A warning for my more delicate readers: this post talks about my experience, both the good and the bad, culling our rooster on my own. While it is not too graphic, if you are squeamish you may want to pass on reading.
Two years ago when we first got our chickens I knew that the day would come when we may have to cull one. I didn’t worry too much though because I knew Mike would do that job. He was more comfortable with that aspect involved in raising our chickens and I was happy to give him the responsibility.
A year later it came to pass that indeed we needed to cull (kill) our first chicken- a young rooster who was fighting with our older rooster The Colonel. Mike dutifully accomplished the task with my help (I only had to hold him still- the rooster, not Mike). Afterward I helped pluck him and getting him ready to feed our family. Ginger made a mighty fine pot of chicken and dumplings.
Things were going great and for the next year we had no issues. The Colonel, although mean as nails, didn’t bother with Biscuit the other more docile rooster. Instead he focused his anger on us, attacking kids if they got too near and he began pestering the hens.
Over time something changed. As The Colonel got meaner, Biscuit started getting angry. He began to get aggressive too… but only towards The Colonel. The Colonel started mercilessly picking on the ladies, plucking feathers from them and causing many of them to bleed. It wasn’t long before Biscuit began to challenge him.
One day a couple of weeks ago I suddenly heard kids yelling in the backyard. “Cock fight! Mama, they are cock fighting!” Sure enough those birds were trying to kill each other. We were able to separate them and put them in different cages, but I knew something had to be done.
After trying everything else to keep both birds, I knew it was time to cull The Colonel. I had been talking about it to Mike long before now, but he was always against it. I think he had a soft spot for that beautiful, cranky bird. And since he wouldn’t do it that meant if the bird was going to be culled, I was going to have to do it.
Y’all, I’ve never killed an animal on purpose. I’ve been hunting with Mike; I’ve helped him track his kill and even watched/helped as he field-dressed it. I also helped him cull Ginger. But this was different. This was me using my own hands, up close, to kill a living creature. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Still, I always knew this was something I might have to do. And honestly, if I truly want our family to be self-sufficient, I not only need to know how to do it, I need to be able to do it. So, I asked advice in my online chicken group about what would be the most humane way to dispatch a chicken, I watched a bunch of you tube videos, and then I headed to my Home Depot to buy a sharp hatchet which left me feeling a little bit badass carrying it out of the store. But, I have to be honest, I was nervous too. I hated the thought of having to do it.
When I got home I went to change my clothes to something appropriate for the task at hand. As I pulled out my go-to work shirt I realized that the “West Georgia Right to Life” shirt might not be the best one to wear. Feeling guilty, I pulled out a different one, put on my boots, donned my work gloves, and headed out back.
Ben came in the backyard with me and the others begged to watch from the deck. It was a little unnerving knowing I had an audience watching me. When Mike and I had culled the other rooster it was only us. Here I was doing it on my own for the first time with a bunch of kids watching. I prayed that I wouldn’t traumatize them!
Ben got The Colonel for me and I grabbed him by his feet, hanging him upside down. His spurs were sharp and I worried about him wiggling and them digging into my hands. Thankfully he stayed pretty calm. I tried to put his head in between the nails I had hammered into a stump. The space wasn’t big enough. I pulled one of the nails out (while still holding that big old bird!) and was able to tap it into place again. I tried to put his head in between again. The jig was up though and he must have sensed he was in danger and decided he was having nothing to do with that. He started to struggle and so I pushed the stump over and laid his head against it.
With a quick exhale I brought my hatchet down on his neck. I expected to sever his head from his body the way I saw in the videos. But that wasn’t what happened. He flopped around some but his head was still attached. While the kids wanted to see a chicken running around the yard without its head, I didn’t think a floppy headed chicken running around the yard would have been so good. Thankfully his feet were firmly in my hands so he couldn’t get loose. I wasn’t sure what I should do so I brought my hatchet down again. I still wasn’t sure if he was dead and I didn’t want him to suffer and so I did it again and then again.
I heard the kids on the deck gasp a little. I had told them that he would flop around some because of the nerves misfiring so they were expecting that, but I don’t think they expected to see their mama repeatedly having to bring hatchet down on him. I told them that he was dead and they seemed relieved (so was I!). He finally stopped moving and I let go of his legs. Ben sighed and said, “Wow. I was NOT expecting that.” I told him that I hadn’t either.
I stood there looking at The Colonel and felt a sense of sadness and pride. I felt sad because after two years with us I really was sad to see this beautiful bird (and he truly was magnificent!) not living anymore. I also felt sad because I had tried my hardest not to make him suffer and yet I think my clumsiness and newness had made him suffer some.
But man, oh man… I was proud too! I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this and yet I did. It didn’t make me feel good that I had killed a living creature, but it did make me feel proud that I could feed my children in this manner should I ever need to even if Mike was not here to help. That was an incredible feeling.
There are definitely some things I would have done differently and I hope that my inexperience can help you out if you are working up your nerves to do this for the first time too.
- Watch as many videos as you can on the desired method you choose. Take notes and really study them. You will make fewer mistakes if you do.
- Even if you buy the sharpest hatchet out there, test it out first. I think my hatchet wasn’t nearly as sharp as it could have been and needed to be. If you can sharpen yours, do so. I definitely will if I have to do this again.
- Practice cutting something else. I didn’t realize how much strength it would take to cut off the rooster’s head. I would have loved to have a clean cut the first time instead of having to feel like a ruthless murderer bringing my blade down many times.
- Only let your kids watch if you have really talked to them about the circle of life. Thankfully my kids weren’t traumatized by it but talking about what could go wrong as well as what is going to happen will help a lot. I know it helped with mine (who immediately wanted to go inside and eat breakfast burritos… not too traumatized!).
- If your chickens are pets (ours are but we know that they are working pets), be prepared to feel a little guilty and sad. Even though The Colonel was mean he still was beautiful and he really helped protect our girls.
While I hate that we needed to cull one of our roosters, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do it myself. The experience assured me that if the need ever arises that I can (and will!) provide for my family. It was a very empowering moment. The road to self-sufficiency became a little less scary!