Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Not-So-Fun Part of Raising Chickens - Culling

I had to cull a chick this morning.  This is the first time I've ever been home by myself and haven't had my Bright-and-Shining-Farmer available to do the dirty work for me.

The poor little thing was already very small and had a gimpy leg.  If they are getting around, eating and drinking, I'll usually let the gimpies go on.  Inevitably they'll turn out smaller at processing time than the others.  Really, it's more sensible to cull for quality and I know that.

When I went out to tend the chicks this morning, I noticed that this one was weak and it didn't move to the feeders with the others.  It just laid there and panted.  The bigger chicks ran right over top of it to get to the food.  I knew it was suffering and I had to do something about it.

That's just part of good animal husbandry.  You have to acknowledge when you take on responsibility for an animal that times like this will inevitably come.

((Deep sigh)) But that doesn't make it any easier!

I got online and searched http://www.backyardchickens.com/ to see if there were any quick, painless ways to euthanize a chick that didn't involve a hatchet.  After reading a couple of threads full of useless arguing, it became apparent that there ISN'T an easy way to do it, so I went to the basement and got the hatchet.

I don't know why - I've processed many chickens for the freezer before, but when it comes to cute, fuzzy, yellow chicks it was a lot harder to steel myself for the job.

The chick was still squirmy enough that I knew the hatchet would be traumatic for us both.  I was upsetting it just by picking it up.

I took a deep breath.  I set the chick back down long enough to put on a pair of gloves, prayed quickly for strength and with a quick motion dislocated the poor chick's neck.  It died instantly. 

And instantly I was relieved of the burden, knowing that I had done the right thing.

I would have been haunted all day if I had turned my back on its suffering and let it linger.

I've had a lot higher losses in this batch of chicks than I have had in previous years.  This makes six now.  The only thing really different is that I got them a month earlier than usual and perhaps the unstable temperatures have had something to do with it?  Or it could be that the flake pine shavings I bought are too firm and are contributing to spraddle leg? 

McMurray Hatchery chicks have always done so well for me before and losing two or three very young in age has been the average.  I have 35 Cornish X chicks remaining and two more of those are a bit on the small side.


  1. Sorry that you had to cull. I know it is part of owning chickens but as of yet, I haven't had to do it. And to have to do it alone would be very hard but I agree you did the right thing if the poor chick was suffering. Hugs for your compassion and fortitude.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Joan. I have a lot of chickens, but I hope it will be a rare occurrence.

  3. I had a similar experience with one of my cornish-x chicks this fall. She had been smothered a little by the others and her wing and leg looked injured. I did not cull however and let her spend the night in a box in the bathroom to see if she'd recover. And, she did! Two days later I couldn't even tell which one she was anymore. I realize this is probably just luck for me, I am grateful I didn't need to cull her but was ready to if need be. I'm with you on wanting a heavy breed standard chicken flock for meat though, cornish-x depress me!