When to Cull Backyard Chickens and How to do it Humanely

Culling is one of the practices that has been done for ages in livestock keeping.

When it comes to chickens, culling is the process where you identify and remove the non-laying or low producing chickens from a laying flock. It is a continuous process from the time your chicks hatch to the peak of their production age. It is therefore important for you to learn the correct way of culling chicken. 

What you should strive to ensure is that the whole process of culling your chicken is quick and humane. All animals feel pain and it is your moral obligation to ensure that the entire process runs smooth and fast.  

This is why it is vital to learn the correct procedures of how to cull your chicken. 

The aspect of when to do it and how to choose the chicken to cull is to help you choose only the most suitable chicken for culling so as not to affect productivity. 

When to Cull Backyard Chickens and How to do it Humanely

Benefits of culling your chickens.

The main reasons why you should cull your chickens include;

  1. Culling helps you in disease control as it helps you get rid of the sickly chicken. This in turn reduces the chances of the spread of disease.
  2. Culling also helps you increase water, feeds, and space available to more productive chickens. Getting rid of chickens that do not lay eggs ensures the productivity increases thereby more profitability.
  3. It also helps save on costs of medication and vaccination. You will not need to spend money on medication or vaccination on chickens that are not productive. This will increase your venture’s profitability.
  4. Culling also brings about uniformity in your stock. All the birds within each group will be of their average size and weight making it easier to market your products to bulk buyers in the market.

When to cull your chickens.

It reaches a point as you keep chickens when you have to make a decision to cull your flock. I have a few tips I want to share to help you identify the right time to cull a chicken.

  1. Aggression

When the roosters in your flock start to become aggressive towards you or your children, then it may be just the time to euthanize it. There have been several cases reported where chickens have attacked humans and sometimes, end in grievous injuries or even death. It’s not only roosters that may attack but also mother hens will also attack whenever they feel their chicks have been threatened.

  1. Non-laying hens

When the hen is of old age and has slowed down egg production, then it’s time to cull them altogether. It costs a lot to maintain a hen that is not egg-laying and you should therefore cull them to ensure the profitability of your venture.

  1. Cannibalism

When your chickens start to demonstrate cannibalism by attacking other chickens for no apparent reason like insufficient diet or minerals, then it time to cull the chicken. It makes no sense to have an investment that eats ‘itself’. Cannibalism is counterproductive and may result in losses in your venture

  1. Egg eating

Egg eating is sometimes attributed to a deficiency in minerals in the diet. However, this is not always the case as you might find one or two chickens that caught on bad behavior and just do not want to drop the act. In this case, you may need to debeak the chicken and if this fails, you can cull the chicken.

  1. Undesirable genetics

Naturally, it is not uncommon to find chicks that hatched weaker or with deformities on the body, beak, or feet. This may lead to the chick not living a good life and it may not grow or produce as expected of all other chicken. This will raise your cost of production and the best step to take will be to cull the chicken with deformities. 

  1. Slow Molters

From time to time, chickens do change their old feathers to regrow new ones that are good for their protection and insulation against cold. During this time, egg production slows down because the same nutrients it takes to make the eggs are the same used to make new feathers. When the hen molts for a long period of time, then the feeds to eggs ratio will reduce and this will increase your costs of production.

Other things you might want to check on when you want to cull chicken include;

Pubic bones– A productive chicken should have flexible pubic bones that are able to snuggly allow two or three human fingers to fit. A non-productive layers’ pubic bone will be tight and quite rigid.

Feathers– A hen that is laying eggs should have feathers that are dirty and worn. This is because all their energy is geared towards the production of eggs instead of grooming and replacing their old feathers.

Carriage–  A good egg-laying chicken will be alert of its environment and not be impassive and lazy. Its eyes should be bright and she should be relatively active in tasks such as scratching the litter or chasing and running around with other chickens.

Wattles and combs– A non-laying hen will have scaly, shriveled, and pale combs and wattles, while an actively laying hen will have waxy, full, bright red wattles.

Vent– A healthy actively laying hen should have a large, oval, and moist vent. A non-laying hens’ vent will be dry, tight, and round. 

How to cull chickens

Once your flock attains maturity, there are various ways you can cull your chicken. Before I continue, I must issue a disclaimer that killing any living thing takes courage. Killing a bird on the other hand takes guts. Some of the ways you can humanely euthanize chicken include;

  1. Neck Snapping

Here, you need to be quick and courageous. If you do not snap the neck properly, your chicken may experience a slow and painful death. You will need to hold the bird by your left hand and grasping the chickens’ head to the base where the skull joins the neck. You should then snap the chicken’s head in a down and outwards direction quickly to minimize any pain the chicken may feel. This method is fast and bloodless and in my opinion, the most humane.

  1. Use of a Pellet Gun

Though uncommon, the use of a pellet gun is also quick and the chicken will feel less pain during the process. Here, you hold your chicken on the ground and discharge your pellet gun close to the chickens’ head. This makes the process quick and easy.

  1. Decapitation

This is the most common method of culling chicken in many homes. This process involves you holding the chicken on the ground and using a sharp knife to cut off its head. It is important to note that this process is bloody and requires a strong gut. You will require to hold the chicken down until its muscles stop moving and the bleeding stops unless you want the entire place to look like a murder scene.

  1. Using a carbon dioxide chamber

This is the most suitable method to cull young chicken. Since small chicken cannot prolong their breath in high concentrations of carbon dioxide, they lose consciousness and quickly die. The chicken will not struggle or be in distress throughout the entire process.


Culling is an essential aspect of chicken rearing as it is meant to ensure that your venture remains profitable. It also ensures the good health of your flock as resources such as food, water, and space will be more well distributed and utilized by the chicken that has been spared from culling.

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About James Polystead

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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