The easiest way to cull a chicken (you need to know!)

If you raise chickens you've probably considered the fact that eventually you will have to cull one. I faced this problem when my first set of chicks were 3 months old and I found out first hand that culling a sick chicken is not an easy task! It can be necessary though and being prepared makes it much easier when the time comes. 

culling | chickens

I'm going to talk about my preferred method for culling a chicken along with methods that I have tried but not had as much success with. If this kind of conversation bothers you go ahead and click right here to visit some of my more fun chicken posts! You might want to bookmark this page for when the time comes though.

If you're ready to learn how to cull a sick chicken humanely, keep reading.

There are many different culling methods for chickens and I've tried several over the years with mixed results. The method I used the first time I had to euthanize a sick young chicken, was the broomstick method. I was told it would be easy and mess free. It was neither of these things. The head ripped right off, the bird flopped everywhere, I was traumatized and my family room floor was covered in blood. The chicken was culled quickly, but I knew there had to be a better way!

The next time I had to put down a chicken we used a killing cone and we tried cutting the jugular with a butcher knife. The knife was super sharp but we didn't realize it was too light, and it took multiple cuts to get the job done. Another fail. This was also the only time my husband helped. I was on my own again so I needed to find yet another chicken culling method to try.

The next summer when we had a rooster start chasing the kids, it was time to cull again. This time I decided to put a few nails in a tree stump, place his head between them and remove his head with a hatchet. Be forewarned, this method does not keep them still! I hesitated before chopping, he somehow got free stumbling around until 1 leg came untied and spent the next 3 days stalking me with the piece of green rope still around his other ankle. 

Ok that part was actually pretty funny, but clearly not effective!
After all these failures I finally came up with the method I currently use and thankfully it has never failed. For this culling method you'll only need 2 things: 
  • a killing cone 
  • a pair of strong, sharp tree loppers.
I use a traffic cone that my husband brought home from work. We cut the top inch or so off the cone to make the opening larger and mounted it upside down at the end of our wood pile. You can find killing cones on Amazon or farm supply sites if you would rather buy one. Some feed stores carry them. 

I have tree loppers that I bought specifically for this purpose. I've had them about 7 years and they've never been used for anything else. It's important to me that they stay sharp and using them on trees would dull them. If this is going to be the method you use, I strongly suggest you buy a tool just for this purpose and keep it sharpened.

You can place a bucket underneath to catch the blood if you'd like. I usually do since that way I can clean up easier. I would hate for any predators to smell the blood and start hanging around my yard to see if they could find anything to snack on!

(please excuse the stuffed duck in the picture. My dog ate the stuffed chicken and I didn't want to traumatize a real chicken just for a picture! 😂)
butchering | chickens | killing cone

How to cull a chicken

When it's time to cull a chicken, you'll start by putting the chicken in the cone head first. Hold her by her feet as you lower her in. The chickens head will come out through the hole in the kill cone. Once you feel that she's all the way in the cone, let go of her feet. Sometimes they struggle a little and other times they just relax.

The blood starts rushing to her head so she will calm down. When she relaxes, her neck will stretch out and that is what you want. Maybe I'm a wimp....but I usually position the chicken so she's facing away from me. (trust me, it's the little things that make it easier) 

Pick up your tree loppers and open them placing the opening around her neck completely. Make sure her neck is completely inside the open 'hook' of the loppers. Now I take a deep breath, and squeeze the handles together in one smooth motion not stopping until they are completely closed. You will feel the bone cut, but do not stop until they are closed. At this point I open my loppers and walk away. 

I don't watch the next few minutes. Although she is now dead, the hens muscles will make involuntary movements. Even though the chicken is still confined to the cone, it's just not something I want to see. I take this time to clean my tool and put it away. I return a few minutes later and everything is over.

I prefer this method for several reasons. When a chicken is culled it really does flop and flutter around. While it's not quite as graphic as "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off" it's still something I would rather avoid. If you happen to be butchering, it could bruise the meat. Plus it's really messy because blood fly's everywhere. Using the cone keeps them and the mess confined.

I prefer the tree loppers because it's only one easy motion and it's done. With a butcher knife I was afraid to cut too deep and hurt the chicken unnecessarily. I was also afraid to cut too shallow because then you have to cut twice and prolong their suffering. Using a hatchet is hard because you're holding the chicken down with one hand and chopping with the other. Besides these reasons though, when using those methods you are very 'hands on' with the chicken and I find that harder.

The tree loppers allow me to stand a few steps back from the hen and it really makes a hard job just a little more bearable. Plus all the variables are gone, once the blades close all the way it's done. Sometime the head comes off, other times it stays attached by a piece of skin but as long as those handles shut I know it's done right!

I know this culling method may seem a bit brutal, but the most humane way to kill a chicken is the quickest way. Using this method, it's over in a second. The most inhumane ways I've heard about are: freezing, drowning & gassing with car exhaust. These ways are less hands on for the chicken owner but much more painful for the chicken. My goal when I have to cull an animal is to get it over as quickly as possible for the chicken, even if it's harder for me to do. I believe I achieve that with this culling method.

Hopefully you will never have to cull a sick hen. Just in case the time comes though, I wanted to share my experiences so you'll be be just a little more prepared.


If you happen to be butchering, this site has complete instructions.

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  1. I would like to say Thank you, No body wants to do it but if you have sick chickens or a Rooster gone rogue it sounds like that is a better way.
    We just had a sick chicken and now a crazy rooster. hes 3 yrs old and hes very aggressive to my husband it all started this spring. I have 33 new babies one I know is a rooster. anyways thank you so much.

    1. You're welcome! It really is a hard thing to do isn't it? Good luck with your new babies!


  2. This is a great article. I haven't been able to get my husband to kill our extra roosters after the first 2 - and I really don't want to wait until they start to kill each other off. Since the chickens are my "babies" and I raised them from egg to full grown, I didn't feel culling them was something I could do myself... but reading your story, I think I could. And I should! Thank you for writing it. Off to buy a killing cone now :-)

    1. Thanks! I'm sure you can do it! I know how you feel, I have raised almost every chicken here from an egg so you hate to have to do it, but sometimes it's necessary. Good luck!


  3. I raised chickens for meat and eggs. The easiest way to dispatch them and the kindest, is to hold them under your arm and with your dominant hand hold their neck right behind the head and with one quick twist and pull straight away from the bird, their neck is broken and that is that. No blood no gross, just gone.

    1. I've never heard of that method! I have heard of swinging then over your head and sort of flicking your wrist to snap the neck, but I haven't tried it.


  4. Great article, I grew up on a farm and culled 100 chickens at a time, we always used the axe method, hit them on the head with the axe handle their necks would stretch then cut of their head,, I like your method much more that I'm older I have a harder time culling,,

    1. Thanks! It's definitely easier on the body then swinging an axe!