I’ve learned many things about chickens in my life and killing chickens is probably my least favorite. But, if we’re raising chickens for meat, we need to know the best way to take their lives humanely.
I recently butchered my first after a couple of decades of keeping and raising chickens for eggs and fun. I purchased 13 young roosters of a breed that I like, Cuckoo Marans, planning to keep two for breeding and using the rest for meat. I got a great deal from someone that had too many roosters.
Marans are a dual purpose French breed known for chocolaty brown eggs. They are a large chicken that was developed for egg and meat production. I’d wanted to find a Cuckoo Marans rooster for breeding and begin raising chickens for meat, so this group was perfect.
These roosters still had some growing to do, but I knew soon enough, I would have to be killing chickens for the first time. I had a couple of months to warm up to the idea as I watched them with a critical eye looking for the best two I would keep.
Several of them had some serious physical faults, which made it easy not to want to keep them around. Two of them were healthy and well feathered, but ugly compared to the breed standards.
I’ve butchered rabbits for meat and raised lambs for meat, so this wasn’t my first time raising animals for food. I’ve also worked as a vet tech assisting in life saving surgeries as well as humanely euthanizing pets when necessary, so I’m not squeamish or fearful.
There seem to be many ways of killing chickens and different people have different ideas and favorites. Whatever the method, I knew it wouldn’t be fun, but something I needed to do and wanted to do quickly and efficiently.
I’ve never wanted to see a chicken running around with its head cut off, though some seem to find this entertaining. Wringing a chicken’s neck or swinging it over my head is just way too brutal for my taste.
Some suggest knocking the chicken unconscious first, then killing it. I need a way that is simple and accurate, that will reduce stress on me and the chicken.
Many years ago I watched a great PBS documentary called the Natural History of the Chicken. There was one segment that dealt with raising chickens for meat and showed the farmer using a chicken cone.
Using a cone to help killing chickens looked simple and effective. The large opening faces up and there is an opening at the bottom. The cone is secured to the side of a barn or fence.
Taking the chicken by the legs and holding it upside down, the chicken is lowered head first into the cone. The cone helps hold the chicken still and exposes the head and some of the neck. There are different sized cones for different sizes of chickens.
The body weight of the chicken keeps it in the cone and prevents it from opening and flapping its wings. The breast and beak should be facing you. The next step is to cut the large vein and artery between the neck and head near the surface. They are at the lower jaw line, just under the ear lobes (or above, since the chicken is upside down) .
Some methods recommend killing chickens by cutting just one side and others recommend cutting both sides. By cutting both sides, the blood supplies to and from the brain, a chicken will be unconscious more quickly, which is what you want.
Take hold of the comb to steady the head and make the cuts. If the cuts are deep enough on each side, blood will pour out. If it starts by dripping, you need to cut deeper.
With the chicken upside down and blood supplies cut, the heart will pump most of the blood out very quickly. You will want to wait to begin the butchering process until the blood flow stops. You may notice some head and neck movements, as the chicken bleeds out. These are caused by the nervous system shutting down.
Other methods of killing chickens show cutting the whole head off at the top of the neck. I couldn’t tell you which way is best, but any way that causes a chicken to bleed out quickly is the most humane, rendering the chicken unconscious within seconds. Once the blood supply to the brain is cut death is quick. If you use a good and very sharp knife there is little pain involved.
I never would have guessed I’d write an article like this. I really like chickens and I am a person that eats meat. I am also a person that loves caring for chickens in a way that keeps them healthy and happy through the course of their lives.
Sadly most of the chickens raised commercially for human and pet foods do not have healthy happy lives. Some never see the light of day nor get to nibble on a blade of grass.
Killing chickens is not something I enjoy, but I believe I will be healthier, if I eat chicken raised in a healthy happy way, treated with kindness and respect each day that they do live, and killed in the most humane way possible, if they are to be food for my family.