You spend a lot of time and money caring for your birds. They’re a day-to-day and long-term investment. Does keeping chickens mean that you can never go away on vacation?
No! If you have cats and dogs, even fish for that matter, you don’t expect to always stay home with them. It’s the same if you have a flock of chickens. Unlike with domestic animals, though, there’s a bit more involved because chickens aren’t as usual as your average feline or canine friend.
Although this article focuses on vacation, sometimes we have to be away from our chickens for other purposes such as business, medical procedures or even an emergency. While vacationing may be a luxury and a choice, emergencies aren’t.
So even if you’re not a vacationer, it’s still good to plan like you’ll be one. If the time comes that you have to be away, on vacation or otherwise, the stress of making sure your chickens are cared for won’t weigh on you.
Time to Go
If you’re going on vacation by choice, here are some considerations for the time of year that’s best to be away from your chickens.
Weather is a big factor, and it’s ideal to avoid the extremes if you can because your flock will likely be confined to the coop and enclosed run. Will your coop get too hot? Does it have shade or cool areas? How will you ensure their drinking water stays unfrozen? Will your chickens have a dry place to get out of the snow and explore in their run?
While spring sounds ideal for a quick getaway or a long vacation, baby chicks come top of mind in this scenario. Chicks need round-the-clock care. You can be away for a few hours, but anything more is iffy.
If you have school-age kids, then you know spring breaks are normally at the end of March into mid-April. If you get your chicks in mid-March, you might want to go on spring break a few weeks later.
It’s a big ask to have someone chick-sit your new flock members.
Think ahead. If you’re adding to an existing flock, you can’t introduce your new baby chickens until they’re almost adult-size. Using the March scenario, you’re not combining flocks until mid-June. That puts early summer break vacationing on hold.
On a personal note, this was always a consideration for my family when it came time for chicks. We switched plans and now get new chicks in late summer and early fall, when the kids are back in school and after summer break.
Also, consider peak times of the year for travel. If you need a chicken-sitter, they may be more difficult to come by during this time.
Keep It Basic
Full-grown chickens drink about a pint of water each day and eat about 1⁄4 pound of food each day. Average water and food amounts vary depending on the weather and your chickens’ activity levels.
For example, if it’s hot, they’ll go through more water and it’ll evaporate more quickly.
It’s a safe bet to assume that you go out to the coop at least twice a day and fill the water and food containers never really thinking about more precise amounts. If you’re going to be on vacation, though, you’ll need to plan to have enough basics for your chickens around.
When you’re picking out food and water containers, keep amounts for basics in mind. Small containers are convenient for carrying, but larger containers might allow you more flexibility. Filling them is initially more difficult, but they may give you the ability to keep your birds fully fed and watered for a few days.
It’s also nice to have extra containers on hand so you can add insurance food and water to make sure your coop is fully stocked. This is nice if you’d like to get away for a quick weekend trip and puts your mind at ease if there is an emergency.
In that case, things might get missed, but you know your chickens are OK for a bit until things settle down.
Practice Makes Perfect
Before your trip, practice so you can work out the kinks and address them. Start your practice-run with the basics of water and food. This is a must if you’re going to be leaving for a weekend with no sitter, say Friday morning until Sunday night or Monday.
Fill up enough water and food for a couple of days. Leave it alone for that time and see how long it lasts. If that goes well, step it up and leave your chickens alone for a few days while you’re still at home.
Peek in on them from time to time and see how things are holding out. Make adjustments as needed, and practice until things are right.
If your chicken sitter is new, near and willing, have him or her come and take care of the chickens with you, before you leave for vacation. Show the sitter your routine, and let your chickens get to know the sitter. If you can, let the sitter handle your chickens exclusively for a day and see how it goes.
Technology can be your friend and add to peace of mind. If you can, install a camera that you can check from your smartphone to give you an extra level of protection and reassurance.
Give this a practice run, too. Sometimes Wi-Fi can be tricky in a backyard.
Lessen the Load
You’re fine with big chicken chores, but when you’re away, it’s best not to burden your sitter with large tasks—that just increases the chances something will go wrong. Before you go, fill all your containers with fresh water and food.
Also, give your coop and run a good cleaning and refresh all your bedding. That way your sitter only has to contend with small cleaning jobs if they’re needed.
If you’re just starting your chicken-keeping journey, think ahead while you’re setting up your coop and its accouterments and consider the people that will care for your chickens while you’re on vacation.
Will your chicken-sitter be a younger or older person? If so, is your coop located in a spot with easy access? What about the pathway to your coop? Will it become difficult to walk in rainy weather? Maybe you should install something permanent to avoid this.
On a personal note, we located our first coop on a small hillside. My parents are older and fell trying to traverse that hill in the rain while taking care of our chickens. We have since relocated the coop.
Is your coop far away from a water source? Again, think of the person that might have to carry that water. Is your feed stored in your garage? That may give your sitter access to the rest of your house and add another chore of locking up.
If you make your daily chicken-keeping easier, it’s going to be easier for your chicken-sitter, too.
Planning for vacations can also be done while you’re picking chicken breeds and quantities. If you live in an area that’s really hot in the summer and you know that’s when you’ll most likely want to vacation, pick heat-hardy breeds such as Leghorns.
Conversely, if you live in an area that gets extremely cold and you like a January ski vacation, pick cold-hardy chickens.
The number of chickens you keep and their size can also have an impact on your vacation. More chickens equal more work and less flexibility. For example, six adult chickens can easily be moved from your coop and kept in your garage or basement or your chicken-sitter’s home where it’s easy to care for them.
It’s even easier if those six chickens are bantams!
This may sound extreme, but I’ll give you a real-life example. As I mentioned, my parents are older and got tired of trekking to our coop while we were gone. During one spring break, we wanted to get away for a few days and only had eight chickens.
We set up a temporary coop in our garage using dog-run panels. All my parents had to do was fill up the chickens’ water from the utility sink that was just a few feet away and get food from a garbage can we sat next to the coop.
It was spring, the garage didn’t get hot, we didn’t have to worry about predators in a secure garage and my parents had almost no work to do. The most difficult part about the whole thing was cleanup afterward, but with some preplanning, even that wasn’t terrible.
Final Instructions & Medical Care
Even if your sitter is well-known to you and your chickens, leave a note with instructions on their day-to-day care. That way, something doesn’t get missed. Include the number of birds you have and their breeds.
This may sound like overkill, but if you’re keeping more than one of the same breed, it can be difficult for a novice to do a headcount. Keep it simple for your sitter. Here’s an example:
- 1 “Big Red:” a dark-orange chicken and very friendly
- 2 Barred Rocks: white-and-black striped; like to peck your hands
- 1 Australorp: completely black, very loud
- 3 Javas: black with white spots, protective of their nest boxes
- Total: 7 chickens
While it’s something you should have on hand already, stock up your chicken first-aid kit before you go and leave it in a place that’s easily accessible for your sitter. Leave contact information for your veterinarian in your instruction note and your medical kit.
If something happens, you don’t want to leave your sitter with no remedy. Don’t forget to leave your contact information so your sitter can reach you.
It may sound like a lot of work, but you absolutely can take a vacation while keeping chickens. Plan ahead, be flexible and then have fun sipping margaritas on the beach!
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.