Catching Chickens - seven ways that work

Catching chickens can be done by hand, but using tools is usually a much more efficient approach.

As a flock manager, you'll not have to be catching chickens very often, but when you do, you'll need techniques that are effective. You can't be screwing around chasing chickens for hours at a time. I employ techniques that land me a chicken when I need to, not when they're good and ready to be caught.

I should point out that chasing chickens around your yard is a last resort type of activity. It should only be done when necessary as it upsets the birds that are caught, and it's an upsetting event for your entire flock.

Here are the seven techniques that I employ. I present these in the order that I suggest you try them.

The easiest approach is to handle your birds when they're on the roosts. Assuming you have a walk-in coop, it's easy to approach your birds after they've settled in for the night. Talk to them calmly as you approach them. I even imitate their sounds. Chances are you can simply pick them right off of the roost, one at a time, by clasping the wings tight against the bird, with one hand on each side of the animal. Then, lift them off of the perch.

After I get the bird off of the perch, I usually place it under my arm so I have a free hand to do whatever I need to do -- inspect, untangle, treat, trim, or whatever.

It's difficult to call it catching chickens when they're sitting on their roosts at night. It's more like selecting chickens.

The photo above shows two chickens on their roosts at night. This shot was taken with a normal lens, so you can see just how close I was able to get without them being concerned in the least.

If you're looking to just have casual and infrequent interactions with your birds, you can do this at opportunity in the yard. Think of this as catching chickens in slow motion. When they let you pet them or voluntarily come up close to you, that's when you make your move. Feeding them out of your hand can be a good way to lure them in, and you might make this a normal practice just to get them comfortable with you.

On occasions when the hens hunch down as an invitation to mate with them, that's when I pick them up and have a little "quality time" with my girls. Holding them and talking with them helps build trust that just can't be created by running around the yard wildly catching chickens.

Your flock will tend to scurry around the inside perimeter of the yard when you go after them, so if you build a makeshift box canyon (with a top) on one side of the yard, it isn't difficult to get them to rush into it as a means to get away from you. Such a trap can be built with chicken wire. Don't make it so long that you have to crawl deep inside to get the birds. You can also throw some scratch grain into the enclosure and let them wander in there before you close off one end. If you use chicken wire, it's easy to close off one end and trap the bird(s) simply by pushing down on the top or in on the sides. For those familiar with cattle products, think of a squeeze chute with a lid.

When catching chickens, it's helpful to herd them into a coop or other type of confined area.

The coop is very much like a box canyon. Herd one or more in there and close up the exits, and you'll have a much easier time cornering them, with or without assistance.

A safe and effective way to catch a chicken is to pin it, either to the ground or the sides of an enclosure. This minimizes the chance of a broken leg or wing. And, it minimizes the potential for scratches to the individual engaged in catching chickens.

Another technique for catching chickens is teamwork with others. You can get one person to play the "hazer" and the other to play the "roper" if you understand my analogy with calf roping (otherwise known as bulldogging). This can work well in a small enclosure where there is little room and few options for chickens trying to escape. It's also a good technique when you're trying to get one bird isolated from the others. You can selectively let some run by and snatch just the one you're interested in.

Cornering is a good technique for catching chickens, but remember they can fly up and over you and your fencing.

Cornering a chicken as a team is a good way to catch them. It's almost a box canyon. Just remember that it allows the bird to fly up and over you and possibly out of your enclosure if it doesn't have a top.

Perhaps my favorite technique for catching chickens is using a landing net. It's probably the most upsetting to the birds and the flock in general, but it's the most efficient and effective means of catching chickens on the run. The landing net can be swung quickly in any direction to scoop or trap a bird. It's also a useful tool for getting them moving in a particular direction and making the catch only when you have the one you want out in the open a bit.

Catching chickens with a landing net will necessarily involve a bit of tangling. Work quickly to get the bird out of the net and into your arms, and they'll relax much quicker.

