This is a description of how we killed a poorly hen as humanely as we could in case anyone finds it useful - please do not read if squeamish or you think this may upset you.
One of my mum’s ex commercial hens went completely off her legs a couple of days ago. She still seemed ‘happy’ in herself - was still fairly chatty and reasonably alert but had no use of her legs or feet at all (didn’t grip your finger either) and had stopped showing any interest in food or water. My mum decided the best thing to do was to cull her as the alternative seemed to be that she’d gradually starve or dehydrate.
We learned how to dispatch using a killing cone and a pair of very sharp loppers last year when a stoat (we think) left some of her hens completely disabled, and although in a way it was harder this time (because the hen still seemed ‘herself’) it was actually easier now we know it works very quickly and that we can do it.
We “acquired” a traffic cone that we’ve cut the small end off so the hole is a diameter of about 15cm, and have made holes in the wide end and put string through so it can be hung up (in case you have to do this on your own). We calmly put the hen head first into the cone (at this point we had the cone held horizontally because she tried to look upwards so her head wasn’t going through the hole), then held the cone so her head was down poking through the bottom. We gently pulled on her head so it stuck properly out of the bottom of the cone - she was still and quiet at this point. Last time I did this I put a little hessian bag over their heads (so I couldn’t see them - made it easier for me to do), but this time that just seemed to stress her more so I didn’t do it. I was worried she would pull her head back up and it wouldn’t be a clean cut so I gently put the open loppers around her neck to make sure I couldn’t miss, then when I was certain I cut very quickly and as hard as I could. Her head came straight off. The whole process from putting her into the cone to beheading was probably less than 20 seconds. We had a bucket under the cone - there was quite a lot of blood. Her body was nowhere near as thrashy as the last ones which I guess was because her legs really didn’t work.
Sorry if the description upsets anyone but I could have really used something like this before I did it the first time. I didn’t think I’d be able to do this, and I still think I’d struggle (mentally not physically) if the bird was healthy, but for a very sick bird when I know I’m doing the right thing I think it actually does get easier with practice.
I’ve read that cervical dislocation is more humane that beheading but I don’t really understand how.