Our recent move 900 miles north from Virginia to Maine necessitated me figuring out how to transport chickens safely and easily. I had never before so much as brought a hen to a show or swap, so the idea of moving our 11 backyard chickens and 12 ducks safely to our new home was a bit daunting. In addition to the distance we would be traveling, we would be doing it in the heat of the summer — the middle of August. The timing wasn’t perfect, but I took several precautions to ensure that everyone arrived safely and with as little stress as possible.
Whether you are traveling across town to a chicken swap, across the state to attend a poultry show, or clear across the country to a new home, here are some tips on how to transport chickens.
Crate ‘Em Up for Safety
Fortunately, we have lots of dog crates and other small cages. I paired and tripled up the chickens (putting buddies with buddies) and then put the cages in the back of our horse trailer for the trip, with a nice thick layer of straw on the bottom of each cage, and a small hanging feeder and waterer in each cage. Being in a smaller space leaves less chance of the birds being jostled, or falling and injuring a leg or foot. Don’t cram them in, be sure everyone has room to flap their wings and move around a bit, but in general, the smaller the space the better.
Chickens can overheat pretty easily, especially when they are stressed, so we left the windows of the horse trailer open to ensure good cross ventilation and air flow. During the trip, we stopped every 100 to 200 miles to check on everyone and refill the feeders and waterers as needed. Realizing that everyone doesn’t have a horse trailer at their disposal, the back of a truck or SUV will work also. Just be sure however you transport your chickens, stopping periodically to check for signs of heat exhaustion (pale combs, wings held out, panting, etc.) or accidental injury is very important.
Include Some Natural Calming Remedies
To try and calm the chickens during the trip, I made herbal bundles of fresh herbs to hang in each cage. I used lavender, rosemary, thyme, chamomile and lemon balm in each bouquet, which helped to repel flies as well as create a more serene environment, and also gave the chickens another treat to munch on.
I also tucked a bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets in the car. It’s an all-natural herbal liquid that helps to calm stressed pets. You can add a few drops to their water, or rub it right on your animals. We’ve used it in the past for our dogs during thunderstorms, so I figured it would be wise to have it handy in case the chickens or ducks seemed overly stressed, but they took the move in stride.
Provide Water and Treats with High Water Content
Interestingly enough, the chickens did eat during the 17-plus-hour trip. From everything I had read, they wouldn’t be interested in any food, so I wasn’t too concerned about what to feed chickens during the trip, especially since going a day or two without feed isn’t going to hurt them, but they proved me wrong. I also gave them some watermelon slices, cucumber slices and cabbage leaves to munch on during the trip. All three of those are favorite treats and contain large amounts of water, so they are good for keeping the flock hydrated. Providing ample fresh, cool water is a necessity. Even a few hours being deprived of water can seriously affect egg production and hen health.
We were fortunate that the day we traveled was unseasonably cool, so I didn’t feel that bottles of frozen water were necessary to provide to keep the chickens cool, but a great trick I read is to bring an empty metal covered pail with you on your trip, stop at a rest stop and buy a bag of ice. Pour the ice into the pail. The condensation will cool the air and the chickens can lean up against the pail to stay cool. As the ice melts, buy more ice to replace it and pour the chilled water into the chickens waterers.
Don’t Expect Eggs for Awhile After the Move
Realizing that any change in routine or stress can cause a reduction in egg production, I was prepared to not collect any eggs after the got to our new home, but have been pleasantly surprised and still manage to find a few eggs each day. However, the stress of the move, as well as the time of year in general, did throw most of our chickens into a molt. I’m actually glad about that because that means they will grow nice new feathers before winter sets in.
Check the Restrictions
One last bit of advice: You will want to check with your local vet or extension service about any restrictions on transporting poultry across state lines. Especially in those states facing the threat of the avian flu, there are some new rules in place about allowing your backyard chickens to leave your property. Better be safe than sorry, so do some research and make some phone calls before you make any big moves.
We arrived at our new farm after driving more than 900 miles over the course of 17 hours. We had stopped countless times for water checks and to be sure everyone was doing okay, but drove straight through. All of our chickens and ducks made the trip amazingly easily. Surprisingly, when we got to our new farm (with no coop or run built yet) and let the chickens out, they grasped pretty quickly that the trailer would be where they would be sleeping until their coop arrives. They have stuck pretty close to it by day and are perfectly safe locked up in the trailer at night. Egg production is back up, new feathers are growing in, and our flock of backyard chickens should be ready to face their first Maine winter!
I hope these tips and facts about chickens will help you the next time you are faced with figuring out how to transport chickens. Visit my blog Fresh Eggs Daily for more tips and tricks to raising happy, healthy chickens…naturally.