Lesson 471 – Directions on how to humanely kill a rooster

This post is going to be about the ethical harvesting of a rooster. There are going to be photos along with detailed instructions on the process.

If you want to read about it, click on the “more…” button. If you’d rather skip it, that’s fine, tomorrow I’ll start telling some of the many stories I collected while attending the Northeastern Poultry Congress (and one of those stories is about becoming a mama hen to a new baby chick.)

For those who choose not to read the rest of this rooster killing post, I’ll leave you these parting words… it’s wasn’t as bad as we had imagined it would be.

The Ethical killing of a rooster. Let me begin with the fact that it’s not fun. Killing anything is not fun and (yeah, I’m the sort of person who feels bad about killing bugs, if I can move them outdoors I do) but if you are going to be a responsible backyard chicken owner who has neighbors, then something needs to be done.

I can think of no quicker way for towns to revoke the right to have chickens in your backyard than to have a group of anti-rooster-noise people gathered together in protest. Although I firmly believe that you have a right to own chickens in your backyard, I also believe that neighbors have a right to some peace and quiet and while a crowing rooster during the day is rather bucolic, one that is crowing at 2 or 3 in the morning is, well, NOT.

We’ve tried very hard to not have roosters, but sometimes they slip in. Our first few roosters were when we bought some exotic chicks. We thought the smaller, more petite, ones would be females. We were almost right, but out of 6 chicks we ended up with 2 roosters. Not very good odds.

We’ve bought sex-linked birds in an effort to keep roosters out but if you take that one step back, by buying the sex-linked birds, you are just destroying the roosters earlier (the wrong color chicks are destroyed right after birth.)

Last Summer we hatched eggs in an incubator. We got a few roosters. It happens. I even talked to a woman at the Northeastern Poultry Congress who told me she knew of someone who had ordered pullets and somehow a rooster got into the order.

My point is that you can be as conscientious as you want, but occasionally if you decide to have chickens, you are probably going to have a rooster at one point or another and you are going to have to figure out what to do with them.

I spoke to one woman at the Congress who said that if her neighbors dogs’ barked (and they did) then that gave her a right to have roosters who crowed. While on some level that reasoning is correct, I’m also thinking that might not be a very happy neighborhood.

Our most mature rooster (and therefore the alpha, protector, and noisiest of our birds) was a problem, he was making a lot of noise. As handsome as he was, he had to go.

We had talked about chopping the head off with an ax but didn’t know how to secure the head so that we’d be assured a clean cut. The kids had visions of missing and nicking the bird, I had visions of taking a trip to the emergency room. We talked about building a block with belts on it to hold the bird down but we quickly dismissed that because we thought we’d be terrorizing the bird for too long just to get it ready.

So I bought something called a Killing Cone. It looks like a large galvanized steel waffle cone. I’ve include a photo of ours here. (Just as an aside here, I bought the cone at the Poultry Congress which is all about celebrating chickens, so after I got it, I discretely and quickly took it out to my car for the rest of the time I was at the show.) I bought a size medium which fits a bird up to 20 pounds, as my rooster was a roughly 3-4 pound 6 month old, I was sure he would fit. The price for our cone was 19.95 and I got it at the Eggcarton.com booth (and can I say that they were incredibly helpful by giving me encouraging  information for the process.)

After watching a few videos, we were ready.

These are the steps we took:

  • Nailed the Killing Cone to a tree far away from and out of view of the hen house. You want the height to be at a level where you can stand comfortably to be able to do the kill. If you are bending over or have to reach up high, it increases the risk that you won’t get a clean kill.
  • Placed a bucket directly under the cone to catch the blood from the kill. (and there will be a fair amount of blood, I was surprised.)
  • Got the rooster. I carried him and talked to him apologizing for this as I brought him over. There is discussion that the roosters should be carried to the cone by the feet because that increases blood to the head area but I think that that’s unnecessary trauma so I carried him. (also, remember, this is the first time we’ve ever harvested a chicken and yeah, I did have to deal with a few feelings of guilt.)

