There comes a time in every backyard chicken keeper's life when you will take a vacation. It might be just overnight or it might be for a week or longer. Whatever the length, it can provoke some anxiety. The first time I left my chickens with the chicken sitter, they were about six months of age. My heart felt like a parent leaving a child home with the babysitter for the first time. Of course I worried. Would they be well cared for? Would they remember to harvest the eggs? Would predators know we were not home? What if one became ill? With some thought, planning and preparation, your flock should do just fine. Most people will want to watch your chickens for the eggs alone. As you know, there is nothing like a freshly laid egg.
Your chicken sitter should:
Enjoy backyard chickens
Chicken sitting for a flock is also a wonderful way for someone who is thinking about getting chickens to experience keeping chickens without the full commitment.
Who would make a good chicken sitter?
Local Dog walkers/Pet sitters-some will chicken sit if you call and ask
Local 4-H Club members
Don't forget to ask if your local feed store knows of anyone who could help too.
1. Clean the coop and the nesting boxes a day or two before you leave. This makes chicken sitting much more pleasurable for your sitter. When the coop is clean, it is much easier and welcoming.
2. Be sure you have extra food available. Always keep extra food, grit, oyster shells on hand just in case.
3. Label everything and tidy up. I would strongly encourage you to label even the obvious to you. Label feed, scratch, grit and the like. Chicken scratch to a newbie could easily be confused as feed. Also, tidy things up so that everything they need is visible and they do not have to spend time sifting through a cluttered place of chaos.
4. Give directions. In addition to reviewing directions in person, write them down. This serves as a great reference when you are not available.
5. Be sure the sitter keeps the routine as close to what you do when you are with the chickens.
6. Harvest eggs frequently. This should still be done in the morning, afternoon and evening. If this is difficult for one person, than perhaps this task could be shared with another friend, such as a neighbor.
7. Prevent boredom. Leave some suggestions, such as tossing in a whole cabbage every few days or so.
8. Leave a phone number of a fellow chicken keeper. This is so important. You might not be available when a question or concern pops up. It helps to have a knowledgeable chicken keeper available to make an on-site visit if necessary.
9. Keep a chicken first aid kit.
10. Provide a phone number of a local avian vet.
11. Inspect the coop and run. Be sure all of your latches function properly. Be sure all aspects of your coop are in good working condition. Be sure to inspect your predator proofing. Make any repairs as necessary.
12. Predators will know when things are different. They will notice the absence of the family dog. If you always lock up your chickens, then the chicken sitter should do the same. Do not leave the coop pop-up door open if this is not your common practice. Predators will and do take note. Be extra vigilant. Utilize motion sensor flood lights. Keep the porch light on.
13. Let your neighbors know you will be away. Encourage other neighbors, friends and family to stop in and visit the flock while you are away.
14. Leave a thorough, easy reference book that is not intimidating for the chicken sitter. How could anyone feel intimidated by a copy of Raising Chickens for Dummies?
A day or two before your trip, schedule a quick training with your chicken sitter.
Review all of your planning.
Demonstrate coop locks and have them work them while you are there.
Encourage phone calls to you with flock updates.
Discuss a plan on how to handle an escaped chicken or if one does not return in the evening from free ranging.
Talk about treats including types, amount and frequency.
Alert them to any current issues such as molting, wounds, health concerns, pecking order or egg problems.
General Tips for Smoother Chicken Sitting:
1. Let the chickens out in the run in the morning. Once they are all are out of the coop, lock them out into the run and perform your chicken sitting duties. Refill feeders and waterers. Check for eggs and do any other necessary housekeeping. This is less stressful for the chicken sitter and also helps to prevent chickens from inadvertently escaping or distracting the sitter who may not be accustomed to the flock's behavior. Do not forget to re-open the pop door once the daily tasks are complete.
2. Double up on feeders and waterers just in case something happens during the day that might not get noticed quickly. This also helps to prevent problems if a feeder or waterer malfunctions.
3. Keep a few spare egg cartons or an egg basket near your chicken supplies in case your sitter forgets to bring one from home for the eggs.
We have been away a few times and I can honestly say that the flock does very well with a little preparation. Typically our chicken sitter is my Mother. She is the only one who has gorgeous blond hair and the chickens, I believe, have come to recognize her for it. The chickens and she get along very well. Even when she comes over to visit, they perk up and call to her as soon as they see her get out of the car. They know her voice and they expect treats! It is always nice to know that she, the neighbors and friends are there and visit when we are away. The girls are well cared for. Yet, one of the things that I look forward to when we come home is seeing the chickens giddy with excitement. They do remember us! It warms my heart to look into Tilly's eyes and tell her that her chicken Momma has returned, just as promised.
To read more about Tilly, click here.