It’s not easy to leave your flock, but even the most dedicated chicken keeper deserves a vacation every once in awhile. Of course, this means providing alternate care when you’re away — and that can be a surprisingly complicated endeavour.
While it might be tempting to top up the feeders and leave the chickens to their own devices for a weekend, the risks in doing so can lead to heartbreak. It’s better to be safe than sorry and simply have someone look in on your flock every day or two.
Finding a Sitter
While friends and family are an obvious choice, they’re not always available when you need them. Beyond professional pet and farm sitters, you can check with your local 4-H Clubs, Future Farmers of America, or ask at your neighborhood feed store. The most important thing is to find someone you trust and listen to your gut. If things don’t seem right during the initial walk through, look for someone else.
Preparing for Your Absence
It’s a good idea to have everything done (that can possibly be done) in advance. This makes chicken keeping far easier on the sitter and leaves less room for error.
Start by cleaning the coop and the nesting boxes a day or two before you leave. Label everything — feed, scratch, grit, etc. — even if it seems obvious. Someone who is unfamiliar with chickens could easily mistake feed with scratch. It wouldn’t hurt to tidy your supply closet/shed so that everything they need is easily accessible.
Inspect the coop and run to make sure all aspects (latches, fences, etc.) are in good working condition. Make any repairs as necessary.
Information for the Sitter
Provide detailed instructions regarding all aspects of chicken care. Don’t just write it down, provide a demonstration. Walk them through your chicken keeping routine. Point out feed, tool, and supply storage, the faucet, and how your feeder and waterer work. Make sure they know what treats are acceptable and what aren’t. If your coop has electric or water, show them where the cutoffs are located. Indicate where to look for eggs (including some common out-of-the-way places your chickens might lay.)
If your sitter will be cleaning the coop in your absence, show them where to dispose of soiled litter. Illustrate how your coop, run, and gate locks work and have them demonstrate how to handle them while you are there. Walk your fence perimeter together and discuss what to do in case of a breach. If you have electric fencing, ask them to keep an eye out for any weed growth or other obstacles that could potentially cause a short.
Make a list of what chickens you have — identified by appearance and name. This makes it easy for your sitter to identify that they’re all present and accounted for. While it’s a good idea to prohibit free ranging while you’re away, you should still demonstrate how to catch and handle your chickens, just in case. If your sitter is new to chickens, take a few minutes to point out normal behavior, signs of illness, and evidence of predator activity.
Finally, post a list of important contact information on your fridge and in your coop. Include the following:
- Your cell phone numbers.
- The number of the hotel or home where you’ll be staying.
- Numbers of nearby family and friends.
- Your vet’s contact information with signed documents stating the sitter is authorized to seek medical treatment for any of your animals if needed.
Leaving your feathered friends in the care of another is bound to tug a bit on your heartstrings, but as long as you prepare properly, things should go smoothly. Perhaps one day, the chicken hotels that are taking England by storm will make it to the United States, and your chickens can enjoy a holiday as well. Until then, they’ll just have to hold down the homefront.