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How to Humanely Kill a Chicken

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When the time comes to process a chicken intended for meat, it’s only fair to try to end its life in the most humane way possible.

There are a few different viewpoints regarding which method is the most humane.

But the truth is, all of the following, if done properly, is the easiest on the chicken.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • 4 ways how to euthanize or humanely kill a chicken
  • How to prepare and what to consider prior to the act itself

But before we dive right into it, a reminder: it’s important to understand that humane dispatching methods go hand-in-hand with the environment you create before processing the birds.

So let’s begin with the preparations.

How to Humanely Kill a Chicken? First, Keep Your Chicken Calm.

It’s important to keep your chicken/s calm before the butchering process.


Not only can stress create an inhumane experience for the chicken, but the adrenaline that surges when in a stressful situation can also cause the meat to become tough.

However, depending on the chicken breed and age, you can still have tough meat regardless of their disposition.

Be sure to read our best meat chicken breeds guide as well for information on meat types.

So, to keep your chickens calm before dispatching them, try to accomplish the following:

Keep Transportation to a Minimum

If you can process your chickens near their coop or chicken tractor, you won’t have to move them from cage to cage.

Ideally, you’ll be able to take them right out of their coop to where they will be processed.

Many meat chickens are kept in the same familiar cage for their entire life.

So moving them around on processing day will only create confusion and panic amongst the flock.

Try to set up your processing station near a familiar pen to prevent stress from moving.

Don’t Chase Your Chickens

Easier said than done, right?

Quite possibly, one of the most stressful parts of the butchering process for you is also one of the most stressful for the chickens.

Before even deciding to raise chickens for meat, it’s important to set up a workflow for your operational needs before adding chickens to the mix.

For example, knowing exactly how you’ll catch your chickens for butchering long before D-day arrives will reduce the stress of catching chickens (for you and the chicken).

When planning your coop, equipment, and processing station, consider how you will catch your chickens on the day of butchering.

Chasing them all over the run only creates a stressful, inhumane environment for the birds.

Instead, create a “handling” plan for how you’ll quickly catch each chicken and then dispatch it.

For example, you can use boards or gates to confine the chickens to a smaller area that you can quickly access.

Keep the Environment Quiet

Barking dogs or loud music won’t create a stress-free environment for the chickens before processing.

Do your best to keep the area quiet to reduce unnecessary stress during the dispatching process.

Keep Yourself Calm

Animals can sense the stress of others around them.

So if you’re trembling, chasing chickens, and becoming frustrated, that same vibe will burden the animal you are processing.

And yes, trying to catch a chicken and keep it still for a swift dispatch isn’t an easy thing to do.

In fact, it can be downright frustrating.

But do your best not to become angered or even frightened during the process.

Think of the killing process in a very professional manner.

You are doing a difficult job, but it’s in the chicken’s best interest for you to remain calm.

how to kill a chicken
Neck-cutting is a traditional method of dispatching that’s still considered humane.

4 Ways How to Humanely Kill a Chicken

Now that we got that out of the way, it’s time to discuss how to kill a chicken humanely.

But what constitutes humane dispatching?

First and foremost, the bird should experience very little pain, and brain activity should stop as soon as possible after the act has been carried out.

Usually, this entails a break in the spinal cord or damage to the brain of the bird.

The first three methods we’ll discuss in a while are centered around this.

While the last method mentioned is a tad controversial, but many think it is the least stressful for the bird.

Whichever method you choose, make sure you’re confident in your abilities to see the task out to successful completion.

1. Cervical Dislocation

As you might have guessed, one of the most humane ways to kill a chicken is by breaking its neck.

It sounds harsh and a tad personal, I know.

But in truth, it’s a quick way to ensure the chicken does not experience pain or awareness while it is being dispatched.

Using this method requires breaking the spinal cord and ceasing all blood supply to the brain.

This causes the chicken to become unconscious and die shortly after.

Don’t panic when you see the body spasm after breaking its neck.

That’s not a sign of pain or struggle but is a natural reflex that occurs in the muscle.

The exact cause of these spasms is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the depletion of oxygen and energy stores in the chicken’s muscles.

When the chicken is killed, the supply of oxygen and energy to the muscles is cut off, which can cause the muscles to contract and spasm.

While these spasms can be alarming to witness, they are a natural reflex and do not indicate that the chicken is still alive or in pain.

In fact, the chicken is already dead by the time the spasms occur.

Now, back to cervical dislocation.

There are two ways to go about breaking the spinal cord of the chicken: by your bare hands or by any long, sturdy stick like a broomstick.


If your hands are large enough and you are strong enough, the cervical dislocation can be completed quickly and without complication.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Secure the chicken in your non-dominant hand and hold it upside-down by the feet/legs. (Be careful not to break the chicken’s legs in this step as it would only cause more pain.)
  2. With your dominant hand, using your fingers, firmly (yet gently) grasp the chicken just under the base of its skull.
  3. Finally, with steady hands and quick motion, pull the chicken’s head down and out.

You will feel the snap, and the chicken will spasm quite a bit.

