Backyard hens can be wonderful companions and a great way of getting fresh eggs. While owning your backyard hens you are responsible for their health and welfare.
Your hens should be checked 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, unusual or laboured breathing, drooping wings or tail, discoloured wattle and comb, lameness (unable or abnormal walk), diarrhoea, being lethargic or not eating. If you notice any significant change in your hens’ behaviour or health it is important you consult a veterinary or poultry expert immediately.
In the unfortunate event one of your hens gets sick or injured, you may have to decide whether euthanasia is the most humane option for your hen. Regardless of the reason, you should never attempt to kill your hens if you are not appropriately trained in humane euthanasia methods.
Euthanasia of hens should only be performed by a competent person who has the necessary skills and knowledge of appropriate euthanasia methods. For the euthanasia method to be humane, it must result in rapid death, or loss of consciousness followed by death while the hen remains unconscious. If your hen requires euthanasia, it is best to seek the expertise of a veterinarian or poultry expert.
An integral part of humane euthanasia is ensuring the bird remains quiet and calm throughout the process. The most commonly used euthanasia methods for hens are cervical dislocation for birds <5kgs, captive bolt, or intravenous injection. All of these methods require training and expertise to be performed humanely.
After applying any euthanasia method, it is essential to check and make sure the hen is dead. Some signs of death include: loss of consciousness, absence of corneal or ‘blinking’ reflex when the eye is gently touched, dilated pupils, absence of muscle tone such as in the neck, and absence of rhythmic breathing. If the hen is not dead, then a humane euthanasia method must be immediately re-applied.
If your hens are not sick but you are intending to kill them for personal consumption, then it is important to ensure your hens are killed humanely by a person who is skilled, confident and competent in humane killing methods for poultry.
Remember it is your responsibility to protect the welfare of your hens. Therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure your hens are killed humanely. It is also important to be aware of your state legislation and regulations for the keeping, killing and disposing of backyard hens. Failure to comply with state animal welfare legislation and regulations, or federal standards and model codes of practice for poultry can result in prosecution and fines.
 Animal Health Australia (2018) Poultry for show and sale: a national guide to the handling, transportation and biosecurity of poultry for show and sale.