Fowls – handling
Information about handling, training and showing fowls.
Schools that keep poultry must have suitably constructed pens and cages that facilitate the capture and restraint of an animal, if required. These pens may be portable but must be solid in construction and erected in a way to be safe for both humans and poultry.
Poultry may be penned individually for show or health reasons. If isolation is not required for health reasons, then birds should remain in visual contact with other birds.
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General handling information
When handling birds always be very patient as birds do not like loud noises or sudden movements. Students can observe one bird for individual behaviour and two birds, a male and a female, for breeding behavior, however in order to observe poultry undertaking natural behaviour it is important to remain still and quiet as they are very easily frightened.
Poultry have a tendency to become easily frightened and be naturally wary of people as a result of their strong flight response to danger. Because poultry are prey animals with very little if any self defence mechanism, their first response to anything that may represent danger is to run or fly away quickly. It is rare that a bird will have a fight response to a human however roosters and hens with chickens can become aggressive towards handlers.
Care must be taken when entering an enclosure with roosters as they may try to attack a handler by flying up at them, pecking and scratching with their spurs. Roosters that become aggressive should not be kept in a school system.
Roosters kept together may also fight one another. This is normal behavior. However if fighting begins to become very regular or birds are losing feathers and suffering injuries, roosters should be separated or removed.
Broody hens or hens with chicks may also be slightly aggressive and will peck in defense if a handler tries to remove their eggs or touch their chickens. Avoid disturbing a broody hen that is sitting on her eggs if you wish her to carry out the incubation of the eggs.
When handling a flock of birds in a large enclosure or paddock it is difficult to select and move individual birds. If a flock or individual birds need to be moved it is best to gather the flock together and move the whole flock to the new paddock or a corner or a smaller enclosure where individuals can be selected. A long stick can be used to help direct and steer the birds where you need them to go. Always move birds slowly and patiently to avoid them panicking and scattering.
As with all animals, birds have a flight zone, which will affect their behaviour when being handled. Very tame birds that are used to a handler being close by may not move forward unless the handler is very close and encouraging the birds forward by waving a stick, arms or making soft clapping noises and some birds may scatter as soon as a handler enters the enclosure. Birds kept in schools are usually very tame due to extensive handling and will often mob the handler upon entering the enclosure. In this situation the handler may need to be very close in order to encourage them to move forwards. If birds are used to coming towards the handler for food, they can also be attracted through a gateway, into another pen or into a cage with a food reward.
Before moving fowls to a new enclosure or a small pen for catching it is important to have the pens and fences prepared and set up to make moving them simple and easy. Make sure correct gates to the destination pen are open and any areas that will not be used are closed off to make directing the birds easier. Confining birds to a laneway with all other sections closed off or barricaded will help to move birds more efficiently. Try to avoid having to change directions or walk past open areas with birds as they can be difficult to manoeuvre and will scatter easily. Always move the birds in a calm, quiet, slow manner as rushing them will only panic them and cause them to scatter.
Capture and restraint
Poultry must not be carried by the head, neck, wings or tail.
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When handling poultry of any age, care must be taken to ensure they are always handled calmly and gently, especially young chickens, as they are extremely fragile. When students are handling very young chickens it is recommended that the students stay seated when possible to keep the chicken lower to the ground. Falls can be fatal for very young chicks. When young chickens are being moved to another area or cage they can be placed in an enclosed box to prevent them escaping and falling.
Handling poultry shows chickens being captured and moved to another area for weighing.
Birds should be captured and handled only when necessary. Schools should always use birds that have become accustomed to handling from a young age. Avoid chasing birds as this agitates them and causes them to pile up in corners. If a catching hook is used, a bird should be drawn towards the handler firmly but not so quickly as to damage shank, leg or joints. Firmly and quietly transfer the bird to the holding position. The holding position involves restraining one hock joint between the index finger and thumb, and the other hock joint between the third and fourth fingers. The bird’s breast, or keel bone, sits comfortably on the palm of the hand with the bird’s head pointing towards the handler’s body and the vent away.
When walking with a bird, its head can be tucked under the carrier’s upper arm. The non-holding arm can be used to assist with restraining the bird and prevent the wings from flapping.
Poultry should not be kept in isolation and when in single cages should always have another bird in sight.
Where birds are kept in a free-range system, it is more difficult to catch them. The best way to catch birds in a large area is to slowly walk behind the birds, holding a long stick as an aid for directing them. Herd the birds into a corner, or preferably a smaller enclosure where an individual bird can be selected and captured. Do not chase the birds around a large area. This will only result in the birds becoming stressed, injured and scared of the handler in future.
Birds should be acclimatised to handling to help make working with them more efficient and safer for them and the handlers. Familiarising birds will result in better outcomes in a variety of situations and for different purposes and generally occurs with consistent handling from a young age. These situations include:
- For pen cleaning and daily management
- For showing and preparation
- Movement between pens and facilities
- Routine husbandry procedures (drenching, leg banding, washing, skin treatments, lice dusting).
Routines make familiarising and handling birds much easier and time efficient. This is not as important when birds are housed in smaller enclosures, but in a free range system, routine feeding will encourage the birds to go to a particular area at a particular time. The birds often recognise the handler on approach and move towards the handler or the area where they are fed. This can aid in being able to catch the birds or in locking them into a smaller pen for handling, movement or security.
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Time and effort needs to be put into training and preparing animals for showing. Training is best done slowly from a young age. Extensive handling from a young age will ensure that birds are comfortable with being handled and surrounded by people which will reduce stress levels when they are taken to a show.
Birds need to be accustomed to spending time in a small show cage prior to the show. When washing birds in preparation for a show, care needs to be taken that birds are thoroughly dried and not left exposed to draughts, particularly in cold weather.