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Handling hens 101: The importance of picking them up!

Ah, hens! The masters of disguise. 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. The truth is that hens are very good at hiding if they are in pain or ill. In fact, it’s very common to not realise until it’s too late.

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 of routine handling will alert you to changes in body condition.

That’s why it’s so important to pick up each hen on a regular basis and get to know what’s normal with your hens.

How to handle your hens:

Examining your 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 on 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.

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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