Poul­try Pen

By Andy Cawthray

Country Smallholding - - Inside this month -

Spend enough time around a flock of chick­ens and it will soon be­come ap­par­ent that there is a sig­nif­i­cant amount of hus­bandry by eye that is re­quired. A good stock­per­son will be able to cast a glance over their an­i­mals and spot any­thing that seems amiss. This is a skill that is par­tic­u­larly worth ac­quir­ing when it comes to a flock of chick­ens as the birds can dis­guise ail­ments that might iden­tify them as be­ing weak or vul­ner­a­ble to pre­da­tion.

A hunched or drooped stance, a dis­coloured comb or drop­pings, poor feather con­di­tion, or a lack of alert­ness can all be in­di­ca­tors of ill­ness or stress and should be in­ves­ti­gated fur­ther. This will re­quire the keeper to catch and carry their chick­ens. On the sur­face this may seem sim­ple enough, but not all chick­ens are tame or eas­ily tamed. The sim­plest time to catch a chicken is after the flock has come in to roost. The bird will have taken its place on the perch and can eas­ily be lifted off and han­dled. How­ever, if you need to catch the bird dur­ing the day, try to cor­ral it into a cor­ner.

Once the chicken is in hand, trap its wings against the sides of its body. With a tame bird this can be done sim­ply with your thumb and lit­tle fin­ger as the bird’s un­der­car­riage sits in the palm of your hand. If the bird is not tame and is strug­gling to es­cape, hold it with one of the wings to your chest and one hand over the other wing (this will stop the flap­ping). Your sec­ond hand should then be used to hold the legs firmly to­gether (but not so firm as to squeeze them tightly). This will stop the bird from scratch­ing you or get­ting caught in your cloth­ing. If the bird con­tin­ues to strug­gle, plac­ing a cloth over its eyes can help it to set­tle.

If you are likely to be hold­ing a chicken for any length of time, be sure to hold it with the rear end away from you. This is a sim­ple han­dling er­ror you will prob­a­bly make only the once.

Crop read­ing

When­ever you are hold­ing a chicken it is al­ways worth check­ing the bird over for par­a­sites and as­sess­ing its over­all con­di­tion in much the same way as you would when you pur­chase a bird. Crop read­ing is one par­tic­u­lar ex­er­cise worth per­form­ing. The crop is the first sec­tion of a chicken’s di­ges­tive sys­tem reached after food has en­tered the mouth and trav­elled down the oe­soph­a­gus. It sits be­neath the neck of the chicken and to­wards the front of the breast and it can eas­ily be felt by the keeper when the bird is in the hand.

Be­ing able to ‘read’ the crop by gently feel­ing its con­di­tion means that you can per­form a ba­sic health check on the bird. Nor­mally a crop will con­tain food (un­less the bird has yet to eat that day) and it will feel like a slightly soft ball when squeezed gently. If the bird has not eaten or is off its food, the crop should feel empty and al­most ab­sent. If the crop feels solid and hard, the bird could have an im­pacted crop, whereas if it feels wa­tery and squidgy (and the bird’s breath smells strong), it could have sour crop.

Be­ing fa­mil­iar with th­ese ba­sic crop con­di­tions, par­tic­u­larly when crop read­ing is com­bined with other ob­ser­va­tions of the bird’s phys­i­cal con­di­tion made at the same time, will help sig­nif­i­cantly in man­ag­ing the wel­fare of in­di­vid­ual birds, con­trib­ute to­wards prob­lem di­ag­no­sis and ul­ti­mately it could avert more se­ri­ous is­sues

….and while you have the bird in the hand

Wing clip­ping is only re­ally nec­es­sary for flighty birds and if this is an is­sue with

any of your flock then it is sim­ple enough to do. It is, how­ever, far sim­pler if you have an ex­tra pair of hands to hold the bird, so firstly find your­self an as­sis­tant. Next you need to lo­cate a good strong pair of scis­sors; kitchen scis­sors do the job nicely.

Have your as­sis­tant hold the bird firmly while you ex­tend the wing out. Count 10 feath­ers in from the out­most feather. Th­ese are the pri­mary feath­ers and pro­vide the most lift in the wing. They are also hid­den, or pro­tected, by the sec­ondary feath­ers (the next ones along the wing) when the wing is at rest. Try it, fold the wing back and see how the pri­mary feath­ers are hid­den.

When the wing is ex­tended, use the scis­sors to cut off th­ese 10 feath­ers just be­low where the other feath­ers (the pri­mary coverts) over­lap with them.

Points to re­mem­ber

Cut off the pri­mary feath­ers on one wing only. This will serve to un­bal­ance the bird and hope­fully re­duce the height it can gain.

The pri­mary feath­ers are not seen when the bird’s wing is closed, so cut­ting them doesn’t ef­fect the look of the bird at rest.

Only cut when the feath­ers are fully grown and only do so on ma­ture birds. Don’t cut the feath­ers while they are still grow­ing.

The feath­ers will re­main cut un­til the bird moults, at which point new pri­mary feath­ers will grow. Once they are fully grown then you can clip them again, but by this time the bird may have got out of the habit of rang­ing a bit too far.

Once you are hold­ing the chicken, trap its wings against the sides of its body

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