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How to care for your chickens when you need to go on vacation.

How to make sure your chickens are cared for when you go on vacation. Pin for later.

So you're tired and jaded and need some time away, but you can't work out who can care for your flock as well as you do?

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It happens to us all - no matter how much we love our chickens, we need a break. But we can't work out how to make sure our chickens are as well cared for as we want them to be.

Whether you're planning a short time away from your flock or a couple of weeks, with a little careful planning there are ways to manage it so you don't need to feel tied to your chickens all year round.

Yes, it's true - other people can look after your flock, if you put a few simple precautions in place first!

Here are 7 simple steps to make sure you get the holiday you deserve!

Make sure you read to the end - there's a free checklist for you to download to leave with your trusted chicken-sitters!

Going away for up to 3 days? Following Steps 1 - 3 means you won't need any outside help.

Longer than 3 days? You'll need to follow the rest of the Steps too.

Step 1: Invest in an automatic feeder.

This is probably the best investment you'll ever make - it was certainly mine. In one fell swoop, it got rid of rats from my coop and run, and allowed my flock to eat at will, making sure they got access to food all day. 

It has the added bonus of holding up to 20lbs of feed: enough to keep up to 12 chickens happy for up to ten days.

So even if you're on vacation for a couple of weeks, whoever is looking after your flock need top it up only once or twice.

Great for your flock, great for you, great for your chicken-sitters!

See my full review of the best feeder on the market, or buy it now by clicking the link below.

And make sure you buy enough feed, oyster shell and grit to last for the whole time you're away - and a few days more in case your flights are delayed!


Step 2: Set up an automatic waterer.

I am lucky enough to own a Chicken Fountain - they've been out of production though they're planning to be back in late 2019.

But there are lots of examples on the internet of home-made versions of drinkers which will keep your flock well hydrated for several days.

If you don't want the hassle of making something just before you go away, look at buying something like this.

I much prefer it to plastic waterers because it's stainless steel, which makes it very easy to clean - algae growth can be a problem in warm weather - and because plastic can degenerate in the heat. It's more expensive, but in my view it's worth it.

Remember to place it in the shade, and add other bowls around the run so there's always water "on tap".

In hot weather your chickens will drink a lot more than usual and may need some extra help to keep cool and hydrated. Ice in your watering pans will melt slowly during the day, so leave a stock in your freezer.

Buy in a couple of watermelons before you leave for your vacation. It's always a favourite with hens and pecking at it will make sure they keep cool in the hottest weather.

Some of my flock pecking into their watermelon treat.

Finally, take a look here at how to recognise heat exhaustion in your chickens - and send the link to whoever is going to care for your flock so they know, too.


Step 3: Automate your pop door!

If the automatic feeder was my best find, having an automatic pop door has to be next on the list! No more having to get up at the crack of dawn to let my flock out, no more rushing home to lock them safely away in the evening. All done automatically.

How does it work?

You have a choice:

  • Set it to the times you prefer, using the timer
  • Allow it to open at dawn and close at dusk, using the light sensor
  • If you want to open or close it at different times, simply use the button.

Doesn't it catch the chickens? Or don't some chickens miss it?

I've had mine for over 5 years now, and I've never known a chicken get caught by the door. They naturally roost at dusk, and everyone is in long before it closes.

At dawn, there's a queue to get out!

It's true that sometimes a couple of my hens choose to roost outside in our bay tree, but they would do that whether or the door worked automatically or I closed it manually.

If you're worried about hens arriving after closing time, simply do a head-count once they're in and chase up any laggards.


Step 4: Grow some sprouts!

Not just sprouts, but leave a nice mixture of treats for your chickens while you're away. It's likely that whoever looks after them won't spend the kind of time you do with your flock, and it's not a good idea to free range them while you're away - I've found that chicken-sitters are too anxious to be able to manage free-ranging safely.

