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How to Kill a Chicken

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.

You may never have to kill a chicken, or want to, but if you do then you want to kill it properly. If you care about animals then you want to cause them the minimum amount of stress and and pain.

There is an unfortunate saying in the English language which states to 'Wring a Chicken's Neck'. In fact it gets 154,000 results on Google so there are a lot of people out there who gather that 'wringing' is the way to go about it. It isn't, at least not in the way that people understand wringing. People believe wringing is as in a wet towel i.e. twisted, squeezed and compressed to remove water. There is no question about it. This would kill the chicken but it would take time and be stressful and painful to the bird and traumatic for the 'wringer'.

So forget about wringing. Never use the phrase in connection with a chicken ever again. Chickens will thank you for it.

I like chickens. I like all animals. Before I started by zoo career I had killed very few creatures and none in anger. In fact before I worked in zoos I had never really thought about animals eating animals. I had seen the wildlife documentaries of course but somehow, on screen, you are divorced from reality. Lions ate meat, Hawks ate pigeons. Where the meat and pigeons came from was not actually in the formula.

I was thrown in at the deep end. I started as a 'cat keeper' with responsibility for Lions, Tigers, Leopards, Pumas, Caracals and others. Okay, I did get some training but it was very much a very steep learning curve. Amongst the skills I had not even contemplated as part of a 'zoo career' were butchery and killing chickens.

Generally speaking (there are exceptions) the large cats in zoos are fed six days a week and fasted on one. Usually they will be fed whole meat on five days and chickens on the sixth. The chickens are fed whole, feathers, bones and all. This is all important roughage.

Every week a lorry used to arrive at the zoo with a few dozen 'past lay' hens. These arrived live and were placed in a coop till they were needed. It was my responsibility to care for these and so I did. I treated them especially well and in return they continued to produce a few more eggs. I appreciated this as my wages were very low and freshly laid eggs were outside my budget.

Once a week the day came round. The killing day. The first time I was horrified. I had not got a clue how to go about it. I didn't want to do it. It really was something I had to think long and hard about. The first few times I sought assistance in culling the chickens. The people I asked did the deed but, to me, did not seem to have clue. The birds died, usually headless and messy. It was not a pleasant sight. I actually suffered watching. These were living, breathing, thinking creatures. They did not deserve the stress and trauma.

In the end I decided to do it myself. I am now an expert at killing chickens. I have killed thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them over the years. I can kill quickly with the minimum of fuss and without mess or stress. I can kill almost as fast as the chicken is handed to me. Easily 20-30 chickens killed within a minute but I am not counting. It is hardly a competition event. I still like chickens. I think about them and everything I ever have to help along. I care about animals.

There is no need for blood. Axes and knives are the choice of some, usually because they know no better. I suppose they believe that once the head has been removed then the animal is dead. It is usually but even then some get it wrong. You only have to think back to 'Mike the headless chicken'. The trouble with blades is that there is a lot of blood and it is messy.

How to Kill a Chicken

I am right-handed.

  • Grasp the two legs of the chicken firmly in the right hand and raise the bird off the ground. Suspended in this way the head wil be hanging down.
  • The chest are of the bird should be facing to the right.
  • Run your hand down the chickens neck and with the back of your hand facing up towards you place your index and middle finger on either side of the chickens neck where it meets the skull.
  • At this point the top of the chickens head will be touching the palm of your hand and tilted back with its beak facing towards the inside of your wrist.

Now you are ready. The next step is the important one. This is the kill. You want to do it properly and with conviction. If you mess up now then the animal will suffer. You don't want it to suffer and neither do I. If you don't think that you can go through with it then just put the bird down and go and seek help from someone else. If you think you can do it:

  • Raise the bird up with your right hand and gripping tightly pull down with the left hand. You will feel a sort of pop and the head will no longer be connected to the spine. Pull down a bit more but not so much as you are pulling the head off the bird...that is messy.

At this point the chicken will start thrashing about. This is quite normal. This nerves. The birds eyes may even be open and it is blinking and tongue moving. Don't look at that end. Hold the bird still suspended in close to your body. You will feel the neck engorge with blood and within two minutes it will stop moving completely.

