Having your own backyard hens is a great way of getting fresh eggs and wonderful compost for the garden. However, owning hens means you are responsible for their health and welfare. It also means that at some stage in a bird’s life, you may have to decide whether euthanasia is the most humane option for a very sick or injured bird. Indeed, some people may choose to kill a backyard hen for personal consumption.
You should check your hens daily to make sure they are alert and active, have smooth feathers, and clean eyes and nostrils. Some obvious signs of possible illness include discharge from eyes or nostrils, drooping wings, discoloured wattle and comb, diarrhoea, or unusual or laboured breathing. If you think there’s something wrong with your hens then you should consult a vet or poultry expert immediately.
Regardless of the reason, you should NEVER attempt to kill a bird if you don’t know how to do it humanely.
If you decide to kill your backyard hen yourself, you should first seek practical advice and training from a vet or poultry expert. You must be absolutely confident that you are able to do so quickly and without causing pain or distress to the bird.
An integral part of humane killing is ensuring the bird remains quiet and calm throughout the process. Catch the bird by placing both hands over the wings to prevent flapping, bring the hen close to your body and support her from underneath. The method of killing that is most practical for home purposes is cervical dislocation but it must be done swiftly and competently. Afterwards, always check to make sure the bird is dead. If the bird is not dead, immediate and humane euthanasia should be performed. Decapitation is not recommended as a bird may remain conscious (and therefore in pain) for up to 30 seconds.
Again, seek advice and training to ensure you can carry out the procedure quickly and confidently. If you are not competent and capable to perform the procedure, ensure you are able to readily access a vet. At all times, it is your responsibility to protect the welfare of the bird.
Further reading: Practical slaughter of poultry: A guide for the small producer, 2nd edition, Humane Slaughter Association, www.hsa.org.uk.