I keep chickens, and I have for the better part of the last decade across a few different properties. Currently, my family has a coop with six 1-year-old Australorps on a small, suburban lot.
I also have anxiety, which can make leaving the house for a night or longer difficult. It’s true that I’m a homebody, preferring the contours of my couch to calls from the great unknown. And after staying at home for … a year? more? due to the pandemic, walking out the front door feels like an unfamiliar, even dangerou endeavor.
But the real world does beckon. And as the holidays and travel to far-flung family members’ homes approach, I needed to figure out how to sleep in a bed I didn’t purchase without constantly worrying over our small flock.
Perhaps you, like I did, picked up some chickens during lockdown. And maybe now you’re wondering how to travel overnight without worrying over the safety of your chickens safety the entire time. So here are some things I do to keep poultry panic at bay while away from home.
A Secure Run
After years of free-ranging chickens on our family farm—and losing more than a few to foxes, hawks, minks, etc.—we decided from the get-go to keep our chickens in an enclosed run. The structure is nothing fancy (constructed of chicken wire, pieces from a discarded greenhouse and a clear, corrugated plastic roof), but it keeps our birds safe from the neighborhood hawks and raccoons.
It’s true that our hens don’t get access to growing grass. But between vegetable scraps from the kitchen and garden weeds, they get plenty of fresh vegetation. They’re safe and secure against predators, which is something we all appreciate.
And when we travel, I know the chickens won’t jump the fence or take an impulsive stroll around the neighborhood.
Automatic Coop Door
We have a ChickSafe Advanced automatic coop door from Brinsea installed on our hand-built coop, and, boy howdy, do I love it. The metal door panels slide open at sunrise (I’ve fiddled with the sensitivity for a while to account for the clear roof panels and shady location, but I finally dialed in the perfect number) and closed when the sun sets.
This is, of course, an amazing development for those who want to travel and keep chickens. But it’s also great on weekends, when a chicken-keeper might want some extra sleep.
My job is remote, so I’m always home. But I still sometimes don’t physically check on my chickens until well into the afternoon. Virtually, though….
Is it ridiculous to put a wi-fi connected security camera in the chicken coop? Maybe, but devices are so cheap these days that it’s easy to do. And, to me, it makes more sense than my neighbor’s camera broadcasting a steady shot of his grass.
I installed the camera above the coop door, with a view of their feed and water bucket. While it’s true I can’t see the door, I’ve come to trust that devices’ reliability enough to not need to see it open and close. If my wi-fi were better, though, I probably would have installed the camera on the other end, with a view of the run and coop.
Despite being a budget camera, our device gives us everything we need. I turn on motion detection at night to ensure nothing’s messing with the food, water or coop ladder. And when the door opens in the morning, releasing the birds, I get an alert on my phone.
Then I turn off motion detection for the day so I don’t get alerts every time a chicken gets some food or water.
When I travel, I can keep an eye on my chickens from afar. And when I’m home, I’m also known to catch a quick look at the flock from a cozy spot on the couch.
There are numerous options for supplying large amounts of feed at a time. Automatic feeders are especially attractive, with doors that only open when chickens step on an activator.
I haven’t gone that far yet, though. Instead, I just hung a 15-pound feeder from the top of our run, situated to hang right at the level of my hens’ heads.
Because it’s under the plastic roof, food is protected from rain and snow. It’s true that the feeder is open and unattended at night for other creatures to access. But I know they don’t because of the security camera. If I start getting alerts, though, I may switch to an automatic feeder.
Chickens, like most livestock, need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. And there are plenty of products that can do that for you, including auto-filling cups that connect to your garden hose.
But I’ve found that an inexpensive 5-gallon system works best for my setup. I drilled and screwed in two cup waterers that I picked up at Tractor Supply Company. I fill up the bucket, pop on the lid to keep out debris and am good to go for a week or more.
One note: Consider the placement of your water cups before drilling holes. I planned to put my bucket on an old, upturned pot for easier access, so my cups are installed close to the bucket bottom. If you plan to set yours on the ground, though, you’ll need to install about an inch or higher from the ground.
My chickens figured out the cups right away, pushing the yellow stopper aside to drink the fresh, cool water. (“What about when the waterer freezes?” you may ask. And I’ll probably need to answer that soon enough.)
I didn’t add all of these coop security measures at once. But this is what I have now, and when I travel and do a gut check, I appreciate not having to worry about our flock while we’re not home to care for them.