By Patricia Harris Pointing – “Expect the unexpected” is as true in poultry-keeping as anywhere else. Having an answer to what does a chicken coop need in case of emergency is very important before disaster strikes. Either prepare in advance or scramble around in a panic when trouble strikes. Having done it both ways myself, I highly recommend preparation!
First Aid Kit Contents and Their Uses
It only takes a few minutes to put together a kit that will spare you a great deal of stress, improvisation and midnight trips to the drugstore. It’s important to put together your kit knowing the proper first aid contents and their uses. Start with basic supplies for dressing wounds: unopened saline or bottled water, an eye dropper or syringe, sterile gauze, paper towels, vet wrap, clean sharp scissors, and waterless hand sanitizer. A plastic basin or dishpan makes a good soaking tub, and can also keep supplies up out of the litter when you’re treating an injury. Old towels help you restrain or dry a chicken. Plastic baggies are useful for preserving samples such as unusual droppings.
What does a chicken coop need in an emergency situation? Well, a basic medicine chest for the flock might consist of: Blu-kote or other dark-colored anti-pick lotion; Neosporin cream; either betadine or hydrogen peroxide (the latter is harsh on delicate tissue, but the foaming action can help cleanse badly contaminated wounds); and baby shampoo. A general-purpose poultry vitamin and an electrolyte powder round out the kit. You may wish to stock other supplies as well, depending on your philosophy and level of experience: vaseline for lubrication and for protecting combs from frostbite, hemorrhoid cream for treating a prolapse, a magnifier, alcohol swabs, surgical scissors. Many poultry owners keep antibiotics on hand as well, although it’s important to know when to use them and when not to.
Additionally, all responsible chicken owners need to work out in advance what they’d do for a hopelessly suffering animal. If you’d prefer to ask a vet or neighbor for help, make sure that the means for plan B are nonetheless on hand (a hatchet or sharp knife) in case the situation is urgent and your planned assistance is unavailable.
Prepare The Chicken Coop
Most of us would admit that backyard chicken owners do not always exercise the greatest of care in the placement, attachment or maintenance of heat lamps. Even just a regular light bulb or water heater can ignite dust or dry litter, and it only takes one chewing rodent or lightning strike to set wiring on fire. So unless your coop has no electrical service at all (not even extension cords), you NEED a fire extinguisher ready at hand. This may seem obvious, but in my experience, it is frighteningly rare to see it taken care of. Fire extinguishers are pretty inexpensive these days, certainly much less costly than having to rebuild your coop and replace your flock! You want one labeled “AC” or “ABC”, to handle both conventional and electrical fires. Read the instructions when you buy it so that if heaven forbid you should ever have to use it, it’s not completely unfamiliar. Mount it just inside the doorway. The coop you save could be your own!
One of the most-needed emergency essentials and often the hardest to find is a good flashlight. Keep a flashlight within easy reach of the door. In fact, you may want two: a large flashlight to provide wide-angle lighting, and a smaller one (possibly one of the new battery-free types, charged by cranking or shaking) to hold in one hand or even in your mouth while you examine an injury.
Water is a no-brainer when asking, what does a chicken coop need? Thirst kills quickly. A backup system should always be at the ready: a spare vacuum-style waterer, or even just clean buckets. If you use an automatic watering system, lay in a supply of replacement gaskets and valves (and a mop!). Additionally, those of us in the North need a plan to keep water liquid if a heated waterer fails or the power goes out during the winter. Some people carry buckets of lukewarm water out to the coop multiple times per day. Others stockpile some of the chemical heat packs used in hand warmers or back-pain wraps; one or more of them, exposed to air according to instructions to start the heating process and placed flat underneath a vacuum-style waterer, can delay freezing for a surprisingly long time.
Because a loose board can admit predators and a blown light bulb can spell disaster for chicks in a brooder, you will never regret establishing a designated repair kit. Mine includes a spare hammer, pliers, assorted nails, fence staples, some spare hardware cloth and 1″ wire mesh, some spare medium-gauge wire, an extension cord that will reach the house, and spare light bulbs. If you have an incubator, keep a spare wafer. If your coop sometimes floods, you might add some pallets and a roll of old carpeting, to temporarily raise the chickens up above the water.
What’s your plan for sick chicken symptoms or an injured chicken? A simple, moveable panel can be knocked together from scrap wood and chicken wire, with a “roof” of heavy cardboard, to pen an invalid in a corner. Store it flat and out of the way until needed. A large dog crate also makes an excellent hospital pen; it can even be set outdoors on nice days to allow a recuperating chicken some sunshine, fresh air, and grass. If you’re fortunate enough to have a vet who will deal with chickens, keep a suitable box handy for transport.
Also, figure out how you could create an isolation area if the need should arise. There are many contagious chicken diseases that could strike, and you may want to isolate symptomatic individuals, and newly purchased birds (other than day-old chicks) should be quarantined for a month or so in case they’re carrying something that could be passed to your existing flock, a depressingly common occurrence. This requires housing somewhere out of range of airborne or crawling contagion. Could you fence off a corner of the garage? Use another barn or shed? Do you have a tractor-type pen that could be beefed up, insulated or have a light bulb added? Many creative solutions are possible, but if they’ll require any scrounging or hammering then now is the time to take care of it.
The ultimate “emergency kit” is the human brain. Keep your vet’s phone number handy. Write down – before you need it – the contact information for your state extension agency or state university poultry department. And since animals have an inconvenient knack for having crises late at night or on holiday weekends, a good bookshelf is essential.
The internet can put you in touch with help, too. If you haven’t already done so, spend a little time identifying reliable sources of poultry keeping advice on the internet; bookmark the sites you find helpful and organize those bookmarks into a single folder so you can find them easily. Print out any web pages that strike you as especially useful, assemble them in a binder, and keep it handy in the coop for a wealth of emergency support even when your computer is down. If you find a forum or bulletin board you respect, consider signing up now so you don’t have to sit around during a crisis waiting to be issued a username and password. Remember, though, that while most people online are sincerely trying to help to the best of their abilities, not all advice is equally good. Double check what you’re told, and trust your own judgment.
Finally, think about whatever natural disasters your region experiences — hurricane, tornado, flood, wildfire. Do you have a method for rain water harvesting and storing several days’ worth of water for your animals as well as for yourself? Do you know where you’d go if you had to evacuate your home, and what you’d do with your flock — take all or some of them with you (how? where?), leave them in the coop with extra feed and water, or set them free to fend for themselves? There are no right and wrong answers but you need a clearly thought-out plan that you are comfortable with.
Remember that the vast majority of the things you prepare for will never happen — but some will, and you can never predict which ones. As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. With supplies all in one place and a well thought out plan in your head, you and your flock will be in the best possible position to cope with whatever Fate sends your way.
Now that you have an answer to what does a chicken coop need in case of an emergency, how will you prepare for the unexpected?
Originally published in 2008 and regularly vetted for accuracy.