The development of a reliable, humane, effective and affordable method for killing chickens is being investigated at the Scottish Agricultural College, UK, with funding from the Humane Slaughter Association.

When the need for emergency killing of sick and injured birds occurs on large-scale commercial chicken farms, the usual method is neck dislocation, the HSA reported. This method is also routinely used in some smaller commercial operations, small farms and where backyard chickens are kept.

However, there is evidence that the method is not ideal. It may be difficult for some people to perform effectively every time, and even when it is performed appropriately, birds may retain brain activity for up to 30 seconds during which consciousness may persist. Beginning January 2013, European law will limit the number of birds that can be killed this way.

Various types of culling equipment are available, but none are ideal, according to the HSA. Some are affordable but have welfare risks, while others are humane but too expensive for small farms. The research program will investigate the potential for modification of existing devices developed for use in other species, like rabbits, and includes scope for the development of new approaches.