My personal feeling is that it is irresponsible to hatch if you are not going to be able to despatch any birds that you don't want - because they are weak or because they are the wrong sex. If you can't do it yourself, make sure that you have someone you can call on to 'do the deed' for you. The ability to kill quickly and efficiently is, in my opinion, an essential part of keeping any kind of poultry.
A friend of mine was met at her back door by her cockerel who had had a run in with the fox. He was very badly injured and both she and her husband were traumatised because killing their birds in an emergency was not something that they had thought about. They coped very well under the circumstances - using a hand axe. But it's better if you have thought through the possibility that something like that might happen and have a plan in place first.
Also, what will you do if you hatch extra cockerels and don't want them for the pot? Having a plan in place, rather than just working it out as you go along, is definitely best. Many auction houses don't accept single male birds. Many auctions that DO end up selling the cockerels to cock fighters as 'practice' birds for their game fowl to get a taste for killing with. Farms where your well loved cockerel can live out his days happily are very few and far between.
Here I have written out the two methods I use - the Broomstick Method for older birds and Poultry Dispatchers for youngers ones.
Broomstick Method - Adult birds, over about 8 weeks
My preferred method of despatch is the 'Broomstick Method'. It is very straighforward and very simple; done smoothly and without fuss it will be as stressless as possible for the bird.
- Find a hard piece of ground - soft turf is unsuitable as the bird's neck just sinks in to it when you apply pressure.
- Find somewhere you can hang the bird up afterwards.
- Put the broomstick down on the ground within arm's reach and have a loop of twine ready in your pocket.
- Collect your bird.
- Hold the bird hanging by it's legs in one hand and with your free hand, support it's chest and lay it down gently, flat on the ground.
- Keep hold of it's legs and with your free hand, that was under the chest, pick up the broomstick.
- Place the broomstick across it's neck, quite far up, close to the head.
- Hold it GENTLY in place with one foot as you stand up, close to the bird.
- If you have a helper, at this point, get them to hover their foot over the broom on the other side of the neck. If you don't have a helper, you need to stand up and put your foot there yourself, so your feet are braced over the broom either side of the neck.
- In one smooth movement, rock forward with your feet on to the broom, whilst pulling the legs smoothly VERTICALLY up towards your chest. The neck should form a right-angle under the broom, the head flat on the ground and the feet vertical, against your body.
- You don't need to pull sharply; smooth, steady pressure will do it and you will feel the neck 'crunch'. If you pull too hard or too sharply, then the head might come off - and that is ABSOLUTELY the worst thing that can happen. It's messy; but you know the bird is dead.
- There will be flapping, probably quite violent flapping. It can go on for ten minutes or so. That means you've done it properly. Twist the loop of twine around the bird's legs and hang it up. The go away for ten or fifteen minutes until the flapping has stopped. I quite often have a bit of a cry at this point, because I HATE this part of chicken keeping; but it's necessary to be able to do it to be fair to the birds.
Despatching young birds
You can kill very small chicks - up to a couple of weeks old - by putting their neck over a vertical edge, like the top of something like a cupboard door; and pulling their head down one side and their body down the other. Or you can cut their head off with scissors, which I can't really bring myself to do.
I have invested in some of these Poultry Despatchers from Ascott Smallholding (my preferred supplier for all things poultry). They work on quite big birds - up to 14lb according to the advertising - but I have never used them on anything older then ten weeks.
- Hold the bird by it's feet in one hand.
- Hold the dispatchers in the other.
- Put the jaws of the dispatcher around/against the neck of the bird, close to the head.
- Close the dispatchers tightly and twist your wrist at the same time, so that the head bend back against the neck.
- There will be flapping. Put the bird down in a box or something with a lid and walk away until it's stopped.
All the information and photos on this website © Cheryl Arvidson 2010.