If you were to have chosen to decapitate the bird instead of pulling the neck then the bird would be thrashing or even running around spraying blood everywhere 'like a headless chicken' (another distinctive English phrase) for a couple of minutes. If you had decided to 'wring the neck' then the chances are the bird would still not be dead and would be suffering.

If you have killed the bird for your own table then now is the time to pluck it, whilst it is still warm. Plucking is a bit of an art form but it is not difficult to learn.

Within a zoo situation we normally kept all the feathers on board. Within the zoo too I would not normally hold the bird after I killed it but move immediately on to the next one.

There are zoos which feed live chickens to their big cats, snakes and others. Not only do I consider this to be extremely cruel but it is pointless and unnecessary too. Sometimes the argument is put forward that it is 'enriching'. It maybe so but it is certainly not enriching for the chicken. Others say that it is to retain 'the wild streak. Why? With very very few exceptions are any zoo animals going to be returned to the wild in my lifetime. Such live feeding is simply not necessary and panders more to some morbid fascination in some people rather than anything else.

I can see a point in some instances to have warm moving prey given to an animal which has ceased interest in food and gone into a long and worrying fast. In such instances it is easy enough to take the living chicken along to the enclosure, pull its neck and then toss it in. Nine times out of ten it will be grabbed almost instantly. The chicken does not suffer.

Video on How to Kill a Chicken

There used to be an excellent video on 'How To Kill A Chicken' on YouTube but it has long since disappeared. I thought to replace it with something just as clear. A search turned up a hundred gory videos of how not to do it. The video below shows 'my' way but uses a bit of equipment which I do not use. The methodology however is broadly the same. The guy obviously cares.


DuoMax on August 05, 2013:

As an avid Pheasant hunter I was curious how/why the old fraise, "like a chicken with it's head cut off", appears to be a well implemented process. When I've "rung" pheasants the proper way was similar to the pop hold method described, but simply uses the pheasant's weight combined with centrical force to easily snap the top vertebra to kill, and further snapped vertebra to stop lessen the occasional momentary convulsions. While I understand the author may not like the spectacle, a few spins and a few different grips always leaves an unblinkingly dead/usually convolution free bird. The greatest reason for this method's implementation is it's: the fastest way to catch/kill a wild spurred rooster without getting spurred; and it's not humane to leave a lame, (can no longer fly,) game bird. P.S. The common chicken is actually a domesticated breed of pheasant. And it's kinda a little sad that many domestic chicken have been often been selectively bread to be unable to move, do to the weight of there breast meat. So Yeah I often feel happy about shooting pheasants who're often raised into young adulthood by hatchery/farms and then let fly free for a few years until they're, unluckily for them, shot. Fly free leaner, healthier, more fun to get pheasant or in other-words wild chicken.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on February 19, 2012:

Thank you monkeysmile. I don't like to kill anything but I prefer to rear my own chickens and kill them myself when the time comes. A kinder kill.

monkeysmile on February 18, 2012:

Peter, Here I am, considering getting a few chickens for fresh eggs and of course, the idea of having to kill one in time came to me. I searched and found different ways people do it, saying it is "humane" such as letting them bleed to death! then waiting for them to "cool" before plucking. -Crazy!

I remember when I was a little girl in Colombia, my parents would get a fresh chicken for our Sunday soup from the market on occasion. Our cook would proceed the exact way that you described. It all happened within a second in front of my amazed eyes! plucking followed immediately and cooking right after she was done with the cleaning. The dogs also got soup made of the parts we did not want in ours. Every part of the bird was eaten and very much appreciated by all!

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 08, 2011:

@marimccants - Pleased to help.

marimccants on August 08, 2011:

Excellent hub! Very easy to follow instructions! THanks

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on January 17, 2011:

ttrash - it is the lack of necessity to live feed that I find cruel. I have no problems if it is part of a genuine re-wilding project....and I do mean GENUINE. There are some unnecessary spoof programmes around.

ttrash from Australia on January 17, 2011:

A great, informative hub Peter. I also agree that feeding live prey to captive animals is particularly cruel. In addition, I've heard that in many cases it teaches the animal to strike at signs of movement, making the keeper's job more difficult.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on September 14, 2010:

travel_man1971 - Each to their own I suppose. There are cultural and religious differences around the world. I prefer the quick pull as described. It is all over in a flash. They can be bled afterwards if required. I agree that a dip in boiling water does help with the plucking as well as giving any feather lice a nasty shock. Thanks for reading.