The next part has to be done quickly, so make sure you have your (very sharp – we used a hunting one) knife ready, everything is in place, and that you have gloves on. The gloves are not only because you’ll get some blood on your hands, but I also didn’t want the chance of the other chickens smelling chicken blood on us.

  • Place the bird in the cone feet facing toward you.
  • Pull the head out of the bottom of the cone.
  • As you bring the knife to the carotid artery (located just below the ear) bring your knife up under the feathers so that you are cutting skin and are not sawing through feathers.
  • A quick deep cut is all you need. (although for us it took a few swipes before we could find the right area – remember this was our first time.)
  • The chicken will bleed out fairly quickly (in a matter of 4 -5 minutes) as he bleeds out, you can see his eyes slowing closing. Not to minimize this at all, but it looked like our bird was slowly going to sleep.

When the bird has bled out, and is no longer alive, take the body out of the cone and either dip it in hot water to start the process of getting rid of the feathers to prepare the carcass for eating (which we did not do) or bring the carcass to the woods and let the local wildlife feast on it (which is what we did making sure to place it well off the trail so that no person would come across it.)

That’s it. There was more worry, and angst involved then there was action, and when all was said and done it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.

A few thoughts:

  • The cone helps to “disguise” the body a little allowing you a tiny bit of emotional distance.
  • Amazingly our rooster never struggled (and I mean never.) He didn’t squawk, he didn’t try to escape, once he was in the cone there was no noise, this wasn’t about us, but it sure makes it easier if the animal you are about to kill doesn’t put up a struggle.
  • We decided on a quick bleed-out as opposed to chopping the head off for a few reasons, a bleed-out is slower but gentle. It’s as if, we literally put our bird to sleep. An ax was just too violent for us, none of us wanted to deal with a chicken running around with it’s head cut off.
  • The blood (and there is quite a bit) was taken out to the woods far from the hen house (and from where people walk) and was dumped. We had discussed putting it into the river that runs along side our street and may do that in the future but not with all the ice around, just don’t need people to see puddles of frozen blood until the spring.

The deed is done. Now we know that we can do it and it’s not the end of the world and although I’ll never look forward to doing this again, at least in the future, we know that if we have to, we’ll be able to.

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37 Comments

Filed under Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Roosters

37 responses to “Lesson 471 – Directions on how to humanely kill a rooster

  1. Wendy. You are my hero. Thank you for thinking long and hard about this, and for doing what you felt was the right thing, and for sharing the decision-making discussions with your family, and for seeking the most humane approach, and especially, Wendy, for sharing it with your readers so that we may learn from your experience.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Lauren,

      Thanks. I, like you, am all about teaching. And if people can learn a humane method for disposing of their roosters from our experience then I’ll have considered my job done.

      Wendy

  2. Hey sis: Thanks Wendy. I’m not crazy about the dumping in the river thing. The woods sounds good enough. Glad you wrote about this as compassionately as you did because it is one of the challenges facing backyard chicken owners. I appreciate all you are doing to remind your readers about the noise. I had a friend who was driven mad by a robin outside her bedroom window at 4:00 am

    • Wendy Thomas

      Peg,

      Our thinking for putting the blood into the river was that in a way, we would be returning the rooster to the earth (our river is very much populated with wildlife.) Trevor is very respectful of the American Indian way of killing (thank the animal for it’s contribution and use all of it’s parts.) Although we chose not to eat the bird (there was only so much I’m willing to do) we did think that leaving it in the woods for the other animals was the next most “returning to earth” thing we could do.

      We sure weren’t going to put it in a bag and send it to the dump.

      Wendy

  3. Well done. That’s not an easy job but one that any responsible chicken breeder has to be able to get through. We bury any waste from processing chickens. Is the ground too hard to do that there?

    • Wendy Thomas

      Poultry,

      We are in January in New Hampshire. Nothing will be getting buried for several months up here. Although we might figure out a better way to dispose of the blood (a hole that we keep covering with a layer of dirt) I don’t mind leaving the carcass out for other animals (remember, we’re in the woods of NH) something will be feasting tonight.

