.

It might have been inconceivable to think about humanely culling chicken, but the above article has hopefully changed your mind about this.

One of the benefits of culling is getting some delicious meat for tasty chicken dinners. Once you have culled your chicken and it is safe to eat, you will scald it by passing it through hot water to soften its skin and ease plucking the feathers.

Evisceration is the next step. This entails removing everything inside the bird that will not be cooked or will be used in other dishes.

You will then wash the chicken to avoid contamination of your food before preparing it according to your recipe.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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