My favorite technique for catching chickens is a landing net. They're not just for fish you know.

Photo above shows me with a rooster under my arm for control, and untangling his feet from the landing net. When catching chickens, your biggest challenge will be the roosters...they're the top dog and they won't want you proving them to be otherwise by catching them with a net, especially in front of the other roosters and all the girls.

With any of the three techniques above, you can use a broom or a long piece of PVC piping to encourage the birds in one direction while your partner, your landing net or the box canyon waits to make the catch.

In the event one of your chickens gets out of the enclosure and becomes a wild one in the yard or around the neighborhood, it might be time to do a little teamwork with your dog. Just make certain you know how your dog will respond, and use only one dog. More than one dog is a pack, and they'll likely be killing chickens instead of catching them.

If you're going to use a dog to help with catching chickens, it's best that they have some previous exposure to your flock so they know that the birds are more pet than prey. It's also imperative that your dog be very responsive to voice commands.

My dog is able to help with catching chickens. If you use a dog to assist you, just make sure they're playful with the birds, not predatory.

I'm fortunate to have my buddy Humper Go-play Lickerson (a.k.a. Dude) as my Boston Terrier helper and companion. As a terrier, the Dude is a natural killer of ground animals, but he's not a bird dog. And, he's small enough that a little excitement with a member of my flock isn't necessarily going to end up producing a broken chicken. He's helped me catch several loose chickens, and he's yet to injure a bird in any manner. He lives up to his middle name, he just wants to go play with whatever animal is up for a game (except mice, rats, ground squirrels and rabbits).

For one of my chicken catching adventures, I had my Humper Dude stay in one location, then I chased the chicken around towards him and then gave him the command, "get it" and he knew just what to do. It only took him about 20 seconds before he had the hen pinned. I hollered out a couple of quick commands, and he just sat there with the chicken pinned until I came to get it. "That's a good boy" was all he needed as his reward.

For success with this technique, I suggest you: 1) familiarize your dog with your flock; 2) have a dog with the right temperament; 3) make sure you're the only other dog in the pack; and, 4) be certain your dog will obey basic commands like "stay" and "no" and "get back." You might even practice obedience with your dog by allowing it inside the chicken enclosure on a leash and under your voice commands, so it knows that the flock is to be managed, not mangled.

Catching chickens like this jumpy White Leghorn will usually require a landing net or canine assist.

White leghorns, like shown at left, are great layers of large white eggs, but they're about the most nervous and jumpy birds I've ever had. They'll be best caught with a landing net or a dog.

My last suggestion for catching chickens is a live trap. It's probably as good a technique as any when you have one bird on its own hanging around outside the chicken pen, but not wanting to go inside. Put some kind of irresistible kitchen scraps inside the live trap, and chances are the bird brain will wander in there to get the goodies. The bird can sit there all night long if needs be simply because it's safe inside the live trap.

I'm not often catching chickens with a live trap, but it works. Put something in there they'll enjoy and you have them caught quickly.

If you're using one for large predators like coyotes and racoons, then that's plenty big enough for a chicken, and plenty strong enough to keep those same predators on the outside until you're ready to release the bird.

So, there you have it, seven ways of catching chickens, for both the sedentary flock manager and those who are more into getting a little outdoor exercise.

After the chase(s) are over, make sure you spend a little quiet time with your birds to show them that there is no harm done and none intended. You don't want to have them associate you largely as the chicken chaser and catcher. Instead, you need to be known as the flock leader.

Done with Catching Chickens, take me back to Backyard Chickens

For the beginners out there, here are some resources for getting more familiar with your duties as flock manager and occasional chicken catcher. If you're like most people who raise chickens, you can build a nice relationship with your birds, and that will allow you to catch and handle more easily.




I've read this well written and fully illustrated guide. It is an excellent reference for the beginner or experienced backyard flock manager.