So treats will keep your chickens happy and occupied, and watching the flock running to greet the treat-carrier will make your chicken-sitters smile.

Chickens eating sprouted lentil seeds.Sprouted lentils - yum!

It takes very little effort to grow some sprouted lentil seeds (instructions here) or prepare some frozen treats to leave for your hens.

And explaining to your house-sitters how to play the swinging lettuce game will keep them, as well as your flock, entertained for hours!


Step 5: Prepare for emergencies.

They happen, and the last thing you want is panic phone calls while you're away. So be prepared.

  • Check your coop thoroughly for predator-type entrances. Fix any breaches in fencing, block even the tiniest holes in the coop. You don't want your sitters to have to deal with rodents.
  • Leave the name, contact number and address of your preferred veterinarian.
  • Have an emergency pack (including Vetericyn which you should never be without!) and explain to your sitter how to use whatever's in it.
  • Unless you're very sure of your sitter's ability to care for them, don't leave anyone in charge of hatching eggs or very young chicks. Too much can go very badly wrong.
  • Finally, make sure your sitters know that if a chicken dies or is killed, it's not the end of the world (although you might feel like it is). You may want them to come again and if you make a big deal of it, they won't.

Step 6: Find a responsible person.

If you have automated systems in place you probably won't need to involve anyone else if you're away for two or three days. Eggs will be fine left in the coop, although expect them to be dirty when you return.

But if you're going for longer, you can't risk leaving your flock to their own devices.

Not sure who you can ask? Think about these people.

  • Partner / children: If you're going away by yourself, this is an obvious answer. Older teenage children should be able to complete the tasks you set, perhaps with the back-up of an adult available should they be worried about anything.
Teenage girl feeding chicken.Children can enjoy helping with chickens - and it gives them a sense of responsibility.
  • Other family members: Remember: what is an "ordinary" place to live is out of the ordinary for other people. So if you have a distant cousin or a long-lost friend who lives in a different environment to you, offer them a stay at your home for free, in return for looking after your flock.
  • Neighbour: It's easy to discount neighbours, but if you explain what they'll be getting in return - delicious, healthy fresh eggs and some stress relief as they watch your chickens go about their daily business - you may be surprised by their enthusiasm.
  • House-sitter: A lot of people would worry about a complete stranger coming into their home, but we've used house-sitting services a couple of times and have made life-long friends as a result. Advertise locally, or look at a commercial scheme like Trusted House-Sitters (which is what we've used). Just be careful about who you pick, and make sure you "interview" them before accepting their offer.

Step 7: Download my free checklist.

No matter how well you automate as much as you can, the fact is for a longer absence your flock will need caring for every day. Your helpful chicken-sitters will need to undertake a series of tasks which to you are common sense, but for them are new and possibly daunting.

To help you prepare for your helpful guests and to help them remember what they need to do, I've prepared a free, downloadable checklist for you.

If you're already a member of my "Chickens in the Olive Grove" newsletter, or to download it without giving your email address, you can get it immediately, here.

Alternatively, to get the checklist and my free newsletter, add your email address in the box below. If you'd like to know more about exactly what the newsletter contains, take a look here.

Get Your Vacation Checklist!


Ideally, you need to walk them through the tasks before you leave and in addition, speak to them about...

  • Checking the flock visually for any problems that might be brewing
  • Knowing what to do in the event of a chicken falling ill, and where your emergency kit is
  • Understanding how you keep predators from your run, and how to be alert to signs of any potential danger.

And finally...

Chicken on beach with windmill - enjoy your vacation!

Some other pages you're going to love!

Raising Chickens, month by month tasks - link.
Raising chickens in August: 20 tips for a healthy flock. Link.
A review of the best automatic chicken feeder - link.
Review of an automatic chicken coop pop doors - link.
Sprouting seeds for chicken feed - link.
What should chickens eat? Link.

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Thank you for sharing the chicken love! 

Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.