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Poultry - a bird in the hand

PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:49 28 March 2014

This Dark Brahma bantam cockerel is held correctly, being well supported and sitting comfortably.

This Dark Brahma bantam cockerel is held correctly, being well supported and sitting comfortably.

Victoria Roberts gets to grips with  the importance of handling poultry and the correct way to do it

Even some experienced handlers hold poultry so that the birds are uncomfortable, which can compromise the welfare of the birds. It’s quite unnecessary to see photos of poultry being held badly, clutched to the handler’s chest without proper support for the bird.

If you first come across a hen in a cardboard box, slide your outstretched hand, palm up and fingers spread, blindly into the top of the box, then under her. Once located, her breast should rest on your outstretched palm, her legs between your first/second and third/fourth fingers which are then closed so that the legs are held between them.

Your other hand is placed over her back to balance her as you lift her out of the box. Take the weight on your forearm and hold her close to your body, her head pointing towards your armpit, leaving your other hand free to inspect the bird. Be firm but don’t squeeze the body tightly as this may temporarily harm the breathing mechanism. This principle of holding applies to all species and all sizes of poultry – the bird is balanced and comfortable, and the mucky end is away from you.

The hip of any poultry will dislocate with horrifying ease if a bird is held by one leg. Do not hold them by the legs upside down.

If your first introduction to a hen isn’t in the confines of a box or crate, begin by practising in the dark with a very dim torch when the hens should be on their perch. If you move quietly and slowly, talking to them all the time, you won’t startle them and you can then pick one hen off the perch with both hands around her wings and body, facing towards you. Then continue by sliding one hand under her as above.

You’re likely to need to catch a hen during daylight hours, so obtain a fishing landing net as this can (with practice and the aid of a fence or wall) be dropped over the hen so that you can then pick her up as above. This is much less stressful, for both you and the hen, than chasing her around the pen or garden as she will be able to run and jink much faster than you.

Ducks

If ducks are in a house and run, then driving them into the house will be the best method. Then corner the duck you want, restraining it loosely around the neck before sliding your other hand underneath from the front, palm up, and clasping its legs between your fingers. Ducks wriggle more than hens, so clamp your fingers together to hold the legs firmly. Transfer the duck to your forearm, the other hand now on its back and its head pointing behind you with the mucky end pointing away from you – they tend to projectilely defecate when picked up, and you really don’t want duck mess in your pocket.

If getting a duck out of a box or crate, loosely restrain around the neck, then slide your hand in under the bird from the front, palm up, and clasp the legs firmly, then transfer as above.

If ducks are free-range or have a large pond, they will soon learn that being on the water is the safest place and you won’t be able to catch them. Always try and be devious first, and feed them away from the water so they can then be driven into a hut or run. Once in the run, unless they’ve been used to being handled from day-old, it’s best to catch them with a fishing landing net, then transfer them to an arm as above. 

Be especially careful to put down ducks gently after handling as they can damage a leg quite easily otherwise.
Ducks rarely bite (and it’s only a little nip if they do), but do beware of Muscovy claws – not only are they sharp, but the ducks are extremely strong for their size. It’s permissable to pick a duck up with fingers around the base of both spread wings in one hand, middle finger pointing down the duck’s back, for a very short transfer distance - useful in small, wriggling wildfowl whose legs are vulnerable to damage.



Geese

If geese are in a house and run, then driving them into the house will be the best method. Corner the goose you want, restrain it loosely around the neck then put your other hand over its back, confining its wings. Then continue as for ducks, remembering to keep the mucky end away from you.

Geese can be serious about nipping as they bite and then twist, which can be excruciating, but if you have its head under your arm, as shown, it can do little damage.

Mind your shins if you’re trying to look at a goose on her nest – the leading edge of the wing makes a most efficient cudgel. Grasp the goose firmly around the neck at arm’s length once off the nest – she’ll sit down and you can then pick her up as before, her head always pointing behind you. Warn any children to steer clear as a broody goose can be very aggressive.

To get a goose out of a box or crate, loosely restrain her around the neck, then put your arm over the wings, slide your hand in under the bird from the front, palm up, and clasp the legs firmly, then transfer as before.

As with ducks, if geese have access to a large pond, they know that being on the water is the safest place and you can’t catch them, so continue as above for ducks.


Turkeys

Turkeys have higher blood pressure than other poultry, so be careful when catching them. Handling on a regular basis is very important as it’s the only way to tell if a bird has lost weight or not. Even when they’re really thin, their feathers disguise this fact, so handling will give a vital early clue to any problems. Not just loss of weight but excess weight can be assessed by feeling the pin bones either side of the vent: they’re sharp if the bird has little fat and well padded if it’s too fat. The distance between them will indicate if the hen is laying (this applies to both turkeys and chickens): three vertical finger widths between the bones indicates production and less than two, the reverse.

Turkeys are immensely strong which can make handling quite difficult, even if they’ve been used to being handled from day-old. Use a strong fishing landing net to catch them or drive them into a corner, but take care they don’t fly onto something unreachable. Restrain the bird loosely around the neck before putting your other hand and arm over its back, confining its wings. Then slide the first hand underneath from the front, clasping its legs firmly around both shanks. Transfer it to your forearm, the other hand now on its back and its head pointing behind you with the mucky end pointing away from you. Unless the wings are restrained when carrying them, a nasty thick lip can ensue, but they very rarely bite. Turkey muck, however, is particularly pungent, so you really don’t need it in your pocket.

If you first come across a turkey in a box, firmly grasp it around the body and wings to lift it out, then slide one hand underneath to secure the legs. Beware the strong claws.

Firm and confident handling will mean the bird will feel secure and struggle less, which means welfare issues are being addressed. 

This article is from the August 2006 issue of Country Smallholding magazine.
<< To order back issues click the link to the left.

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