Ensuring Your Chickens Thrive: A Guide to Chicken Care While You’re on Vacation

As someone who has navigated the waters of poultry care for years, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips that have made managing these delightful birds easier, even when I’m not around. Chickens, with their quirky behaviours and specific needs, become part of the family. So, naturally, ensuring they’re well taken care of in our absence is paramount.

Going on vacation should be a stress-free time, but for us chicken owners, the thought of leaving our feathered friends behind can bring on a bit of anxiety. How do we ensure they’re safe, healthy, and happy while we’re soaking up the sun or trekking through mountains? Over the years, I’ve found that with a little preparation and some strategic planning, it’s entirely possible to enjoy that well-deserved break without worrying too much about the flock back home.

In this article, I’ll share some personal experiences and practical advice on how to care for your chickens when you’re away. From finding the right chicken sitter to preparing your coop for your absence, I’ll cover all the bases so you can set off on your vacation with peace of mind, knowing your chickens are in good hands. So, let’s get started on ensuring our feathered friends are cared for, so we can enjoy our time away to the fullest.

Start Small

Before you plan a long getaway, I recommend starting with a short, nearby trip. This approach serves as a trial run for both your chicken sitter and any care equipment you’ve set up, ensuring everything operates smoothly in your absence.

This approach allows you to test both your chicken sitter and the reliability of your setup under less critical conditions. Starting small gives you the peace of mind that, should anything go awry, you’re not too far to intervene. It also provides an invaluable opportunity for your sitter to get accustomed to your chickens’ routines and peculiarities without the pressure of a long-term commitment.

I learned the importance of this advice the hard way. The first time my family and I went away after getting chickens, we planned a 14-day trip to visit relatives across the country. We thought we had everything in place: food, water, a cosy coop, and a neighbour to check in daily. However, we hadn’t accounted for the unexpected. A couple of days into our vacation, I received a frantic call: some of our chickens had fallen ill, the automatic waterer had malfunctioned, and our sitter was overwhelmed. Scrambling from states away, we managed to find a professional who could come out to make repairs, but it cost us dearly, both in terms of stress and an unplanned expense.

Streamline the Feeding and Watering Process

Ensuring your chickens have constant access to food and water is paramount, especially in your absence. Streamlining the feeding and watering process not only keeps your flock happy and healthy but also simplifies the job for your chicken sitter. Here’s how we’ve managed to keep our chickens well-fed and hydrated, hassle-free.

Automatic Feeder

Investing in an automatic feeder was a game-changer for us. These devices can hold several days’ worth of feed, gradually dispensing it to maintain a constant supply. When selecting an automatic feeder, consider the size of your flock and the duration of your vacation. We opted for a feeder with a large capacity to accommodate our extended time away, ensuring our chickens had enough food. It’s also wise to choose a model that protects against pests and the elements, to keep the feed dry and uncontaminated.

Before leaving, we tested the feeder with our chickens to make sure they were comfortable using it and that it dispensed the right amount of feed. This trial period helped identify any potential issues and allowed our chickens to adjust to the new feeding method, ensuring they wouldn’t go hungry while we were away.

Don’t buy rubbish, and the most fancy is NOT the best. See our guide and experience with automatic feeders for chickens here…

Automatic Waterer

A reliable water supply is crucial, and an automatic waterer can provide peace of mind that your chickens will always have access to fresh water. After our earlier mishap with a broken waterer, I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing a high-quality, reliable system and having a backup plan in place.

We installed an automatic waterer connected to a large water reservoir, which was designed to refill the drinking area as the chickens drank. This system drastically reduced the chances of the water running out or becoming dirty, which are common problems with traditional water bowls or troughs.

However, learning from our past experience, we now also have a simple gravity-fed water system as a backup. This secondary system isn’t as sophisticated as our primary waterer but ensures that should anything fail, our chickens won’t be left without water.

Both the automatic feeder and waterer require a bit of upfront investment and setup, but they are well worth the peace of mind and convenience. They not only make vacation planning less stressful but also simplify daily care, making it easier for anyone stepping in to look after your flock. Plus, our chickens seem to appreciate the consistent supply of food and water, which keeps them healthy and laying eggs regularly.

To make it easy for you, we’ve collected a guide to our most trusted chicken waterers here…

A chickens waterer in the shed

Grow Some Greens

In addition to streamlining the feeding and watering process, growing some greens for your chickens can be a wonderful way to ensure they receive fresh nutrients while you’re away. This initiative doesn’t just supplement their diet; it also provides them with enrichment, keeping them engaged and happy.

