Most chickens actually die of exsanguination, or blood loss, usually after their necks are cut. Whether slaughter is considered humane depends on if the chicken was in pain when killed. As a result, stunning is required to render the chicken unconscious. Usually stunning is quick and painless, but if not the animal may die while conscious.
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Legal Definition of Humane
Chickens are not protected under the Humane Slaughter Act. Animals included are pigs, sheep, mules, horses, calves and cattle. The act dictates that these animals must be killed painlessly with a single strike. Painless in this sense means the animal does not feel the death strike, but may feel the stunning method such as electrocution. As a result, all animal slaughtering, including chicken slaughtering, is less humane than is possible. Animal rights groups work to have chicken and other birds included in the HSA.
Stunning is implemented in animal slaughter in various ways. Electrical stunning is the traditional stunning method used with chickens. While chickens hang by their feet their heads are dipped in electrified water. Then the entire chicken is submerged in boiling water to remove hair and feathers. Unfortunately, some chickens are not stunned successfully and experience an unnecessarily painful death. Electrical stunning itself is also painful and stressful for chickens compared to methods such as carbon dioxide stunning.
Carbon Dioxide Stunning
Carbon dioxide puts chickens to sleep before being slaughtered. This method is only used by a minority of poultry producers because the gas technology is expensive. Chickens are placed inside containers within gas chambers that gradually add carbon dioxide to the air, which crowds out the oxygen. The main advantage of this technique is that it removes the need to hang the chickens upside down before stunning, during which time the chickens usually become very stressed to the extent that workers are required to hang them by hand while they flail about.
Killing chickens by hand is only practical for small numbers of poultry. Breaking the neck of the chicken causes a relatively quick, painless death. One hand holds the feet of the chicken while the other holds its head and neck. The weight of the body is folded over where the neck is held until it breaks. The chicken will flap for a short period after, as do all chickens. This also results in blood coagulating in the neck for easy removal. Further draining of the bird can be accomplished by hanging it by its feet for a day.
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