      Wendy

  4. Wendy, good job! Perhaps you can do another post about why you didn’t eat the rooster. I understand how hard it is to eat an animal you know, but it’s also a respectful use.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Terry,

      I spoke to a gentleman at the Congress (you were in on this conversation) who said that he ate his rooster and it was the best meat he had ever had. Because I write so much about our birds I’m a little too close but I agree, it is a respectful use of the bird and who knows, at some point, maybe I will bring myself to prepare and cook it. It would certainly be healthier than the meat in the grocery store.

      Wendy

  5. Connie Casey

    I so appreciate this post! We have had too many roos hatched by my own girls. I cant keep a ton of roosters for many reasons. My husband used an axe and it was messy and more unpleasant than necessary. I will buy one of these cones.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Connie,

      Based on our *one* experience and how well it went, I would highly recommend the cone. The point I made in the post (but not clearly) is that the cone *hides* most of the bird’s body giving giving you just a tiny bit of emotional distance. This helped not only me, but it also helped my 2 children (along with my husband) who helped perform this (if you notice, I’m the one behind the camera.)

      In my chicken workshops, I will be recommending a cone for anyone who needs to harvest chickens.

      Wendy

  6. Stephan

    When I was a teenager my friend’s father has a chicken business. I mean chicken sold for meat at local markets. The set up was exactly as you described with funnels where we would put them upside down, ensure their necks were exposed for the cutting. It was rather suprisingly quiet operation as I can remember.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Stephan,

      That’s one of the things that surprised me. I expected lots of noise and squawking. It was all fairly peaceful (we also kept our voices low and tried our best not to frighten the bird. It was far worse in my imagination than it was in reality.

      Wendy

  7. Cathy

    Will have to decide to do this soon. Thank you for the post. It will help a lot. Except every time I see a stack of Homer buckets at The Home Depot it will remind me of this. . .

    • Wendy Thomas

      Cathy,

      Yeah, I know, me too. Get a bucket and dedicate it to the killing though using it for nothing else. You wouldn’t want to put chicken feed in a bucket that has chicken blood smell in it. Perhaps I’m being over-protective but why terrorize if you don’t have to?

      As emotionally uncomfortable as it was, (I’m such a wimp sometimes) it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Good luck when your time comes.

      Wendy

  8. George

    If you are going to harvest the chicken for food, you will find the plucking is much easier if you use a thin knife to sever the brain stem before you slice the throat.
    This kills the chicken instantly and relaxes the feathers. You can still use your cone. There are many articles on line that describe what to do in detail.

    This method might even be quicker and more humane for the bird too.

    My father grew up on “the largest chicken farm in Massachusetts”. When we moved to Merrimack, he needed to relive his childhood, so we raised chickens.
    I ended up as the primary chicken and turkey “harvester”. Unfortunately I have done this many times, and plucked way too many chickens and turkeys.

    George

    • Wendy Thomas

      George,

      I may be coming to you at some point in the future for a lesson on how to pluck the chicken. It did seem a waste to throw away the “clean, antibiotic-free” meat, but for me it was all about baby steps. The first time I just wanted to make sure I could get through this.

      Wendy

  9. George

    Sure, I guess I could re-live the trauma. :-) Actually chickens are super easy. Turkeys are much harder. It really is an easy process. The technique is much like pulling weeds. Which now that I think about, I did a lot of as a kid too!

    I can give you more valuable lessons too. Such as how not to load pigs into a pickup truck. FYI, don’t expect a 100lb boy with a sheet of plywood to hold two 300lb pigs in the truck while you load the others. And that it’s really not a good idea to befriend and encourage a cute little young ram to head butt you when it is the size of a small dog. Because when it grows older it will still think it’s fun and you’ll never be safe entering the pen. Luckily the one time I really got hit, the feed station broke and not my leg or hip…

    George

  10. Joanna

    Thank you for this. It’s something I’m going to have to do this coming year. May I ask why you didn’t opt to wring his neck?

    • Wendy Thomas

      Joanna,

      Basically I’m a wimp, the thought of wringing a chicken’s neck makes me weak in the knees and not in a good way. It just doesn’t sound very gentle and although I know it sounds like an oxymoron, we were going for a gentle death. Also, I needed a method that ensured success. Wringing a neck sounds like there’s the opportunity to paralyze the chicken and yet have it still be alive (in which case, you’d have to “kill” it again.)

