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Handling chickens 101: The importance of picking them up!

Ah, hens! The masters of disguise – at least when it comes to concealing illness and pain. The truth is, hens are very good at hiding these things – so handling your chickens regularly is a must.  

Picture the scene:  You might stand and gaze admiringly at your beautiful well feathered hens and think how well they look pecking around in the sunshine, only to be horror struck soon after to find a hen hunched up and looking miserable. You pick her up and discover that under her beautiful plumage she is light as a feather and has been quietly losing weight and condition.  

Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss unless you are regularly handling your chickens. I’m sure that you don’t need a reason to pick your girls up and give them a cuddle (why wouldn’t you want to?) but the simple act will alert you to changes in body condition. 

Get to know what’s normal for your girls – it might just be the best thing you can do…for both of you!

How to handle your hens:

Examining you hens is best done when you’re handling them one at a time. If picking up your hens doesn’t come naturally to you place your hands either side of her back – known as the saddle – with your thumbs together in the dip at the base of her neck; this allows your two hands to firmly secure her wings against her body, so she won’t flap and hurt herself.  

Gently lift her up keeping her level and tuck her under one arm. The best place to give your hen the once over is a garden table or bench.  

If you have someone that can hold her for you while you check her over that may be helpful for those less confident handlers. 

Comparing one hen to another can be a good guide and it’s even better if you can weigh them if you have the means to do so. 

A simple head to tail examination will tell you a good basis to decide if your hen is just down in the beak, having a mopey Monday, in tip top health or actually feeling poorly. 

How to best access your hens

The best way to access your hen is to go through each key part of her body. Whether that’s the comb and wattle or her crop, check each spot while handling one hen at a time to see what could be making her feel under the weather.

Will handling my hen upset her?

On the contrary, once they are used to it, a hen loves to be stroked – just like any other pet. Allowing you to cuddle her is a submissive gesture – it means that she trusts you. Similarly, if your hen flattens herself against the ground as you approach, she is submitting. And making it easier for you to pick her up in the process. In fact, they do this as a prelude to mating in preparation for an approaching cockerel, so whilst she is showing you that she is happy for you to handle her, she is also responding to her natural instincts to submit! 

To learn about what you can look for, take a look at our Hen Examination Guidelines, on our website. It’s a dedicated page that outlines the six top things to examine on your hen.

A routine health care plan which ideally should include worming or faecal egg counts should be put in place.

It sounds horrible but don’t worry, you don’t need to get your hands dirty. Remember prevention is always better than cure.

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