Culling chickens may be unthinkable to some urban homesteaders who view their flock as pets and part of the family. Find out why we decided to kill a chicken from our small backyard flock. This post does not show any killing or processing of animals. It talks about the killing process and why we culled a bird. Reader discretion is advised.
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This post does not show any killing or processing of animals. It talks about the killing process and why we culled a bird. Reader discretion is advised.
This was a difficult post to write and I have spend weeks writing it and debating whether or not to publish it. I decided that since I am running a working homestead and the animals are providing a service that I would publish this article so other homesteaders who are considering expanding can read and learn.
CULLING YOUR FLOCK IS NOT AN EASY TASK
Right from the beginning I want to be clear that taking a life is not a joy for us. It is taken with a heavy heart and for us as urban homesteaders, it is an emotional time.
The culling process is not one people really want to talk about and definitely something that your neighbors don’t want to see if you are living in an urban or suburban setting.
The best advise I can give is to have everything ready to go and within hands reach. Do your research and if you are not comfortable doing it yourself find someone who is and learn.
I made a video on YouTube about this topic which you can watch to see why we culled a chicken and the tools we used. Just like this post there is no graphic killing of the bird but I do show the tools used:
Why we Killed a chicken
This tale begins a few weeks ago when Mother Clucker a.k.a. Ranger the wyandotte got broody.
A broody hen is not always a problem and often the hormones calm down and things go back to normal.
It wasn’t a problem at first, we even had other chickens laying on top of her in the beginning! Then she stopped eating and drinking. This was a problem and we intervened.
Breaking a broody hen
One of the easiest things to do is to give your broody hen a clutch of fertile eggs to sit on and hatch.
This wasn’t an option for me. I have strict regulations in my city: no more than 6 hens, no roosters. A set of eggs with a feathered surprise in each just wouldn’t cut it and what would I do with the roosters?
Other sites recommend the chicken jail or a broody breaker. The wire bottom allows air circulation and isn’t a nice comfortable nesting spot to sit in which breaks the bloody cycle by getting those pesky hormones back in check.
For us, this wasn’t an option, this time. We didn’t have the materials or the money to buy the materials and my old wire dog kennel is in Germany with my husband’s eldest son! I’m sure he will probably be in the kennel now their baby arrived.
Other methods to stop a bloody hen include frozen water bottles underneath her in the nest box cooling her down and kicking her out of the broodiness.
We tried this one for a week with no joy.
Then things got ugly. There was what could only be called a pecking problem. We dealt with a cannibalism problem not too long ago and now all the other chickens were pecking at this one for the nest box even though there are 3 others to choose from.
My husband put down one option.
My husband is a former US Marine who saw active duty and doesn’t take killing anything lightly. We are both of the firm belief that we must use as much of the animal as possible to be sure that we honour the life we took. We both believe that we have to ensure that culling our birds is done as humanely as possible.
It took a while for me to come around to culling Mother Clucker. I spent the last week before we culled her chasing her out of the nest box and coop to do some free-ranging in the yard in the hopes it would break the broodiness.
We get through far more eggs as a family than tucking into chicken meat. If I could get her and the other birds to start laying; she would be saved from the butcher’s block and the other birds fates may also be saved.
Photo Credit: Fabrizio Verrecchia
We had to cull her for the better or the flock. Since all of the chickens stopped laying, I was not seeing any return on investment for the feed, bedding and coop I had shelled out for.
I have been homesteading as frugal as possible to be sure my hobby doesn’t get out of hand and to ensure that the bills get paid! It’s a tough statement to make but if it isn’t producing; it’s got to go.
We made sure to use everything and I really mean everything on the homestead one way or another to get the very most from the sacrifice.
Culling A Chicken Humanely
We bought a home processing kit which came with a metal killing cone, knife and chicken plucker to help get things done quickly.
We segregated Mother Clucker the afternoon before and placed her into one of the spare dog flying crates in a shady spot in the yard. The other hens were still trying to peck at her through the bars at this point.
The other birds went into the coop, no one was to free range and Mother Clucker needed some respite from the hens pecking at her.
We started getting items ready that we would need; a large kettle or stockpot of water to boil, the bokashi bin for the innards and feathers, the corded drill ready with the feather plucker and ensuring the knife was sharp.
We made sure everything was away from the other birds and they wouldn’t see the process.
Early Sunday morning was the ideal time for us as urban homesteaders to cull the bird. Partly because most of the neighbors would be at church so the processing could be done without prying eyes over the fence.
Have the stockpot of water hot before you begin.
We opted for a killing cone.
You place the chicken upside down in the cone and pull the head through the narrow opening at the bottom.
The blood rushes to the chicken’s head and they generally become unconscious. With the chicken’s wattle and chin towards you and using a good sharp knife, cut next to the jaw and ear severing the jugular artery.
Be careful to cut away from you and avoid the hand and fingers holding the head so you do not hurt yourself and take care when using sharp knives.
It may take more pressure than you think to cut through the feathers and it is easier to move the feathers out of the way.
Once you have cut the artery, take the tip of the knife and pith the brain by pushing the tip through the roof of the mouth.
The whole process took seconds for her to be gone. There are some great resources on YouTube how to do it with videos such as the ones below Warning – they are graphic and you may need to verify with YouTube before watching the video:
Allow the bird to bleed out. The cone keeps the body contained and stops the flapping around.
You will then need to remove the head and plunge the bird into hot water for easier plucking.
The home processing kit came with this plucker which is operated with a standard drill. We used the corded drill so we could get the job done quickly without worried of the battery losing juice part way through.
The rubberized fingers pull the feathers off incredibly efficiently especially with someone else holding the bird whilst the plucker runs up and down.
After plucking comes the removal of the innards. The guts, crop and feet.
A sharp knife makes a world of difference at this process.
We opted to place the feathers and parts of the bird we cannot consume into the bokashi composter to use everything and to feed the garden and plants she was fond of eating and being in. Bokashi composting means that you can compost raw meat and other items like dairy or cooked foods which cannot traditionally go into a compost bin.
Once the bird is gutted and cleaned you can vacuum pack and leave in the fridge a couple of days before consuming or freeze for later.
Taking a life on the homestead is never an easy task although sometimes it must be done for circumstances such as injury, sickness or they have stopped producing or reached the weight for example, some meat bird varieties at slaughter weight can barely use their legs to move around.
Having a small flock of birds has meant that we have become quite attached to them making the process harder. My next set of layers and dual purpose birds will not be named.
If you have any tips to share with me or other readers please share them in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.
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