If you have been to a fair, a livestock auction, or a poultry show where lots of birds are being handled, you may notice many different ways to hold a bird safely. Here’s a brief description of the most common ways you may see someone hold a bird or several birds at a time when needed.
The Football Hold
This hold is common among 4-H and poultry show exhibitors when they may only be holding one bird at a time. With the bird facing you, slip a hand under the bird’s keel bone, grasping the bird’s legs between your fingers. Then pick the bird up and tuck its head in the crook of your elbow, like you would tuck a football. Use your other hand to secure the bird by placing it on the bird’s back. Control the feet firmly to limit the bird’s desire to struggle free.
Upside Down Hold
This hold is commonly used when you must carry several birds at once for a very short distance. Grab each bird one by one by the legs. Gently but quickly, turn the bird upside down and grab both shanks securely. With practice, you can hold up to three birds at a time in each hand. Holding a bird upside down is safe for the bird, but do so only for a minute or less.
The upside-down hold is also used when exhibiting meat turkeys for judging, but only one bird at a time. To do this, hold the turkey facing you and standing between your legs. Bend over, reach down on either side of the turkey, and grab each shank with your hand. Then in a quick, steady motion, stand up and flip the bird over and rest the weight of the bird on your thigh. The turkey will struggle and flap its wings but should calm within a few seconds.
When using the upside-down hold, be aware that there is a potential for regurgitation of the crop contents, which may also cause a bird to aspirate the crop contents. Only hold a bird upside down for a minimal amount of time. Many exhibitors who show turkeys withhold feed (but not water) for 8 hours before their show time so that their bird’s crop is empty to help alleviate the risk.
Chickens and turkeys have sharp claws and strong wings and bodies, so it is important to handle them properly for the safety of the handler and the bird.