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on September 14, 2010:

I go with the usual way of killing a chicken. With an assistant, I let the blood pour on a small bowl by slitting it's neck (feather-cleaned) before plunging it on the boiled hot water to pluck the feathers away easily. I don't have to ring its neck, though. Thanks for this hub, Sir Pete.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 26, 2010:

Thank you mooboomoo. It is reassuring to know that people care enough to kill kindly and quickly.

mooboomoo from London on August 26, 2010:

I have chickens and at some point they will be dispatched and so this was very helpful. Thank you

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 20, 2010:

Shi'an - I am pleased to have helped. I do not like the unneccessary suffering of any animal.

Shi'an on August 20, 2010:

Thank you Peter. I had already confirmed that this would be my method to prepare our chickens for the table and wanted just to check on correct technique as it has been a lot of years since I grew up on my parents farm. Your hub was very informative and put my mind at ease facing something that is at least a little hard to mentally get through. I'm glad to know that I will be causing as little stress as possible on the chickens. Your time and effort is greatly appreciated.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 28, 2010:

IsadoraPandora - Than you for reading.

Isadora from Tennessee on July 28, 2010:

Excellent Hub!

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on June 27, 2010:

Wendy - I don't know you but if you knew me you would know that I do care about animals and have devoted my life to caring for them. I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat and like it. I kill chickens in the main to feed other animals. Animals which do not and can not live on lettuce and tomatoes. It is my aim to inform people through this hub (Did you read it?) to see that chickens are killed quickly and without stress.

Wendy on June 27, 2010:

If you cared about animals, you wouldn't be killing them.

cbris52 on March 24, 2010:

Great hub.... I eat chicken almost every day and this subject really hasn't crossed my mind until reading your hub.. I will certainly think about your hub next time I order grilled chicken.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 18, 2010:

Thanks babyching - good luck in getting your farm.

babyching from Beijing, China on March 18, 2010:

Great hub. I believe animals should be killed swiftly with the least pain as possible. Hopefully I will have my own farm someday and can use your advice.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on March 18, 2010:

Thank you, Peter, and it was just a thought which I hoped to make it quicker. My grandmother used to cut the cord at the back of the head and held the chicken over a bucket to collect the blood but I don't know what she done with that. Knowing her she would have used somewhere because she never wasted anything. If I had a farm I couldn't do all this. I know it has to be done and good some people can do it.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 18, 2010:

Thank you for reading Silver Poet.

borge_009 - And, as a Filipino you have to face the fact that cock fighting is probably the national sport. There are traditions with blooding in most societies somewhere.

Silver Poet from the computer of a midwestern American writer on March 17, 2010:

I had never heard of this method. It seems more humane. Thanks for writing this hub.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 17, 2010:

Hello, hello - Electrocution is used to stun in some factories but the animals are already suspended going round on a carousel and under stress. Home electrocution would have to be some sort of do it yourself apparatus and likely stressful as well. There are a number of other methods but I will stick with the one I know works well.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 17, 2010:

lovelypaper - I can understand that. It is all about if you 'have' to do it. Thanks for reading.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on March 17, 2010:

Why can't be electricuted? Would that be quicker?

Renee S from Virginia on March 17, 2010:

This was fascinating and disturbing at the same time. I believe it's ok to kill for food and have nothing against it but can't watch it.

borge_009 from Philippines on March 17, 2010:

you're right peter. But I cant avoid the fact because sometimes as a Filipino we have many traditions and rituals like placing a mark on the forehead of the birthday celebrant from a chicken or pig's blood. And I cant avoid these cases because we have chickens in our place and we have to prepare the meat ourselves. Every time I kill a checken, I feel pity on them, but I have no choice.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 17, 2010:

borge_009 - I believe you should care about any creature you kill. If you don't then it is time to re-think your life, your morals and how you fit in the scheme of the universe.

borge_009 from Philippines on March 17, 2010:

I have killed a chicken many times. I sometimes talk to the bird while doing the kill. I say sorry to the chicken of what I am going to do to him.