Got chickens and looking to take a vacation? That’s OK. Everybody needs to get away from it all for a while each year – you just need to take some simple precautions to ensure that your chickens are well-looked after in your absence and this guide tells you everything that you need to know about keeping chickens while you’re on vacation.
Our how to look after chickens while on vacation: the ultimate guide includes: what to do with chickens when you’re on vacation, all about chicken boarding houses, how to find a chicken sitter, how to negotiate with a chicken sitter, how to make things easy for your chicken sitter, a plan for the chicken sitter and one very important thing for when you return.
What To Do With Pet Chickens While On Vacation?
Even chicken owners need a break at some point, right? You’ve spent the year slaving away in the office and all you’ve been thinking about is that cool week on the beach soaking up the rays and reading the latest page turner but then suddenly, you realize that you’ve got something else to handle or the dream is going to stay a dream.
Somebody’s got to take care of the chickens. The chickens that you’ve lavished endless amounts of love and effort on. The chickens that have built their life on the routine that beats to your drum. If you can’t get the chickens looked after – things are going to be a little tricky.
Fortunately, you have two options: 1. The easy option which is a chicken boarding house but it’s only easy if there’s one in your area and you can afford the service. Option 2 is the use of a chicken sitter which is more affordable, represents less hassle for your birds but requires a lot more planning to make things go smoothly. That’s where our guide really comes into its own.
If you’re going on vacation and you’ve got chickens, we’ve got your back.
Consider Chicken Boarding Houses?
One thing you have to love about a free market economy is that if there’s a need, somebody out there will come up with a service to meet it. So, yes, there are now the chicken equivalents of catteries around the country just waiting to take care of your flock for you in your absence.
There are some things to bear in mind before opting for chicken boarding houses:
- You want to make absolutely certain that your chickens will be on fresh ground – one of the easiest ways for them to pick up disease is to move into a patch that’s just been vacated by another flock.
- You want to check the hygiene standards of the boarding house, thoroughly too, some diseases can hang around on surfaces for ages and they need disinfecting to be sure they’re gone.
- You want to see that they have electric fencing – this keeps predators away and provides a safe environment for your chickens to run about in.
- You also want to check the reviews of the establishment – if there are any serious problems, somebody else is likely to already have encountered them.
- You should provide the feed – this avoids any possible digestive issues for your chickens while they’re away
- You should see if they offer any extra services – having their wings clipped and nails trimmed while you’re away saves you a job when you get back from your vacation.
One last thing, chickens are not the best travellers. It can really help to ensure their travel boxes are airy and won’t overheat. Try not to keep the chickens in the boot. Don’t leave them in a parked car in the sun, ever. It’s also best not to travel in the heat of the day.
Finding A Chicken Sitter?
If there’s no chicken boarding house nearby, you can’t afford one or it’s simply not up to scratch (excuse the pun) then it’s time to find a chicken sitter. Yes, just like a babysitter but for chickens.
Well, technically, if you’re just going away for a couple of days – you can probably just let your chickens get on with things as long as you’ve got an automatic feeding and watering system. Nothing’s likely to go badly wrong in a very short period of time.
Longer than that though? You want a chicken sitter.
You can draw your chicken sitter from pretty much anywhere – college kid in need of some extra cash, niece or nephew looking to make a good impression, a friend whose dogs you look after when they go away but it’s a good idea to make sure your chicken sitter ticks the following boxes:
We’re not, by any means, suggesting that you need a full credit history and a dossier on the chicken sitter’s last month of activity, but we are saying, exercise some common sense here. You are going to have to give this person some access to your chickens and to your home and yard.
You want to come home to find the house still standing, the chickens still breathing and everything roughly where you left it when you went away.
We’ve found the easiest way to discount someone as a chicken sitter is if they don’t seem very keen on the job. If somebody’s reluctant to do it before they’ve even got started, they’re probably not going to put their heart and soul into caring for your chickens.
If you don’t know your chicken sitter very well, get some character references before agreeing terms – it’s worth spending more time on your search rather than picking someone who is almost certainly going to be a disaster.
This is a nice bonus if you can find it. Some people really love animals and birds. They spend their whole lives in a kind of burbling fascination with creatures. These people are the best possible care givers because they really do care.
If they need to go the extra mile for your chickens even on a day when it’s not that convenient for them, they will.
A passion for caring for chickens is also going to make the chicken sitting feel more like fun and less like hard work.
You want a chicken sitter who is reasonably close at hand if there’s an emergency. It’s fine for them to live across town but it’s probably best that they don’t live three counties away, either. If there’s a fire or failure with the feed mechanism – you need someone ready to handle it before your chickens are either crispy or emaciated.
If you can’t find somebody local, you might want to get somebody to chicken sit and house sit at the same time for you. That’s going to reduce the risk of coming home to a tragic scene for your flock and help keep your mind at ease while you’re on vacation.
