So you’re moving! Congratulations on the new chapter of your life. A great adventure awaits you, and guess what? Your flock can join you at your new home.
Yes, there are ordinances, home owner association guidelines, and government regulations to observe. But once you’ve verified that nothing legal stands in your way, you can prepare your chickens for their big move, too.
Here are six important points to review before you pack up and leave.
If you are moving to a nearby town or even to another location within your state, the climate should be similar to the one your chickens experience at your current home. If you are moving cross country, however, or even just a few states away, the change in humidity and temperature can adversely affect your chickens.
Likewise, moving during the colder months of the year can negatively impact your chickens. You may not have a choice regarding when you move, especially if a job is involved. If you can choose the date of your relocation, try to select a time when your current location and your new destination are most similar in weather.
This is usually during the spring and fall, when temperate weather is more commonplace throughout the country. If you must move when your current weather is sunny 70s but your destination experiences snowy 20s (or vice versa), understand that your birds will need a lot of TLC as they adjust to their new climate.
Once a moving date is set, you’ll need to set a quarantine period for your chickens. Follow your new state’s regulations regarding quarantining live poultry prior to transport. Some states may require your flock to be quarantined for four weeks, while others may require more or less time.
Whatever the required quarantine period is, understand that only you, the members of your immediate household and your veterinarian will have access to your birds. No neighbors, no friends who want to say goodbye to their favorite hens, nobody can have access to your flock.
Quarantine also requires that you (and the members of your immediate household) have absolutely no contact with anybody else’s poultry and that you minimize or even eliminate contact with wild birds. These can carry diseases that may affect your chickens.
Once the quarantine period concludes—and this should coincide with your moving date—your veterinarian will provide you with documents and certificates attesting to your flock’s successful quarantine and disease-free status. Keep these documents with you in your vehicle as you travel to your new location.
I have learned over the years that the best conveyance for transporting chickens are dog crates and rabbit carriers. These both provide plenty of ventilation, which is necessary since chickens produce a lot of body heat.
If you have a microflock of four or fewer large-fowl hens, a large dog crate should provide your girls with enough space for the trip. Four bantams can comfortably fit in a small dog crate. If you have a larger flock, you will need to obtain multiple crates in order to comfortably accommodate all of your chickens.
Never overcrowd a cage! Moving will be stressful enough for your chickens. To be packed into an enclosure for hours—and possibly days—can result in feather picking and outright fighting. Allot your birds enough room to stretch their wings and move around a little. I’ve personally found that three birds per crate is an ideal number.
Make sure the birds you bunk together get along well or at least have a similar temperament or tolerate each other. Aggressive birds and territorial roosters are best transported in rabbit carriers, where they’ll have individual accommodations with opaque dividers which prevent them from seeing other birds.
Keeping Them Comfy
Provide your traveling poultry with plenty of bedding—double the usual amount—for the trip. They’ll need it, as they’ll be hunkering down in it for the majority of the journey.
Mix scratch grains and fresh herbs such as parsley, sage and oregano into the bedding to both entertain and soothe your chickens during the trip.
Each cage and carrier should be outfitted with a clip-in feeder and waterer so that your flock has access to food and water when they want it. Consider using rabbit drinkers, which dispense water when the watering tube is licked. Even if your birds have never used drinkers, they will catch on fast and there will be far less mess in the transport cages.
Prepare Your Vehicle
You can’t simply load your chickens onto a moving truck. They will need to travel with you—meaning in the same vehicle—to your new home. If you will be driving a van, a large SUV such as a Suburban, or an RV, you will have plenty of space for your birds’ crates.
If you own an economy car, sedan or smaller SUV, you will need to consider renting a larger vehicle and having somebody else drive your car to your destination.
Prepare the space in which your chickens will be traveling with care. Cover the floor with a heavy-duty tarp, and use furniture-moving blankets to pad the interior. Place the cages close enough to allow the chickens to see each other, but not so close that the crates will tip or crash into each other should you come to a sudden stop.
Never stack the carriers! Put more blankets down between the crates to prevent shifting during transport. Keep the climate control for that part of the vehicle at a temperate 65 degrees. Remember, chickens overheat very easily.
Encourage your birds to snooze during the journey by covering the tops of their crates with towels. Just make sure the towels do not interfere with the crates’ ventilation. If at all possible, travel at night when your chickens are normally sleeping.
On the Journey
While you’ll want to get to your new home as soon as possible, you will need to build stops into your itinerary in order to check on your chickens. Stop every two hours or every 150 miles to refill feeders and waterers, readjust towels and blankets, and make sure that everybody is doing well.
Take note of any bird that is faring poorly on the trip. You’ll want to keep a careful eye on her once you have settled in your new home.
Do not release your chickens from their transport cages to let them stretch their legs! Not only will it be a nightmare to herd them all back into their crates but, by releasing them prior to arrival at your destination, you have invalidated both your flock’s quarantine and the certificate of approval for interstate/intrastate travel signed by your veterinarian.
You may find it difficult to see your birds penned up, but stay resolute. It’s only for a little while longer.
The Unplanned Stop
Should you be pulled over by law enforcement for whatever reason during your trip, be prepared to present the documents provided by your veterinarian regarding your flock’s quarantine and health.
State authorities tend to be very wary about the transport of live poultry—especially with the threat of avian influenza. The troopers won’t care if your Buffy is a sweetheart or if your Mathilda lays beautiful blue eggs. They will, however, care that your certificates and tests are in order, so let the papers do the talking.
Once you’ve arrived at your new home, bring your chickens—still in their cages—into your garage, basement or whatever area you have designated for them. Do not leave them in your vehicle overnight!
If your coop is already in place, inspect it to ascertain that it’s safe and ready for your flock … but don’t release them to their henhouse yet. Wait for the movers to depart. The fewer people around, the less stressful this will be for your birds.
If your coop is not yet ready, do everything you can to make your chickens’ temporary quarters comfortable. Swap in regular feeders and waterers if room permits, adding more herbs and scratch to their bedding, and visit them throughout the day to reassure them.
Once your chickens are in their coop, give them all the time they need to unwind from the stress of moving. They may not lay for a while and their behavior may be guarded and cautious as they acclimate. This is completely normal.
Once they’ve become accustomed to their new location, they’ll be back to their backyard antics as if they’d lived there all their lives.