How to Cull a Chicken (The Most Humane Way)

Poultry owner going to cull a sick chicken with infection

Culling chickens is a significant responsibility that comes with raising poultry. It involves making difficult decisions that directly impact the welfare and health of the entire flock. 

The process requires not only a deep understanding of chicken behavior and health but also a compassionate approach to ensure that it is done respectfully and ethically.

In this guide, we’ll cover how to identify the right time for culling and introduce you to the most humane methods for carrying it out so you can better handle this sensitive aspect of poultry care.

What Does Culling a Chicken Mean?

Culling a chicken means selecting and removing certain chickens from a flock and humanely ending their lives. This is often done to improve the overall health of the flock, prevent the spread of diseases, and maintain high productivity. It’s a tough but necessary part of managing chickens.

Moreover, when chickens become too old to lay eggs efficiently or are chronically ill, they can consume resources without contributing to the farm’s output. 

Culling helps keep the flock at an optimal size, ensuring that resources like food and space are adequately available for healthier, more productive chickens.

It’s important to approach culling with respect and humanity. The process should be carried out quickly and painlessly to minimize the chicken’s suffering. 

This responsibility falls under the larger umbrella of animal welfare, where the goal is to ensure the well-being of all farm animals. 

Ethical farming practices include providing proper care throughout an animal’s life and a humane end when necessary.

Here’s a video showing the process of chicken culling:

how to CULL a sick chicken

When Is It Time to Cull a Chicken?

Knowing when to cull a chicken involves observing their health and behavior closely. Common signs include a noticeable drop in egg production, frequent illness, or a decrease in activity. 

Also, chickens that are injured or unable to integrate with the flock may need to be culled.

The decision to cull is also influenced by the goals and capacity of the farm. For example, a farm focused on egg production might cull older chickens that lay fewer eggs. 

In contrast, a small backyard flock might keep chickens longer, even after they’ve stopped laying eggs. The key is balancing the flock’s health and productivity with the available resources.

It’s also essential to consider the quality of life for each chicken. Chickens suffering from chronic illness or injury that can’t be effectively treated should be culled to prevent prolonged suffering. 

This aspect of culling is about preventing pain and distress, ensuring that the remaining life of the chicken is as comfortable as possible.

Relating this to my own experience, I also had to make a tough call with my backyard flock last year. One of my older hens had drastically reduced her egg production and seemed less active. 

At first, I thought it might be a temporary issue, but over weeks, her condition didn’t improve. Her feathers lost their gloss, and she isolated herself from the others. 

After consulting with a local vet, it became clear that the hen was suffering from a chronic condition that couldn’t be treated. Deciding to cull her was difficult, but it was necessary to prevent her from suffering further. 

Things You Should Know Before Culling a Chicken

Broiler chicken feathers are damaged

Culling chickens requires careful consideration and preparation. Before proceeding with this task, there are several important factors to keep in mind:

  • Understanding local laws and regulations: It’s crucial to be aware of the legal aspects surrounding chicken culling in your area. Ensuring compliance with these rules is important for legal protection and ethical farming.
  • Recognizing when to cull: Monitor the health and productivity of your chickens to identify the right time for culling. Signs to look for include reduced egg production, frequent illness, or poor physical condition.
  • Emotional preparation: Culling can be emotionally challenging, especially if you have raised the chickens. Understanding the necessity of culling as part of responsible flock management is crucial.
  • Proper disposal methods: Consider the options for disposing of the culled chicken, such as burial or using the bird for food. Make these decisions carefully, especially if the chicken is sick, to ensure safety and respect for environmental concerns.

After considering these factors, you’ll be better prepared to undertake the task of culling chickens in a responsible and humane way. 

Remember that culling is not just about maintaining the health of your flock; it’s also about ensuring that each chicken is treated with respect and dignity at every stage of its life. 

What Is the Most Humane Way to Cull a Chicken?

The most humane way to cull a chicken is by cervical dislocation or neck breaking. It is commonly recommended because of its effectiveness and swiftness, which reduces pain and distress in chickens.

It’s important to note that this technique requires specific knowledge and skill. To do it correctly, you must understand the chicken’s anatomy and apply the right amount of force in the correct location.

The process involves using a firm, swift motion to dislocate the chicken’s neck from its spine. If properly done, this method results in immediate unconsciousness and rapid cessation of life functions. 

However, if done incorrectly, it can cause pain and distress, which is why training and practice under experienced supervision are crucial before attempting it on your own.

Note: A recent study compared traditional manual cervical dislocation with the use of a mechanical tool, the Koechner Euthanizing Device (KED), evaluating the time to brain death and reflex duration. 

