Shirley Harring

writer, farmer advocate, madwoman

How to Kill Backyard Poultry

March 29, 2015

Shirley chats about giving a chook the chop.

There are two campsites in the paddock. In one, the occupants vow it is cruel and unethical to raise and kill animals for food. In the second, consumers champion their right to eat what and when they want, and at the most economical (some would say, cheap) price available.

However, there is a third campsite out there. In it, happy little campers regularly discuss the raising of meat in natural surroundings; and practice employing natural farming methods that nurture the health and vitality of the soil. It stands to reason, they suggest, that this impacts the health of the animals and hence, the food produced.

It’s in this campsite people expect total transparency about the food they eat, want to know exactly what ingredients are in their food, where it came from and how it is produced.

So, now we have that out-of-the-way, let’s remember:

“All animals die. The choice for a pig is not between painful death and perpetual life, but between one death and some other. If we ate only animals that died naturally, then could there be any rational objection to our eating them — to eating their flesh in celebration of their life rather than burying it to rot or merely burning it?” Adam Gopnik; The Table Comes First.
All animals die. All of them. The only difference is how they die. They could die of old age and illness, suffering from painful joints and infections and blindness, or they can die in their prime, when they are still active and healthy, when they’ve had a good life without suffering. Unfortunately, there is no completely painless way to end an animal’s life. However, there are fast and efficient methods that work within the humane framework and avoid animal stress.

When I was a girl, we had poultry for eggs. If they didn’t lay, became old, or showed signs of beginning to crow (ahem), my father would lop off their heads with an axe, and chortle as they ran around (like a chook with its head cut off).

I didn’t eat chicken for about 8 years.

Now, as an adult, I urge everyone to at least help in one, if not more kills. I educate that meat rearing can be a continued practice in an ethical, uncruel way that respects both the life of the animal, and the emotional well-being of the consumer.

If I am to talk this talk, then I must be prepared to walk this walk.

Killing a chicken for food.

My preferred method for a backyard kill is by employing a killing cone and a skewer. It causes instant brain death.

So, first you need the bird. Your first step is to secure it, isolate it from the flock, and withhold food for around 24 hours. You want to empty the intestinal tract and gullet, without dehydration. By having the crop and gut empty, the evisceration (removing the entrails) will be easier. Your chook should be placed somewhere calm, and quiet. Your chook should be at an age when the presence of pin feathers (the soft, downy buds on the skin surface) has passed.
killing a chicken for food

My father taught me how to hypnotise a chicken – or put it to ‘sleep’. I think this is a kinder way to begin the end of their life. Once your bird is asleep, gently tip the bird upside down and insert, head down, into the cone. The cone will support the body and wings without stressing the chicken. Allow the bird’s head and neck to dangle through the base of the cone, and gently prise open the beak while supporting the top (at the base, not the back) of the head. Position the skewer in line with the groove in the upper beak and aim in a direct line toward the rear of the skull and give a solid, hard push. The bird will make a sound and possibly give a spasm or two. These are reflexes, your bird is now dead and cannot feel. (Sorry).

You now need to dislocate the neck. Hold the bird’s legs in one hand, and place the head in the palm of your other hand, beak protruding between your first two fingers. Pull the head firmly and quickly downwards, and twist. There should be a sharp ‘crack’ as the joints dislocate. (Take care to stop when you feel the resistance change. I found out the hard way – you can pull a bird’s head right off). Return the bird to the hanging position, and as the blood drains into the gap between the vertebrae, prepare to pluck. The blood will stay in that space until the bird is processed.

killing a chicken for foodNo time to shoot off for a cuppa, folks. Plucking needs to happen immediately. The body is warm, and therefore, the feathers yield far more readily than they will if you allow the carcass to cool. The longer you leave it, the firmer the quills will set inside the skin, making it more difficult. Keep the bird in the hanging position, and begin with the extremities, because they cool first. Neck and wing tips first, moving upwards, and then legs moving downwards, and finally, the body. It’s a five-fingered pinching motion, and if you use two hands, it takes around 5-7 minutes. You can then remove your bird to a work surface and prepare it for evisceration.

Killing an animal for food

Remove the head. To do this, cut a large circular opening around the skin at the base of the neck taking care not to cut or pierce the crop. The opening will need to be large enough to allow you to loosen all membranes around the crop, and then gently pull these outwards until they won’t extend any further. Carefully loosen it from the windpipe.

Killing an animal for foodCut around the clacoa (again, take care not to pierce anything, you don’t want to rupture intestines or the rectum) and make the cut into a full circle big enough to insert your hand. Using your hand, loosen all organs from the innards, taking care to pull them away and toward you, rather than poke or break the tissue. Finally, drag the crop and any remaining entrails out. At this point, you remove the legs from the kneecap down (a firm, swift chop should do it), give the chook a thorough wash, and it will look somewhat like a supermarket chook.

Only better.
killing food Ready for dinner? Not so fast. You need to let the bird rest for around 48 hours to relax the meat. A fresh kill will be tough, the flavours too intense and the texture chewy and rough. It may also take you 48 hours before you can bring yourself to eat something you have processed yourself. If, however, you have come this far, congratulations. If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.

Welcome to our campsite.
killing foodOf course, you might consider it easier to order a fresh pasture raised heritage chicken from us. People love them – and they won the New Innovation award in the Delicious Produce Awards 2015. We’ll even include a few recipes.

This post first appeared on, the Hand Sourced Provedore’s website. Pop over for more nose-to-tail type postings. 

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