I started by planting a variety of chicken-friendly greens like lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard in a section of the garden accessible to them. These plants are hardy and grow back quickly, making them an ideal choice for continuous grazing. To protect the plants from being completely pecked away, I installed a simple barrier system that limited the chickens’ access, allowing the plants time to regrow.

This setup worked wonders for us, especially when we were away. The chickens had a fresh supply of greens at their disposal, which was an excellent supplement to their feed. It also saved us the worry of their diet lacking in variety or fresh nutrients during our absence. Plus, watching the chickens enjoy their greens through the camera we set up was a reassuring and delightful sight!

Incorporating a green garden for your chickens requires some planning and effort, but it’s a sustainable step towards enhancing their diet and well-being. It’s also a testament to the joy of seeing your flock thrive on the care you’ve put into their environment, even when you’re miles away.

If in doubt, you can see our complete guide to chicken greens here…

Automatic Coop Door

An automatic coop door can significantly enhance the security and management of your chicken coop, especially when you’re away on vacation. It ensures your chickens are safely tucked in at night and allowed out at dawn, maintaining their natural routine without manual intervention. Let’s explore the benefits and considerations of installing an automatic coop door, based on my experience.

You can see our recommendations for automatic chicken coop doors here…

Enhanced Security

One of the primary advantages of an automatic coop door is the increased protection it offers against predators. Before we had one, the thought of a fox or raccoon sneaking into the coop at night was a constant worry. With the door set to close automatically at dusk and open at dawn, it significantly reduces the risk of nocturnal predators harming your flock. Ensure the door mechanism is sturdy and reliable to prevent any unwanted guests.

Convenience and Peace of Mind

The convenience of not having to wake up at the crack of dawn or rush home at sunset to open or close the coop door cannot be overstated. This becomes even more valuable when you’re away. Knowing that the door will automatically take care of this critical task gives you peace of mind during your vacation. It’s one less thing for your chicken sitter to worry about, reducing the risk of human error.

Choosing the Right Automatic Door

When selecting an automatic coop door, consider one with a timer and a light sensor. The timer allows you to set specific opening and closing times, while the light sensor adjusts these times based on the changing sunrise and sunset throughout the year. Additionally, look for doors with a battery backup or solar panel option to ensure functionality during power outages.

Backup Plan

Despite the reliability of most automatic coop doors, always prepare for the unexpected. Provide detailed instructions to your chicken-sitter on manually overriding the door if necessary. Having a backup plan in place ensures your chickens remain safe and secure, no matter what.

Integrating an automatic coop door into your coop’s design significantly simplifies the daily care of your chickens and is invaluable when planning time away from home. It’s an investment in your peace of mind, the safety of your flock, and the convenience of whoever is caring for your chickens in your absence.

Find a Responsible Chicken-Sitter

Finding someone you trust to care for your chickens while you’re away is one of the most crucial steps in preparing for your vacation. A reliable chicken sitter will ensure your flock receives the attention and care they need in your absence. Here are some tips on how to find and prepare a chicken sitter based on my own experiences.

Create Detailed Written Instructions

Even if you give a thorough walkthrough, leave written instructions that cover everything from feeding and watering to emergency contact information. Include the vet’s contact details, what to do if a chicken gets sick, and how to handle unexpected situations like a predator breach.

It is also important to make sure your sitter knows exactly what to do with the waste they collect, whether it’s adding it to a compost bin or securing it in a specific trash receptacle.

Having a document to refer to can alleviate your sitter’s anxiety and make it easier for them to perform their duties confidently. Or even better, take photos with your phone, so the sitter knows where to find stuff, and what bag contains what.

Effortless Clean-Up Strategies

A key part of preparing your chicken sitter for success involves setting up your coop and run for effortless maintenance. Keeping the cleaning process as straightforward as possible will encourage thorough, regular clean-up, ensuring a healthy environment for your flock.

  • Use Bedding Wisely: Opt for high-absorbency bedding like wood shavings or hemp. These materials make it easier to spot clean and reduce odours. Before leaving, clean out the coop thoroughly and add a fresh, thick layer of bedding to help control moisture and manure buildup.
  • Implement a Droppings Board: Placing a board beneath roosting areas to catch droppings nightly can significantly reduce the time required for daily clean-ups. This board can be scraped off quickly each day, keeping the coop cleaner overall and reducing the bedding’s need for frequent changes.
  • Organize Supplies: Keep all necessary cleaning supplies, such as a coop-specific broom, dustpan, and scraper, in a convenient location. This encourages the sitter to perform spot cleanings as needed, without the hassle of searching for tools.

