If you keep chickens, you know that every now and then one will escape the pen. Or perhaps you need to pull one from the flock inside the pen for medical treatment. Rounding up a chicken is not that difficult, but it can be made much easier through the use of a simple tool commonly known as a chicken catcher. The chicken catcher works by providing you with a considerable reach advantage and the ability to hook the chicken's foot and pull her to you. All that is really required is a stick and a wire, but I've made a few of these and there are ways to optimize the design that I will try to emphasize.
1. The stick. It could be an old broom handle, as shown, a dowel, a broken garden tool handle, or just about anything of that nature.
2. The wire. Although something as simple as a coat hanger would work, I prefer heavier gauge wire, such as the 1/8" diameter material shown, for its stiffness and strength.
Drill and bits
Optional: vise, anvil, bench grinder
Step 1: Prepare Stick
I put the broom handle in a vise, cut off the end with a hand saw and sanded the rough edges smooth. I chose a drill bit slightly smaller than the wire. I reoriented the stick vertically in the vise and drilled straight down into the center. It would have been prudent to make a dent in the center of the stick to guide the drill bit at the the start of drilling. Then I might have gotten this one better centered. Fortunately, this is not precision work. Two to three inches deep is adequate.
Step 2: Prepare and Insert Wire
Straighten the wire. Since the wire I had was rather bent up, I took it to my "anvil", a length of railroad track, and hammered it straighter. Both my grandfather and my godfather were blacksmiths, so I ought to be better at this, but it doesn't have to be perfect. I took the ends to the bench grinder to smooth out burrs and ready it to insert into the hole. Use your preferred adhesive; I used Gorilla Glue, mostly because I had some lying about. It's also great for this application because it expands to fill space, which should help hold the wire in the stick. I dipped the end of the wire in the glue and pushed it down into the hole by hand. The forces that this tool should experience are relatively small, so if you have a tight fit of your wire into your stick, glue is not even strictly necessary.
Step 3: Bend the Hook
This step is the most critical for the final function of the chicken catcher. I used needle nose pliers to start bending a tight curve into the end of the wire. I used a larger set of pliers* to close the gap in this curve because needle nose don't provide enough force. This little curve will prevent you from poking the bird with the end of the wire as well as help guide the leg into the hook. About three inches from the curve, I bent the wire back in the opposite direction to make the hook. At this point, the angle of the hook is not tight enough, so I used the large pliers to close it. I opened it back up to about 30 degrees to shape the hook into its final form (though small adjustments may be necessary).
*these are sometimes known as "tongue and groove" pliers, and one of the best known brands is CHANNELLOCK, but my Dad used to call them "million dollar pliers," apparently in reference to their utility.
Step 4: Go Forth and Catch Chickens
The finished length of this example is a little under six feet. I think it's going to be a good one in that it has high rigidity because it is more stick and less wire.
How to catch chickens with the chicken catcher.
Approach the chicken and when you are well within reach, sweep the hook end of the chicken catcher under the body of the hen and pull toward you. The way it works is that when you catch the chicken's leg, it travels down the hook until it reaches the point where the diameter of the leg is equal to the width of the hook. The foot is always larger than the ankle, so the leg is held in the hook. The chicken will usually try to fly away from you, and thereby hold itself in the hook. You merely pull the chicken toward your body and grasp the trapped leg. Easily remove the leg from the hook and transfer the chicken to a more comfortable carrying position. Mission accomplished. You will profit by your own experience, but you should know that the chicken catcher seldom works if the chicken is running fast. Please note that I have used this device many times and never injured one of my chickens.
Pro tip: Put a screw high up on the outside of your chicken coop and hang your chicken catcher by its hook. You'll be thankful it's nearby when you need it.
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