Rachel Hurd Anger
Any suggestions for chickens and hurricanes in Florida? Leave them in the coop? Lock them in the shed? What’s best for them? —Jeff, via Facebook
I love this question. Because my experience is raising chickens in Kentucky, I generally focus on the severe weather most common to me: thunderstorms and snowstorms, though neither is as common now as they were back in my home state. But millions of people live along the East Coast in what’s known as hurricane alley. During my 2-year stint living in Norfolk, Va., I was able to experience a little bit of that severe East Coast weather and a couple nor’easters, though that was long before my chicken days.
Hurricane? Batten Down The Hatches
Jeff, I think plain old common sense is your friend when it comes to hurricane prep. Depending on exactly where you live, your personal experience with the force of winds, the amount of flooding common to your area, the damage your area has sustained, and your anticipation of what would happen to a coop or a shed under those conditions, you’ll know exactly what to do.
If there’s even one good thing about hurricanes, it would be that you know they’re coming well in advance. You have time to either prepare or get out of Dodge. If your coop has windows, board them up just as you would on your home, and if there’s ventilation open to the direction of the oncoming storm, I would secure that, too.
If your coop is mobile, it might be a good idea to move it to a more secure location—away from trees and direct winds. If you have a stationary coop and you’re not certain it’s secure enough, a sturdier shed might be safer for your birds. However, if your coop is rock solid, button up those biddies and make sure they have enough food and water in case you’re not able to get to them until after the storm.
Tornado? Duck and Cover
Tornadoes are the most severe weather events in the Midwest and central parts of the U.S. And what do we do when they come? We hide in basements or in the most central locations of homes without basements. What we do with our chickens is another matter.
Due to the nature of the tornado—its random touchdowns and narrow and almost tidy paths of destruction—they’re harder to prepare for. Most of us—the luckiest of us—hide in our safe places for no reason. A neighbor’s downed tree might be the worst thing we see in the aftermath because total destruction is so rare.
Worst-case scenario, if your coop is small enough and both light and heavy enough, a tornado that hits at just the right place and time can pick that coop right up off the ground. A heavier structure might be safer for your flock in the event of a tornado, but this is so unlikely that I wouldn’t do it. I will admit that I have not moved my birds due to severe weather. Gathering chickens takes time, and my family’s safety comes first.
If severe weather is expected and you have enough time to prepare, move a mobile coop away from trees and near a fence to block some of the wind if you can. You can cover a fixed coop with a tarp to protect ventilation from wind and the horizontal rain common with the weather that breeds tornadoes. When the threat of a tornado has passed, remove the tarp so your chickens can breathe easier.
If severe weather comes on suddenly, as it sometimes does without much warning, always protect your family first, never your chickens. Grab your weather radio, blankets, books, water and snacks, and get to your safe place. In the event of an emergency, when chickens think they sky is falling, they will take shelter where they feel safest. That’s usually in the structure you’ve made for them. Most often, just like you, they’ll be fine.