      Having gone through the experience with the cone, this is what I’ll be recommending to others.

      Wendy

  11. Lucy

    This post made me cry just a little bit but I know I’d do the same thing in your shoes. I’ve re-homed a couple of roosters via Craigslist but it’s been a slow, tedious process when sometimes you need a quick result. We got verrrry lucky with our last group of chicks when none of them started crowing (Hallelujah!) but I know we’ll be faced with this dilemma again and I’ll investigate the cone…. and I’ll cry a little bit then too.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Lucy,

      It wasn’t easy for me and if you ever need to do it, it won’t be easy for you. Regardless of whether you eat the meat or not, killing another creature is sad. For those of us with a heart, it just is.

      But should you have to someday, my hope is that now you’ll know how to do it humanely and with as little suffering as possible.

      Wendy

  12. Jenn

    I admire you, Wendy. Even after my rooster, Puddy, attacked my son for the 3rd (and LAST) time, I didnt have it in me to kill him myself. I called around until I found a working farm that was willing to take care of him for me.

    I know that, eventually, I’m going to have to do it one day. Thanks for the post!

    • Wendy Thomas

      Jenn,

      Thanks for the comment. The reason I put this post up was to empower others and teach them how to deal with this problem *if* the need arises. If you’ve read this blog, you know how much we love our chickens. I teach classes about chickens, I want more people to have chickens. That means that there has to be a sensible way to deal with unwanted roosters.

      What we saw was a gentle death, far better than releasing the roosters in the woods to fend for themselves or trying to kill it some other more tortuous way. My wish is that you never have to deal with culling a rooster, but if you do, now you know that it can be done with grace.

      Wendy

  13. Jill Naber

    Our neighbors had or still has the annoying rooster that crows every 2 minutes and it does not matter what time of day it is. I just wish that our neighbor would have been considerate of neighbors like you were. The noise from this rooster would drive me crazy along with other neighbors. However, we just did not know how to come out and advise us that their rooster is just plainly annoying. It was loud at my house and I could not imagine what the rooster sounded in their house. Thankyou for being responsbile enough to end a roosters life. Unless you are going to grow chicks then a rooster is not needed. My friends on Baboosic Lake Road had roosters and removed them due to the complaints that they were getting from their neighbors and the people across the lake in Amherst. Thank you Wendy,

  14. Pingback: Lesson 486 – Basic First Aid Kit for Chickens « Lessons Learned from the Flock

  15. All your posts are really helpful. I am thinking about getting a few chickens, but I want to know how to deal with all the possibilities BEFORE I start. Thanks for your thoughtful and informative writing.

  16. My father and I usually axe them – I hold the feet and head, and he does the deed. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t hold them until they stop moving. It breaks my heart, regardless of the reason for the cull, but I have aging hens and I know they will need to go. And too many roosters, who have to go! I will go purchase me a cone and do it this way and give them back to the earth, as we too live in the woods. (Although, we do eat them, I’m just not physically able right now to clean them, so I’ll fee the beast of the fields, smile.) Thank you very much for this post!

  17. Nice post.
    I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts. Thanks for this nice information. I really appreciate your work, keep it up.

  18. When you turn the bird upside down it puts him ( or her) into a kind of trance state, thus making them easier to kill and perhaps also less stress-full for the bird. And if you kill a rooster, ( and have the energy to clean him) please eat him. A rooster is delicious- I just cooked my first one. It took 3 days resting int he fridge, marinating in wine ( or what ever etc for) 2 days, and then in the pot for 3 hours. I prepared a cock a vin ( onions, bacon, and mushrooms ( I used shitake bc Im allergic to button mushrooms, but that was just a fantastically great coincidence) . Wow. And yes, I knew the beautiful bird and it breaks my heart but I figure he would have eaten me given the chance. Dare I say I now have that rooster in me?

  19. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?

    Plz respond as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thanks

  20. Sage

    Thank you for this post. I must kill a rooster soon, and your text and photos helped me understand how and why and what to expect. I am not looking forward to it, but it must happen.