Including these strategies in your sitter’s preparation can make their job more manageable and ensure they’re not overwhelmed by maintenance tasks. It also ensures your chickens live in a clean, comfortable environment until you return. My sitter appreciated these measures, as they made the daily upkeep much less of a chore, allowing them to focus more on the chickens’ well-being and less on battling mess.

Set Up a Communication Plan

Agree on how often you’d like updates about your chickens. Some people prefer daily messages, while others are content with updates every few days. Make sure your sitter knows how to reach you in case of questions or emergencies and that they have a list of backup contacts should they be unable to get in touch with you directly.

Express Your Appreciation

Taking care of chickens is a responsibility that requires time and effort. Show your appreciation with a thoughtful gesture, such as payment, a gift, or even some fresh eggs to take home. Acknowledging your sitter’s hard work fosters a good relationship for future care needs.

In my case, finding a responsible chicken sitter has been integral to enjoying time away from home without worrying about our feathered friends. The first time we left for an extended period, our sitter’s diligent care meant we returned to a happy, healthy flock. The peace of mind knowing our chickens were in good hands was invaluable, and it all started with taking the time to find and prepare the right person for the job.

Prepare for Emergencies

Preparing for emergencies is a critical aspect of ensuring the well-being of your chickens while you’re away. Unexpected situations can arise, from predator threats to adverse weather conditions or health issues. Here are some strategies to fortify your chickens’ safety and ensure quick action can be taken if needed.

Predator-Proof Your Chicken Yard

Before leaving, take the time to reinforce the security of your chicken yard. Ensure that fences are intact, with no gaps or weak spots where predators could enter. Consider adding predator deterrents like motion-activated lights or noise makers, which can scare off would-be intruders.

Burying hardware cloth a foot deep around the perimeter can prevent digging predators, such as foxes and raccoons, from getting in. My own experience taught me that a thorough check and upgrade of the coop’s security can make all the difference in keeping the flock safe.

Check the Weather

Extreme weather conditions can pose significant risks to your chickens. Before you leave, check the long-term forecast for your area. If high temperatures are expected, ensure your chickens have access to plenty of shade and fresh water. In case of cold weather, verify that your coop is insulated and draft-free. Providing a way for your sitter to create additional shelter or ventilation as needed can help mitigate the risks posed by sudden weather changes.

Find a Vet

Identifying a vet who is experienced with poultry and willing to see your chickens in an emergency is essential. Make an appointment to discuss your upcoming absence and ensure they’re prepared to provide care if needed.

Discussing payment arrangements in advance, including the possibility of delayed payments, can relieve financial pressure in case of emergency vet visits. Leave all necessary vet contact information with your sitter, along with clear instructions on when and how to seek medical assistance for your chickens.

What Does The Law Say?

In the United States, animal welfare laws vary significantly from state to state and are primarily focused on preventing cruelty and neglect rather than specifying the exact number of hours an animal can be left alone​​​​ (source). The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the primary federal law in the U.S. that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers (source). However, the AWA does not cover all animals, such as farm animals, and does not specify restrictions on leaving animals alone for a certain period. Instead, state and local laws provide more detailed regulations on the care of animals, including companion animals like dogs and cats. Some states and local jurisdictions have laws that address aspects of animal care, such as tethering and the conditions in which animals can be kept, but these are highly variable and not uniformly applied across the country (source)​​.

Given this variation, it’s crucial for pet owners in the U.S. to familiarize themselves with the specific animal welfare laws applicable in their state or local area. These laws might include regulations on leaving pets unattended, requirements for shelter, and conditions to prevent cruelty and ensure the well-being of animals under their care. For the most accurate and detailed information, consulting local animal welfare laws or seeking advice from animal welfare organizations would be advisable.

In Conclusion

As we wrap up this guide on ensuring the well-being of your chickens while you’re away, it’s clear that preparation is key. From starting with a short vacation to test your setup and sitter to streamlining the feeding and watering process with automatic systems, each step is designed to create a seamless experience for both your chickens and their caretaker. An automatic coop door can add a layer of security and convenience, and finding a responsible chicken sitter can make all the difference in maintaining the routine your flock is accustomed to.

It’s also crucial to prepare for emergencies by predator-proofing your yard, checking the weather, and establishing a relationship with a vet who understands the unique needs of chickens. Remember, the goal is to enjoy your time away without worry, knowing that your feathered friends are in safe hands.

Taking these steps not only ensures the health and happiness of your chickens but also provides peace of mind for you, the owner. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, you can rest assured that your flock will continue to thrive in your absence.

Happy travels and happy chickens!