I knew this day would come, and I knew that I wasn't going to be ready for it when it did. Realistically, when you have 42 chickens, it's pretty unlikely that they're all just going to pass away peacefully in their sleep, sparing my husband and me the unpleasantness of having to dispatch one of them, but that day came and went, and it was actually okay.
One of our Red Star hens (the one who suffered a prolapsed oviduct back in the spring, and actually recovered after 8 days of me poking it back in) hadn't been her usual perky self for a few days when she suddenly took on this strange upright posture:
Since she couldn't get herself up the ramp into the coop, and the other chickens were starting to bother her, we brought her into the house while we tried to figure out whether there was anything we could do for her. After several days of hoping that she would magically pull through, it became apparent that she was getting weaker and we'd probably have to step in (but we were still hoping beyond hope that she might just expire on her own). I moved her into a sunny spot for the afternoon while I did some gardening nearby, but after a while I noticed that she had started moaning.
Dang it, she wasn't going to let us off easy.
We decided to try using the killing cone method, and set one up on the wood shed (out of sight of the other chickens, of course). Not having an actual cone, we modified a milk jug for the job.
I was quite emotional in the moments leading up to it (I became a vegetarian, and stayed one for almost 20 years, as a result of my last chicken butchering experience). I held and comforted her (me) for several minutes, and made my husband promise that we could back out if she freaked when we put her into the cone, but being upside down made her surprisingly calm, and it was over in a matter of seconds.
I have to say that I'm amazed how easy it was (for me anyway, she'd probably disagree), and I'm starting to think that maybe we could actually do meat birds one day. Granted, I'm sure it's different killing a vibrant, healthy bird than one that's obviously suffering, but it's more of a possibility than it was before (you seasoned farmers can stop laughing any time now).
To satisfy our curiosity, we did a crude autopsy to see if we could find out what was wrong with her, and she appears to have been egg bound. Her ovary held an egg which, for all intents and purposes, was hard boiled. Don't even ask me to try and explain that one, but it confirmed for us that she likely never would have recovered.
Happy trails, my friend.