In the excitement of getting your first chickens it’s easy to overlook this point, but somebody will have to look after them whenever you are away from home.
Remember that the chickens will need to be let out in the morning and closed safely
into their house at night. They must also have fresh food and water. An automatic door opener/closer is helpful, but chickens should still be checked at least once a day to make sure that all is well. They can get ill very quickly and a sick hen is likely to be attacked by the others, so regular inspections are essential.
However, even the most committed chicken keepers usually manage to escape occasionally – it’s just a matter of planning. Try to have your plan in place before the chickens actually arrive, to avoid being caught out when that unexpected invitation to a weekend away crops up.
The best bet is to find somebody local who is prepared to look after your flock in exchange for some eggs. Or there may be other chicken keepers living nearby and you can help each other out. It’s worth asking around.
Failing this, you will probably have to pay someone. A local youngster or pensioner might be interested in earning some extra cash, or you could look for a professional pet-sitter. Check out the notice boards in your feed store and vet’s waiting room, or try an on-line search. A pet-sitter will probably charge per visit, so if you are away a lot an automatic pop-hole door could save money in the long run. There are also pet-sitters who can move into your house if you wish, and take care of everything.
Whoever you choose, make sure they know how to look after chickens and are happy to do all that is required. Always check references carefully.
Chickens don’t like change, so try to keep them in their own environment and routine if at all possible.
Relocating your chickens
Maybe none of the above options are workable, in which case you might have to consider relocating your chickens when you go away.
If you have friends or family who are happy to help but live too far to come in every day, you might be able to take everything over to their house. Just make sure they understand how to care for chickens, or if they already have some, remember that the two groups must be kept separately. Check too what chicken predators they might have locally – including family dogs.
There are many establishments now offering chicken boarding. Although some places might require you to bring your own housing, usually a house and run is provided for each flock of chickens. Confirm that this is always moved to fresh ground, and thoroughly disinfected between every change of occupants. Check too that there is electric poultry fencing around the site. Have a good look at the place before letting them look after your precious hens – make sure that everything is well-maintained with happy, healthy residents.
Provide feed yourself or make sure your chickens will be fed their familiar brand, as changes in diet can lead to digestive upsets.
Although I’ve never tried chicken boarding, some places do look very professional, even offering extra services such as nail trimming and wing clipping!
Chickens on the move
If you do have to move your chickens, it’s a good idea to add apple cider vinegar to their drinking water for a few days afterwards. It will help their systems cope with any stress caused by the change.
You can also keep stress levels to a minimum by avoiding overheating during their journey. Hot, overcrowded conditions will cause suffering or even fatalities, so make sure travelling boxes are spacious and airy. Put them on the back seat rather than in the boot, so that you can keep an eye on the temperature, and in warm weather try to travel either first thing or at night. As with dogs – never leave chickens in a parked car!
When you’ve found someone reliable to look after your chickens, do all you can to make it as easy as possible!
Leave plenty of feed and bedding plus cleaning out equipment. Check everything is in good repair and working properly: house, run, feeder drinker, electric fencing, automatic doors (put in new batteries before you go).
Write down a list of instructions, including a contact phone number and details of your vet. A copy of your chicken reference book and details of poultry websites / forums may also be helpful.
Yes, you really can have it all – happy chickens and happy holidays!