  21. Sage

    Thank you for this post. I must kill a rooster soon, and your text and photos helped me understand how and why and what to expect. I am not looking forward to it, but it must happen.

    I am in a city, and though i have a lot of space, there are neighbors and i am sure they do not care for the crowing. The alpha rooster also terrorizes the hens and is patriarchal. He grabs hens by the back of their necks and drags them around.

    It is difficult to contemplate. I killed a hen last year after she was bitten by a dog, and she was the miserably henpecked one, too. It was not fun but felt more like a mercy killing. I guess killing this rooster is a mercy killing on behalf of the hens he abuses.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Sage,

      It’s not easy but knowing how to humanely kill a chicken or rooster is a skill that all chicken owners should use. Even those who claim they will never have roosters in their flock. Hens, as you know, can still get sick and injured.

      You’re right, it’s not easy. But it’s the right thing to do when you have close neighbors.

      I can think of no better argument for *not* having backyard flocks than having a noisy, vicious rooster in the neighborhood. Good luck.

      Wendy

      • Sage Radachowsky

        Wendy, thank you for your response. I did it, this morning before dawn, shortly after reading your post, and also reading “Humane and Healthy Poultry Production” by Karma Glos, on culling the flock. I realized it was doable, and it needed to be done.

        I built a “killing cone” from some sheet aluminum that i had, and attached it to a tree. I put a sharp knife on the ground there. Then i went and took the rooster by the feet, from the perch branch that i have in the coop. I hung him upside down. He was squawking, but i held his neck and rubbed him lightly in the direction of his neck feathers, and talked softly to him. He calmed down. I was surprised, but he was relatively calm. I seemed more nervous than he did, i think. I brought him outside and did the deed. He hardly squawked, and only resisted in a couple of moments. Otherwise, he was resigned and seemed to accept what was happening. I used the knife as you described.

        Then i spent the next 2 hours processing his body, and now i have a pound or so of fresh rooster meat packed in snow, and he is buried under my compost pile.

        I said respect and apologies to him, and told him, both before and after killing him, that i love him and respect him, and i do this with as much grace and respect as is possible, and i am sorry i am doing it. It is part of a circle of life, but i also am considering whether or not to have chickens in the future, after this flock. I am not sure. I have been listening to Thich Nhat Hahn and other Buddhists lately, speaking of compassion, and they do not eat meat as far as i know. I know many vegans. But i do love the eggs, and most of the time, my relationship with the flock is very loving. Even now, i fed the rest of the chickens, and it felt good to me, and they seemed calm. There is less tension in the coop now, with the alpha rooster gone. My chickens have been very happy through the last 2 years. (I have 4 older ones who are laying and some young ones who are coming of age. This rooster was one of the young ones, and was about 5 months old.)

        I have two more roosters. I got these chickens from a person in western Massachusetts, who raises them there. She has chicks very often. These are not from a store or a supply house, so there is not the same attention to sexing the chickens. However, as you say, even when you get a sex-linked chicken who is 100% sure to be a hen, there was a male chick who died somewhere for your privilege of having this hen. It’s simply not in your face, so you don’t have to face it.

        I wonder what it all means. Thinking of reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Foer. I also think of the great many people in Vietnam, where Thich Nhat Hahn is from, who raise and eat chickens as a matter of course. I spent some time in Nepal, and there it is part of the human-centered ecosystem, as well.

        Well… enough deep thoughts. Thank you for your writings and photos.

  22. Sage

    I am in a city, and though i have a lot of space, there are neighbors and i am sure they do not care for the crowing. The alpha rooster also terrorizes the hens and is patriarchal. He grabs hens by the back of their necks and drags them around.

    It is difficult to contemplate. I killed a hen last year after she was bitten by a dog, and she was the miserably henpecked one, too. It was not fun but felt more like a mercy killing. I guess killing this rooster is a mercy killing on behalf of the hens he abuses.

  23. Karen

    Dear Wendy,
    Thank you for your understanding and compassion when writing about this. It is very overwhelming for me to make the decision that a living thing has to die and at my hand nonetheless. Thank you for making this an OK and respectful thing to do.

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