Findings showed that manual cervical dislocation resulted in quicker brain stem death compared to KED, which means manual dislocation is still a more effective and humane method for euthanizing broilers.

Other Methods of Culling Chickens

Aside from cervical dislocation, below are some alternative techniques for humanely ending the life of a chicken, each with its own set of considerations and requirements. 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Method

Carbon dioxide (CO2), when used correctly, can cause chickens to lose consciousness and then pass away without pain. The key is to use the right concentration of CO2 in a controlled environment.


Decapitation is a swift method of culling chickens that involves severing the head with a sharp knife. This method requires precision and a strong resolve as it is very direct. 

The goal is to ensure a quick, single cut, which leads to immediate unconsciousness and death.


In some situations, especially in rural or farm settings, shooting can be a humane method of culling. 

This method requires a skilled person who can accurately target the head, ensuring immediate loss of consciousness and death. Safety is paramount, and legal considerations must be observed.

Lethal Injection

Lethal injection, though less common, is another method used for culling chickens. This involves administering a drug that painlessly induces death. 

However, this method requires a veterinarian or a trained professional. It is often used for individual cases where other methods may not be suitable.

Are There Alternatives to Culling Chickens?

Veterinarian examining chicken in poultry farm

If you are an advocate of more sustainable poultry farming, here are some alternatives to traditional culling you might want to consider:

Rehoming Older or Less Productive Chickens

By transferring older or less productive chickens to other farms or individuals, especially those who seek chickens for non-productive purposes, you provide a caring environment for these birds. 

This method is ideal for pet owners or small-scale farms focused on animal welfare.

Last year, when I decided to rehome some of my chickens, I carefully planned the process. I reached out to potential adopters, including pet owners, hobby farmers, and educational institutions. 

I provided them with comprehensive information about each chicken’s health, behavior, and care needs. I also made sure to understand the new owners’ experience with chickens and their expectations. 

After finding suitable homes, I kept in touch with the new owners to offer support and advice to ensure a smooth transition for both the chickens and their new caregivers.

Medical Treatment for Sick or Injured Chickens

This approach allows chickens with treatable conditions the opportunity to recover and potentially rejoin the flock. 

For instance, when chickens start losing feathers, it’s crucial to determine the cause, which could range from mites to stress or nutritional deficiencies. 

Treatment might involve medication, changes in diet, or improving living conditions. 

Similarly, when faced with sudden chicken deaths, prompt investigation to identify and address potential diseases is essential. 

This could involve consulting with a veterinarian, administering vaccines, or improving biosecurity measures.

Improving Living Conditions and Diet

Enhancing the living conditions and diet of chickens can boost their health and productivity. 

Changes in nutrition, housing, and overall environment can have a significant positive impact. This proactive strategy can address potential issues early, reducing the need for culling.

I actually applied this technique in my backyard flock. I increased the living space to at least 10 square feet per chicken, which allowed more room for movement and effectively reduced stress. 

I also diversified their diet with a balance of greens, wild bird seed, and protein-rich foods like mealworms and kitchen scraps. This kept them engaged and active, which resulted in better digestion and overall health. 

Innovative Approaches to Avoid Culling

Recent advancements offer new methods to avoid culling, especially in the case of day-old male chicks in the egg-laying industry. 

Techniques like in-ovo sex determination allow for identifying the sex of a chick before hatching, ideally before day seven of incubation. This method ensures the nervous system of the embryo does not experience harmful stimuli. 

Another innovative approach is creating dual-purpose breeds, such as crossbreeding layers with broilers or economically utilizing male layer offspring. 

These techniques represent a shift towards more ethical and sustainable poultry farming practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Chicken with diseases in farm

Is Culling Chickens Illegal?

Culling chickens is not illegal, but it’s regulated. Different areas have their own laws and guidelines about how and when you can cull chickens. 

It’s important to know and follow these rules to avoid legal issues and ensure ethical practices.

Is Culling Chickens Cruel?

Culling chickens, when done humanely, is not considered cruel. The key is to use methods that cause the least pain and distress to the chicken. 

Ethical culling is about managing a flock responsibly while ensuring the welfare of each bird.

Is Cull Chicken Safe to Eat?

Cull chicken is generally safe to eat, especially if the chicken was healthy at the time of culling. However, if the chicken was culled due to illness, it’s important to be cautious. 

Consulting a vet or an expert is recommended to ensure the meat is safe for consumption.

Have you ever culled a chicken before? Share your experience/s with us by leaving a comment below. Hit us with your questions, too, if you need more clarification or guidance.

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