It seems the easiest thing in the world about chicken keeping and it should be a pleasure. But catching your hens can turn into quite a palaver. Remember a chicken is no slouch. Chickens can run at 9mph. The average human can run at 8.6 mph. It can be an annoyingly close race!
Every chicken owner should handle their hens regularly. Whether that’s just to pick one up and check it is healthy or to give a treat, or for a hug and cuddle. It means you’ll have a real empathy with your flock and they will most likely come running when you appear, especially if you have food or treats. It builds trust.
Trust is key when you want to catch and handle your birds. You don’t want to lose it, because there will be times when you need to catch one of your flock in a hurry or occasionally for an emergency.
Also there is almost always one chook in a flock that doesn’t like being picked up or just seems to love a chase!
Chickens will Flee from any Threats
First let’s take a step back and consider how your chickens behave. Poultry are genetically programmed to move quickly away from any perceived threat, and do their best to avoid putting themselves in a position of vulnerability. Keep that in mind anytime you are thinking about catching your hens.
If your flock are nervous, or they become frightened of you for some reason, then they are so much harder to catch. And of course they will remember the experience. All those good times you’ve gently scooped them up and held and cuddled them will make no difference, they become suspicious.
You really don’t want to end up running around after them like a madman. Whilst it is very funny on You Tube videos (you might like to view some on our Facebook page) in the long run it is going to get painful. Running after a chicken every time you need to catch it is going to take forever and be very tiring and tiresome.
So aim for easy, stress free methods and minimise your use of more forced techniques.
Your Go to Technique
This is the way you will have imagined catching your chickens, the one most beginners should try first and try to be competent in. If you go ask an experienced chicken keeper they will show you this and you can carefully practice it on your birds.
You might give a little feed to start. Then you can approach with care, moving gently and slowly in a crouched position with arms out stretched. Try to single out the bird you want. Be confident and assured but approach slowly. Keeping low avoids you being a looming threat.
The aim is to back the one you want into a corner if can. Once you get close enough don’t be tempted to lunge or grab. Reach out smoothly to catch and pick up the bird. It is important to avoid grabbing at the neck, wing or leg. Instead try to place your hands gently on either side of the body (or underneath and on top).
Sometimes that just doesn’t work or isn’t possible and you still need to catch one of your flock. Or, as is often the case, one of your girls just doesn’t like being picked up. If that is the case you may need to employ a different technique.
Catching Chickens with a net or pole
Now catching a chicken with a net or a pole is not as easy as it sounds. And it is not a good idea to do it too often either. Otherwise that all important feeling of trust between you and your chickens will rapidly evaporate.
The pole or net are therefore best reserved for when you need to catch one of your chooks when they really need cleaning or medicine or for that ill-behaved chook who simply “legs it”! Added to that once you start employing it and do it too often your hens will set off as soon as they see the pole or the net.
A good sized fishing landing net is good for this, circular or triangular. You should try to corral your hens and then if it is a particular hen, target that one. You then swoop the net down and over. Your hen won’t be too pleased with being caught so watch out for a few pecks.
Alternatively use a pole around four feet or so in length with a hook at one end. (Some people use a coat hanger). You may have seen it done by an expert who makes it look easy. It’s not! The idea is to hook it around the chicken’s foot and catch a hold of her very quickly whilst she is wobbling. It can take quite a while to master.
This is definitely not a good long term solution and can induce stress in both your hens and you. After a couple of times your flock will recognise the net or pole and will scatter, making it even more tricky. So use sparingly.
At Night Time whilst they are Roosting
This is a good way of treating or checking up on your flock. It is far less stressful, when done well, is low key and you don’t have to learn new tricks or run like Usain Bolt!
Of course with this you will need to be quiet and calm. You’ll need a good small flash light. That makes it easy to assess or if necessary treat your birds.
Ensure they are settled and check where the hen you need is. Enter the coop as quietly as possible keeping the flashlight low to the ground to disturb your flock as little as possible. Then approach the hen very slowly and deliberately so as not to unsettle her. Gently cup both hands over her wings so she can’t flap and remove her from her perch.
Take her outside the coop to check up and not disturb the rest of the flock.
Using a Chicken Friendly Box Trap
Whether this is a home made “box trap” or nest box or a wire mesh cage with swing door, use it sparingly. It can be used to catch the chook that really runs wild or to trap a feral chicken. It is a bit of a bush skills technique.
There are of course other methods and you may have one that works perfectly for you. Hopefully you don’t have any problems. But let us know. And watch out for the videos, they can be great fun.