There’s nothing wrong with asking some children or teenagers to look after your flock, in fact, not only do many kids love chickens but they’re only too happy to help on a very economical basis because they want pocket money rather than real wages.
However, you need to be a little careful about ensuring that they are mature enough to handle the responsibility too. Some kids are naturally flighty and while they’ll be mad keen to care for the chickens on day one by the middle of the week, they’ll have forgotten all about it. Take care in choosing children or teens to care for your chickens.
Things To Negotiate With Your Chicken Sitter
One thing that we’ve found to be vital when engaging anyone to do any kind of job, not just a chicken sitter, is to be very clear about your expectations when you hire them. People aren’t psychic and what they believe you may need and what you think you need can often be poles apart without some clarification.
In fact, sometimes, if the person isn’t somebody close to you – it can help to negotiate the basics and then put them in writing. We have our fingers crossed that any chicken sitter’s not going to completely neglect their responsibilities but if they do, a written contract can help if you have to seek legal recourse too.
The first thing to be clear about is how often are the expected to show up? Of course, if they’re also house sitting the answer to this should be “everyday” but most chickens simply don’t need non-stop supervision and you might want your chicken sitter just to come round clean up the bedding, change the water and food every 2-3 days or so.
As long as you have set up enough feeders and waterers that they won’t go hungry or thirsty, this can save you a lot of money if you pay your chicken-sitter by the hour.
Can They Manage Free Range?
Not every chicken sitter is going to be confident to let your birds out and then round them up again. So, it’s best to talk this through at the earliest point in negotiations. We think it’s always better, if you can find someone, to let the chickens out on a regular basis – they won’t die from a lack of activity, but they will get bored and possibly depressed.
If you’re going away from more than 3-4 days, however, it goes from being a “nice to have” to being an essential. You can’t just leave chickens cooped up for weeks at a time, that’s animal cruelty.
Will They Be Able To Clean The Coop
We know it’s not the nicest job, but it needs doing. If you’re only away for a couple of days, you can probably skip this but if you’re going away for a fortnight, your sitter probably needs to clean the coop and you need to explain to them how this is done, how often, etc . and if necessary, show them how to handle the chickens during this process.
The Perks Of The Job
One thing we think really makes chicken sitting worthwhile is getting the rewards of caring for chickens from the chickens themselves – your chicken sitter should be allowed to help themselves to the eggs produced while you’re away. You won’t be eating them anyway and it’s a shame to let them go to waste.
Show Them How To Move The Coop And The Run
Finally, if you have a moveable chicken coop and/or a moveable chicken run, they ought to be shown how to move them around and be made aware of anything that might interfere with doing this safely.
Making Things Easy For Your Chicken Sitter
The best way to ensure that you come home to happy chickens is to provide the right materials to make life easy for the chicken sitter. We know, you’re paying them but trust us, the less real work that they have to do – the fewer mistakes that can be made, the better the chances that there are no problems.
Simply put, it’s worth a little investment in your peace of mind and your chickens’ future.
Sort Out An Automated Feeding System
This is a good idea because it makes your life much easier anyway, an automatic feeder is going to stop rats and vermin from getting at your chicken’s feed and making them sick.
You’ll also find that these systems can be as big as you need – that means you can stock pounds and pounds of food in them (up to 2-3 weeks’ worth for a small flock, easily). That means your chicken sitter may not need to feed your chickens at all while you’re away.
Sort Out An Automated Watering System
There are plenty of excellent automated watering systems out there on the market too – that means your chickens always get enough to drink and at the right temperature too. We’d recommend finding one on Amazon and installing it at your leisure – it’s easier than leaving it until the last minute.
Our recommendation is to go for a stainless-steel system rather than a plastic one because plastic seems to breed algae and it’s just a bit more of a pain to clean than stainless steel.
Always keep your watering system in shade because otherwise it can overheat the water and leave the chickens less than impressed.
You may want to ask your chicken sitter to add ice to the water supply in particularly hot conditions.
Sort Out An Automated Pop Door For The Chicken Coop
Chickens are quite capable of a bit of self-management, rather like cats with a cat flap, if you can help them get in and out of the coop by themselves. An automatic pop door means that you can simply set a timer and the chickens can move in and out during the day but at night – the door is securely closed keeping predators at bay.
And don’t worry, while chickens are not exactly geniuses none of them seem to be daft enough to get caught in the door when it starts to close, either. Occasionally, one may stay out “late” and you should ask the chicken-sitter to help round up these birds if they spot them.
Prepare Some Games (And Some Sprouts)
Make life more fun for your chickens and for your chicken sitter by having some toys and games set up for your chickens, you can either make your own from our huge list of chicken treats which don’t require any cash investment or your can buy them in.
Another thing you might want to do is grow some tasty treats for the chickens (like sprouts) that you can leave for the chicken sitter to use as bribes for the chickens as needed.
