This is a judgement call we all have to make individually. Each situation is different, and each individual will have a personal view. The important thing is to find a way which will cause you, and the chick, the least possible distress.
The bottom line, though, is this question :
If the answer to that question is a definitive "No", then it's time to cull.
If you're still not sure, here are some more questions to ask yourself.
Ask yourself, too, whether you are holding off taking action for your own sake. It's hard to make this decision, but at the end of the day it's the kindest thing we can do for animals in our care if they are very unwell.
When I had to cull a very sick chick, I carefully researched different methods before choosing the one which felt kindest and which I had confidence in my own ability to do quickly, causing the least possible distress. Before I discuss that method, here are some others I found which I could not, for my own reasons, use.
Breaking the neck :
This is also sometimes called 'thumbing' and involves flicking the neck backwards over your thumb. When done properly, it is a quick and painless way to cull.
I didn't use this method because I had no confidence that I would be able to do it without causing extra pain, and possibly not killing cleanly.
If you're unable to face doing it yourself but you know someone who can, it's reasonable to ask them to help so that you learn from their knowledge.
Snipping the neck :
Using a pair of sharp scissors to cut off the head. Many people in rural areas use this method to cull very small - one or two day old - chicks. It's quick and painless, but can be distressing for the person doing it. It involves a small quantity (about a tablespoon) of blood.
Ether / starter fluid :
This involves putting the chick into an airtight container with starter fluid dropped onto an absorbent pad next to it. A lot of people use it, but it's not recommended. The starter fluid is known to burn, and is thought to cause pain before it takes effect.(1)
Veterinary visit :
This option will depend almost entirely on personal circumstances: cost, time, availability of vet, distance to travel for example. If you're unsure you'll be able to face euthanising yourself, you can certainly be sure that this is a quick and pain-free possibility.
Please note: this method is NOT suitable for adult chickens.
This is the method I chose when I had no choice but to cull. It's quick, easy to do and doesn't require skills I don't have.
It will not be to everyone's liking, and there are no studies on very young chicks to assess exactly how much pain it may cause.
Anecdotal evidence, including my own experience, is that the chick is unconscious very quickly and dies within a minute.
One of the benefits of this method is that you probably have everything you need in your store cupboard.
Arrange the smaller container inside the larger. I added a cloth bed for the chick to lie on, and a pad of paper towel underneath the smaller box, in case of spillage.
The reaction between the baking soda and vinegar causes a bubbling which releases carbon dioxide. The bubbling calms down in a few seconds and you'll notice the liquid becoming brown.
If you have a transparent box, you're likely to see the chick slump to one side almost straight away. After a few seconds you may see her flap a wing slightly. This is a reflex action and does not mean she is conscious.
Leave the lid on the box for several minutes to make sure the chick has gone, before opening the lid. She will look as though she has just fallen asleep.
I always bury my chickens in a special memorial area in a peaceful wooded part of our garden which is covered in poppies in the spring and marigolds (which chickens love) in the summer.
Clicking on this image will take you to a page where you can leave your own tribute.
Tributes will be published as soon as possible, but please bear in mind I don't have any administrative help with this - there's only me. I will get to yours as soon as I can.
Thank you for your patience.
Most chicks who hatch will be healthy and happy. Here are some articles about how you can make sure they stay that way.
J. K. Blackshaw et al : 'The behaviour of chickens, mice and rats during euthanasia with chloroform, carbon dioxide and ether'. Pub. Journal of Laboratory Animals, 1988.