At this point, you can continue to hold the chicken until it stops moving or place it in a container and wait out the twitching if it bothers you.


If you’d rather not use your hands, or they are simply too small to confidently and successfully snap the spinal cord, you can use the broomstick method instead.

Here’s how this method plays out:

  1. Place the chicken on the ground, breast-side down, facing away from you.
  2. Put a broomstick, or any other long stick, over the chicken’s neck as close to its head as possible.
  3. Keep the bird in place by standing on the stick (on both sides of the chicken) and quickly pull the chicken by the legs upward toward you until the spinal cord has broken.

REMEMBER: This step must be done quickly to prevent the chicken from becoming overly stressed and to prevent injury while standing on the stick.

If you let too much time pass before you pull up on the chicken’s legs, you’ll just choke it.

This causes both stress and pain for the chicken.

I suggest you practice doing step 3 before implementing this method so you know you’ll be coordinated enough to complete this step quickly.

2. Decapitation

While some old-fashioned methods are no longer considered humane, the decapitation method is tried and true.

Yes, it’s bloodier and appears more painful for the bird.

But using a sharp hatchet for decapitation is actually quick and painless for the chicken.

In this method, you will need a second helper for to hold the bird still.

If you’re short on assistance, this process may not be as smooth as it could and should be.

To decapitate a chicken, all you need is a block with two nails to hold the chicken still and a heavy, sharp hatchet to remove the head.

Again, the chicken’s nerves will still function after the head has been removed, and its wings may flap, or its legs may “run,” but it is not in pain.

To keep the carcass still after decapitation, have a container handy (or a poultry cone like this) to contain the bird and allow the blood to drain.

3. Pellet Gun

A powerful pellet gun can dispatch a chicken quickly without much, if any, pain experienced by the bird.

You’ll need a .22 pellet gun to ensure the chicken’s head and skull are penetrated and it is killed immediately.

In this method, the chicken is restrained by either a helper or wrapped in a tight cloth to keep it contained.

Then, the pellet gun is placed on the chicken’s head, and it is then shot.

In this method, there will be some spasms.

But if done quickly, the chicken will cease moving soon after pulling the trigger.

4. Neck Cutting

Another dispatching method that’s becoming more popular and touted as humane is the neck-cutting method.

In this method, the chicken is hung upside-down by its legs from an apparatus of your choosing.

Then, in a swift motion, the carotid arteries are severed with an extremely sharp knife.

The chicken is left hanging to bleed out and very rarely twitches or spasms excessively.

Some do not consider this method to be as humane as the other methods mentioned in this article.

There are those who feel it is more painful, but others swear by this method.

They feel as though it is less stressful because it does not cause as much “tension” in the bird after dispatching.

It’s as if the chicken slowly falls asleep.

holding a chicken correctly

FAQs about How to Humanely Kill a Chicken

Is it humane to stun a chicken before slaughtering it?

Yes, stunning a chicken before slaughtering it is considered a humane practice.

Stunning is a process that renders the chicken unconscious and insensible to pain before it is slaughtered.

This helps to minimize any pain or distress that the bird may experience during the slaughter process.

There are several methods of stunning, including electrical stunning, gas stunning, and mechanical stunning, and each method has its own advantages and disadvantages.

However, regardless of the method used, stunning is an important component of humane slaughter practices.

What tools are needed for humanely killing a chicken?

Some tools that may be needed for humanely killing a chicken include a sharp knife, a restraining cone or box, a stun gun or captive bolt gun, and a container for bleeding out the chicken.

It’s important to make sure that all tools are clean and in good condition to ensure humane and effective slaughter.

How do you prepare a chicken for humane slaughter?

To prepare a chicken for humane slaughter, it’s important to make sure that the bird is healthy and free from disease or injury.

The chicken should be fasted for at least 12 hours before slaughter to ensure that the crop is empty.

The bird should then be restrained in a cone or box, and the head should be exposed for stunning and bleeding out.

Are there any laws or regulations in the United States about proper chicken slaughter?

Yes, there are laws and regulations in the United States related to proper chicken slaughter.

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) is a federal law that requires all livestock, including chickens, to be slaughtered in a humane manner.

The HMSA mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain before they are slaughtered and that the slaughter process be conducted in a way that minimizes any pain or distress to the animal.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for enforcing the HMSA, and conducts regular inspections of slaughter facilities to ensure compliance with the law.

In addition to federal regulations, there may be state and local laws and regulations related to chicken slaughter that must be followed.

It’s important to check with local authorities to determine the specific requirements for chicken slaughter in your area.

How to Humanely Kill a Chicken: Before You Go…

There are a lot of other methods you can perform to humanely kill a chicken.

Commercial operations, for example, does stunning or even gassing because of the number of chickens they need to process, unlike in backyard farms.

But whichever method you choose, there’s one reminder we’d like to leave you with: Be sure and make it quick.

You don’t want to swing that hatchet again just because you missed the first time.

Remember, you don’t want your chickens stressed in this process.

Do you want to learn more about chicken meat processing?

Then check out the links below for more interesting reads!

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