Make Sure The Coop Is In Tip-Top Condition
One thing you don’t want your chicken sitter to have to deal with is repairs to the chicken coop and/or run. Make sure you give it a thorough once over, plug any holes that vermin or predators might use to get in.
You should also have any emergency provisions necessary (such as medicines) on hand near the coop so that if they are needed, the chicken sitter can get things done.
Make Sure There’s Enough Feed On Hand
If you’ve bought an automatic feeding system then this ought to be very easy to handle, your chickens should have enough food on hand unless you’re going away for months but, on the other hand, if you’re expecting the chicken-sitter to do the feeding manually, there needs to be enough for them to feed your birds for the time you are away.
There should also be an emergency supply (whether you’re using an automated feeder or not), just in case the food gets contaminated for whatever reason.
Make Sure To Label Everything Clearly
The easiest way to get your chickens killed is to assume that your chicken sitter is something of an expert in chickens. Even if they are – you should label absolutely everything that they might have to give your chickens or use in the care of your chickens.
It is not their fault if you’re a million miles away sunning yourself when they can’t choose between an antibiotic or a deworming pill because they’re both “yellow” and you didn’t label them.
Make Sure You’ve Cleaned Out The Coop Thoroughly
Give the chicken coop a super clean just before you leave too – it’s hardly fair to expect a chicken sitter to have to shovel ten tons of chicken poop on their first day on the job, is it?
Then make sure you have written a sensible list of instructions on how to clean the coop. We find it’s best to break this down into daily (or bi-weekly, perhaps) tasks and weekly tasks. Changing bedding regularly is important, scrubbing out the coop does not need to be handled every day, for example.
Have A List Of Emergency Numbers To Hand
One thing you need to be clear about is what the chicken sitter should do in an emergency, this means you want your number, the vet’s number, the feed company number, etc. all together on a single sheet of paper. We’d laminate this and then stick it up a couple of times (once on the coop – once elsewhere) so that it’s really easy to find and won’t be ruined by a little rainfall.
You should also be clear with your chicken sitter that sometimes chickens just die and if a chicken dies, it’s important to call the vet and make sure it’s nothing serious or contagious and that they will not be in any trouble whatsoever for this. It’s not the end of the world (well, except for the chicken) and if you want them to chicken sit ever again, it’s important that they don’t feel like a chicken killer.
A Plan For The Chicken Sitter
OK, we’re nearly done, and you can soon start planning your vacation rather than your chicken sitter but just before we move on – you also need to leave a nice written plan for your chicken sitter. This is going to help them remember what you need them to do. So, be as detailed and thorough as you can and don’t forget to include:
A List Of Your Chickens
It can be really helpful for someone who doesn’t know your flock to be given a full list of the chickens. You can even add names and a description of their personality if you like (though we’re not sure how valuable that information is to a chicken sitter) but it should include numbers and some description of the bird’s plumage and/or breed.
That way they can work out whether all your chickens are present and accounted for (or not).
A Feeding Plan For Your Chickens
If they’re going to be feeding the chickens, you should explain how much needs to be given each day and when the feeders need cleaning (and how to clean them). We know this might be a little boring but it’s important.
Instructions For Cleaning The Chicken Coop
We mentioned this earlier but it’s worth mentioning again. Chickens need a bit of cleanliness in their environment and somebody who is not familiar with chickens might make some serious mistakes (such as using a toxic cleaning agent) without full-written instructions on what’s needed to clean up for your chickens.
A List Of Where Everything Is
Lists are really helpful, particularly when somebody is panicking and wondering what needs to be done. List everything, they might need to care for the chickens and the location of where they can find it. It might even help to take pictures of things if there’s any possible confusion. You definitely don’t want any mistakes here.
Egg Harvesting Instructions
Don’t just encourage your chicken sitter to take a few eggs home, make certain that they know when to harvest the eggs and that they do so regularly.
One grim fact about chickens is that they’re not averse to a bit of cannibalism and if you leave the eggs around for long enough, they’ll start eating them which is really quite a revolting idea, so make sure the chicken sitter understands how important egg harvesting is.
Games For The Chickens
If you want your chicken sitter to get maximum entertainment from your birds and vice-versa then it can be a really good idea to leave a long, detailed list of games they can play together. You should also have some toys available and ready prepared for them to use for these activities (make a note of where they are).
One Last Thing: A Present For The Chicken Sitter
Now, you should be ready to go away on vacation and enjoy yourself without worrying about the state of your birds. However, we think it’s important to remember one last thing – buy your chicken sitter a small gift while you are away.
This is a nice little show of appreciation over and above any money that you’ve agreed to pay them and not only is it a kind thing to do, it may help cement the bond between them and your chickens and make them more likely to agree to chicken sit in the future.
So, there you have it, our “how to look after chickens while on vacation: the ultimate guide”. We think that should ensure that you have all your bases covered while you go away and that you come home to happy, healthy chickens ready to lay a few more eggs for your family breakfasts.
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: