Chicken saddles? What’s the deal with them?
If you’re thinking that chicken saddles are customized ordinary saddles for chickens to ride livestock, then you are mistaken. And, they are certainly not for other animals (or humans!) to ride on on the backs of hens. Admittedly though, we’ve seen a recent boom in indoor pet chickens and people even using chicken strollers to walk them (no judgement here!), so it is believable that people will go to extra measures to dress and play with their fowl friends.
Chicken saddles – which are also referred to as “chicken aprons” – are simply a protective device for hens to wear on their backs to guard them from feather loss and to prevent serious injury.
Why do chicken’s need “saddles” or “aprons”?
Most chicken owners will tell you that chicken saddles are a life saving tool. In fact, many will recommend that you keep one easily available in your designated chicken first aid kit.
So when do you need to dress your chicken in a saddle or apron?
The primary occasion in which you might need a chicken saddle is during mating season. During the mating process, a rooster will repeatedly position himself on top of a hen and then stand on her back. This is the way he can fertilize her. While the rooster is standing on the hen and working to keep himself steady, he will use his claws and spurs to keep himself steady. This can lead to feather breakage on the hen. When being repeatedly mounted by a rooster, a hen can experience a severe loss of feathers, which makes it easy for the skin to be punctured. Once the skin is broken, other hens in the flock will likely take notice and make the situation worse by relentlessly pecking at the injured hen, potentially to the extent that it can jeopardize the hen’s health.
Even if you do not have any roosters in your flock, you still may need to periodically use a chicken saddle. Saddles protect both males and females from bareness caused by other dominate birds. So if you notice one bird amongst your flock has a bare spot, then you can apply a saddle. It will prevent any further cuts that can lead to more pecking, impairment, cannibalism, or even death. Pecking is common behavior among fowl, as it’s their way to establish social order. Once it begins though, pecking can become a vicious habit.
What are the benefits of chicken saddles?
There are four primary benefits of chicken saddles. First, the saddle covers the back of a hen to help prevent further damage to the feathers and skin.
Second, it allows the chance for any wounds to heal and gives feathers the protection to regrow.
Third, it serves as a preventive measure when applied before any harm is done. Dressing a bird in a saddle helps alleviate the immediate problem. This gives you a little time to quickly investigate what is causing the pecking in your flock so you can get to the root of the problem.
Last, but certainly not least, (durable) chicken saddles allow you to keep your bird with the rest of the flock. While the general rule of thumb is to remove an injured bird from the flock until they’re completely healed, the apron protects the bird from further injury while also allowing for the healing process to complete. As such, you can keep the entire flock together if you prefer.
How do you properly put on a chicken saddle?
The most important aspect of putting an apron on a bird is to make sure that it is appropriately sized. When dressed, the apron should not be too loose, and it definitely should not be too tight, or restrict the bird in any way.
The wings need to be completely pulled through the wing openings of the apron so that the wings can lay back down in a comfortable way, with the apron tucked underneath. Likewise, none of the feathers underneath the apron should be ruffled.
When dressing your bird, start with one wing and insert it first all the way though the opening, then move on to the other wing. The video below will walk you though the steps to properly put a saddle on the birds in your flock.
What to look for in quality chicken saddles?
Quality chicken saddles – especially those to be worn for extended periods of time – need to be appropriately sized and made of sturdy, natural fabric. Denim is a great example of sturdy fabric. You want a fabric that can’t easily be pecked through when your bird is wearing the apron in the company of other birds.
The reason you want a natural fabric is for breathability. You don’t want your bird to overheat. Also, some synthetic fabrics are slick. You don’t want that either. A slick fabric might cause your rooster to slip off, and if this happens his spurs might accidentally slice your hen.
As mentioned, denim is great fabric choice because it allows for breathability and the material itself is durable. Of course, there are other natural fabrics that will work just as well, but we mention denim as a reference point.
If your bird has extensive feather loss during the cold winter months, you can line the underneath of the saddle with a layer of wool fleece. Not only will this fabric be soft against your birds tender skin, but it will help provide some warmth and deter frostbite.
The vast majority of apron patterns and made-for you saddles use elastic to secure the apron over the wings. A quality apron will either be sized to fit your bird, or it will allow the elastic to be adjusted as necessary to fit properly.
Where can you buy chicken saddles?
Amazon offers a wide assortment of chicken saddles in varying sizes, patterns, and prices. You can find the perfect one for your hen here.
Another great place to find not only beautiful chicken saddles, but quality made ones, is on Etsy. At this time, the saddles at Etsy seem to be out performing Amazon’s in terms of ratings and fabric options. Their pricing is competitive, and an advantage is that you can have a custom-sized saddle made.
The QuiltCountry shop on Etsy makes durable saddles using neutral-colored upholstery fabric. They offer a standard size, yet allow you to size up or down as needed.
Willowbelle Farm is another shop that offers a nice selection of quality saddles in a wide assortment of colors and patterns, even funky and fun ones.
Another source to buy chicken saddles is an online shop called Crazy K Farm. They make their popular Hen Saver saddles in a variety of sizes, plus they offer upgrade options that include shoulder protectors and predator eyes.
Predator eyes is a neat feature. Large circles resembling eyes in bright colors of neon orange and yellow are sewn onto the back of the chicken apron so that they face upward to the sky. The idea is that if a hawk sees the predator eyes it will scare them off, thus offering the chicken some protection from flying predators.
What you need to know about the predator eyes feature is they can help minimize hawk attacks, but they in no way prevent them altogether. It’s up to you – their human keeper – to see that their environment is safe and secure as possible.
How to make chicken saddles? (Sew Method)
If you are decent at sewing or need several saddles, then it will be cost effective for you to sew your own. Back To Basic Living is a blog site that offers a detailed tutorial for making homemade chicken saddles, and you’ll learn everything you need to know from them. We like that their method shows how to sew elastic to the material, and that they secure the elastic to the material with snaps. You can find their tutorial here to get started making your own.
An equally good tutorial is provided by Mimikry over at Instructables. This method is similar to Back to Basic Living’s, but instead of securing the elastic to the material with snaps, they use buttons. You can find their instructions here.
The materials you’ll need for sewing your own saddles includes: a pattern or template, fabric (something sturdy – denim is great!), small snaps or a mid-size button, scissors, pins, thread, needle, and sewing machine.
How to make chicken saddles? (No-Sew Method)
There are two no-sew methods that you can use, and both are similar. It’s important to note, however, that these no-sew options are not permanent solutions. Rather, they will help you out in a pinch to quickly get an apron made so your bird can benefit from some protection as soon as possible. As a long term solution, go ahead and sew your own apron or purchase one.
The first no-sew method – provided by Linn Acres Farm – requires only a remanent of fabric that’s approximately 10 inches by 10 inches square. You will need to take measurements of your bird, then cut slits in the fabric for the wings to slip through. Check out Linn Acres Farm’s tutorial here for step-by-step instruction and photos.
The second no-sew method – provided by Harper Slusher on Mother Earth News – uses the legs of old jeans. You will cut off the bottom portion of one of the pant legs, then cut slits in the fabric for the wings. Check out Slusher’s no-sew saddle instructions here.