By Cherie Dawn Haas – Owning chickens brings many rewards: the satisfaction of caring for animals, the bonding it creates among our families, and of course, the eggs and meat that provide us with a natural food source. Along with it also comes challenges, such as how to go about caring for, watering, and feeding chickens while away on vacation or business.
When Michelle and Ben Dreyer started building their family of farm animals (not to mention adding to their family with a baby girl last year), they didn’t intend on being away very often. They had opportunities to travel more than expected, however, and so they had to come up with a solution to an obvious problem: how to take a trip when they had chickens and other animals at home.
Ben, in particular, felt uneasy at first when it came to leaving their flock.
“He worried a great deal about leaving our animals in the care of anyone other than himself in the beginning,” Michelle said. “He had people come to our house and go through ‘training,’ he wrote lists and showed them where everything was. You need people to feel prepared when taking care of your chickens and any animals.”
“It’s easy to take things for granted,” Michelle says. “Listing out who gets fed what and when, and labeling all of your food containers helps to make it easier for the person who’s farm-sitting.”
But now that they’ve begun to have a vacation routine, things have gotten smoother.
“I definitely feel more at ease now, after having left them in the care of another person multiple times,” Ben said.
They’ve also found ways to make it easier for their sitter by prepping some things before they hit the road, such as cleaning the bedding. This way, during shorter trips, the sitter only needs to feed the chickens (and other animals) and collect the eggs.
The Dreyers often rely on nearby family to help when it comes to feeding their chickens while away, but have also tapped into the local community.
“We’ve made friends who have common interests in animals,” Michelle says. “We went to a class offered by the 4-H extension office for small/hobby poultry farmers and met others there. It was a great way to network with other people who have common interests. There have been times when someone from the community was able to come over just for one night to put the chickens up or to feed them. We know each other’s routines and so we’re able to help each other out if the family is not available. I think it’s important to get to know people who do the same thing, so you can help each other.”
One thing is for sure: Having a small group of farm animals has enriched their lives, as Ben tells us. “Homesteading gives me a sense of pride. With our little farm, we are able to help provide for our family and friends. We are hoping to expand to others as we continue to grow.”
“Also, working on the farm helps with living a healthier lifestyle,” he adds. “Not only because of the organic byproducts of the animals and garden but because of the physical labor required. I love that my daughter will grow up learning about hard work and self-sufficiency. And mostly, for me, having a little farm is a stress relief. Besides spending time with my family, there is nothing better than going outside, getting fresh air, and spending time with the animals.”
So How Long Can Chickens Be Left Alone?
It’s easy for some to assume that chickens can fend for themselves as long as they need to, but remember that they’re not wild birds. If they’ve always relied on you for food and water then you need to continue feeding chickens while away and provide these essentials — including relative safety — to your flock. The lack of any of these three things can mean an untimely ending for your chickens.
The best option, even if you’re gone for just a few days, is to follow the example above and have someone visit your farm daily to give the chickens fresh water and food and to collect their eggs from the nesting boxes.
Top 10 Things to do for Your Chickens While You’re Away
1. Make sure they continue to have plenty of clean water. Use a small plastic pond or get an additional waterer (or two) that’s larger than what they normally need on a daily basis.
2. If it’s during extremely cold weather, either keep their water inside the coop (if you have a larger space where it won’t freeze) or buy something like a heater base where you can set the water container(s).
3. When it comes to feeding chickens while away, provide them with extra food by setting out an additional chicken feeder (or more) — they should have too much rather than not enough.
4. If you have someone coming to care for your chickens while on vacation, have extra bags of feed so your chicken sitter doesn’t run out while you’re gone.
5. Give your chickens a flock block to peck on; this is a tasty treat and keeps them busy.
6. Make sure they have plenty of space so that your chickens don’t feel crowded, which can cause negative behaviors, such as pecking each other. Educate yourself and your sitter on how to stop chickens from pecking on each other.
7. Set up a live video camera. This way you can check on them as you wish and if you see something that needs attention you can ask a neighbor or nearby friend to visit and address it.
8. Add an electric or solar motion sensor light to your coop area to spook potential predators.
9. Post the basic instructions in a laminated sheet on the coop door. Include the location of fresh water, special instructions for giving the chickens “extras” such as oyster shells for calcium, and your cell phone number.
10. Watering and feeding chickens while away is crucial, but cleanliness is also a priority. Just prior to going away, give your coop a good cleaning and replace the bedding so your flock has a fresh home.
Do you do anything additional when it comes to feeding chickens while away?
Follow the Dreyer farm on Instagram at instagram.com/dreyerfarm.