Poultry saddles prevent feather loss on a hens back when a cock treads her. After a short time into the breeding season (and it really doesn't take long if you have only a few hens to a cock), you may notice some of your hens start to lose feathers on their backs where the cock has been treading. Often, cocks have their favourite hens so it can be one or two hens that need a poultry saddle fitted but in smaller flocks, (or if you have a very active cock bird), you may find most of your hens will need saddles. It is best to fit a saddle as soon as you first start to notice the feather loss, before she becomes bare on her back.
A poultry saddle is a tough piece of material like leather or a tough material like canvas that fits onto the back of your hen, protecting her from the cock's feet and spurs during mating although spurs shouldn't be allowed to get long or they will still cause damage. You can trim a cock's spurs if they are long, but don't take too much off because like nails, there is a blood vessel that runs inside that needs to be avoided.
Poultry saddles can literally be a life saver since an open wound can be created by a cock's spurs or claws once the feathers are lost. It is then very easy for this wound to let in dirt and bacteria from the cock's feet, causing the hen to become ill. Inspect your hens regularly, especially if they have lost feathers. They often hide the wound behind the wings. Always remove the cock or the damaged hen if the skin is broken and treat the wound accordingly.
Mating is quite a quick affair. Hens usually prefer a dominant cock. In a mixed flock with more than one male, the male that is lower in the pecking order will usually run in and catch a hen unaware so that he can mate with her before she gets away or the more dominant cock arrives to see him off! This can result in him grabbing a hen by the scruff of the neck, some struggling and him climbing onto her back in a rough manner, causing more damage than normal, especially if a saddle isn't fitted.
Hens are more receptive to a dominant cock. He will often call a hen to some (non existant) food with a high pitch cluck and even pick up small sticks and bids of debris in his beak. He may show off by putting one wing down to the ground, and perform some nifty footwork! Once a hen is close enough, he will climb onto her backand she will usually be receptive.
Whatever the situation, a poultry saddle will protect her back and sides.
A poultry saddle is held in place by two straps that fit around the wings. Saddles usually only need to be used during the summer months. During autumn, your birds will be going through a moult, losing all of their feathers and stopping laying eggs as they re-grow new feathers. During the winter, the male(s) are far less active and there is no need to use a poultry saddle if this is the case.
The Black Australorp shown on the left is starting to lose her feathers, you can see the lighter feathers underneath starting to show just before her tail feathers.
Without a poultry saddle, hens can get a very sore back and once the feathers have gone, the skin will go red and saddle cuts can even appear from the spurs of the cock bird. If a hen loses her feathers and is sore, you should remove the hen immediately to give her a chance to recover.
It is a fairly straightforward job to fit a poultry saddle. The strap can be pulled through to enlarge one side, a wing can be slipped through (as shown in the first photo below) and then the strap can be pulled tight, allowing the second strap to be loosened and the second wing pulled through.
Once you have fitted the saddle, the hen will soon shake herself and re-arrange the saddle so that it is comfortable. She is now protected a little better. Once the mating season is over and your cockerel is less active, you can remove the poultry saddle until the next season.