What do you do with chickens when you go on vacation? It can be a tough decision to leave your backyard chickens unattended for any length of time, and a poultry owner has to find the right balance between how long they can go away and how much their flock needs them. Although there are many factors to consider, the following are some general guidelines:
Chickens can be left alone for a maximum of three days as long as they have sufficient food and water and a safe, spacious living area. For longer periods, they need a caretaker to check on their well-being and tend to their needs.
In this article, we will discuss the different factors that affect how long you can leave your chickens alone and provide some solutions on how to go on a vacation or business trip. I will also provide solutions for what you can do if you need to go away for a longer time without hiring a chicken sitter.
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Can You Leave Chickens Alone for a Few Days?
Chickens can generally be left alone for up to three days, provided you do some basic preparations, and far most chicken keepers can easily leave their birds for two days. This will rarely cause problems, and the animals will be fine.
You may ask if four or five days would also be doable, and there really is no hard-set limit, but it depends on how their living spaces are set up and how well you have prepared. If your chicken run can provide all of their basic needs, then there is no need to worry about leaving your birds for a few more days.
The six questions you should ask yourself when determining how long your chickens can be left alone are:
- Do they have access to outdoor spaces while you are gone? Happy chickens need to be able to go outside for at least a few hours each day. Read How Long Can You Leave Chickens in the Coop? for an in-depth discussion on keeping chickens in the coop for extended periods.
- How much space do they have? Many chicken keepers only have a small run because they usually let the birds out in the yard during the day. This is often a great solution if you are at home most of the time. But if you leave home for more than a day, they will need much more space inside the run to avoid overcrowding and aggression.
- How long will their food and water last? Do you have a large feeder and waterer with a small number of birds? Then they might do fine for several days. But if you have many chickens or a small feeder, they will run out much sooner.
- Are they safe from predators? Will they be safe in the enclosure while you are gone?
- Will you or someone else know if they get injured or sick? Sometimes a chicken gets injured, and if you are unlucky it could happen while you are gone. If so, will you or someone else be able to check on them and provide the necessary care?
- How many eggs will they lay while you are gone? Too many eggs on your nesting boxes can result in damaged eggs, which may cause your flock to start eating eggs.
How to Prepare for Leaving Your Chickens
Keeping these questions in mind, let’s look at how to ensure your chicken’s needs are met while you’re gone:
1. Make Sure they Have Enough Space
The run should not be too small. According to Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards, each chicken needs at least 4 square feet of outdoor space and 1.8 square feet in the coop. The minimum size of the run should be 18 x 10 feet.
Note, that these standards are based on the assumption that there is a keeper to look out for the birds. If no one is around to do so, a larger area is necessary. I recommend about 10 square feet per bird.
If you currently have a small run, this will require some preparations well in advance. It takes a while to expand a chicken run, but the effort is well worth it.
2. Ensure Plenty of Water and Feed
If you’re leaving the chickens for a few days, make sure they have more than enough water and food. That includes calcium and grit.
Chickens eat on average 4.5 oz of feed per day, but that varies depending on breed and age. If your flock usually has access to forage, you may have noticed a much lower feed consumption than that. However, their intake will likely be much higher when you are keeping them contained in the run all day.
Note that chickens can not be overfed. They will stop eating when they are full, so you may as well fill a large feeder to the brim. Consider using automatic chicken feeders. This will keep rats and other critters from getting into the food. It’s always important to prevent rat infestations, but especially so when you are away.
Also, buy a large waterer to ensure your flock has enough water while you are away. In the summer, a thirsty chicken can drink 0.3 gallons per day or more. In moderate temperatures, they will usually drink about 0.1 gallons each. I recommend you keep track of how much water your chickens drink in various weather conditions; this will help you gauge how much water they need. Place a heavy object on top of the waterer to keep it from being knocked over.
3. Clean the Chicken Coop
Before you leave, it’s a good idea to clean the coop. Here are some of the main things you’ll want to do:
- Clean up droppings from the floor and nest boxes.
- Remove any old or molding food and replace it with fresh food.
- Add lots of fresh bedding to the nesting boxes.
- Clean and sanitize the waterers so that the water will stay clean without mold and bacteria growth.
- Scoop out any droppings from the nesting boxes.
- Check that they have a dry place where they can dust bathe.
You may also want to take a shovel and clear out the run of droppings and other waste that has accumulated. Additionally, turn the soil with a garden fork. Oftentimes in a chicken run, the ground gets stamped very hard, and by loosening the dirt, your chickens will be able to scratch for worms and entertain themselves while you are away.
4. Ensure the Run and Coop Are Secure
Your run and coop should be secure from predators that are looking to harm your chickens. For instance, if you live in an area where coyotes or hawks are a problem, you should add hardware cloth on all sides (including the roof and a few inches below the ground). Consider installing electric wire on the outside of the run to keep the more determined predators out.
The coop should also be secure with proper locks or latches that are not too easy to open. And take a walk around the perimeter to check If there are any holes or cracks where a predator may be able to get inside.
If the run is not entirely predator-proof, you can install an automatic coop door. This way, they can sleep safely inside the coop at night. Just make sure that they have already learned to return home in the evening. Of course, this will not protect them against attacks during the day, so you should still take some precautions to protect them from predators.
5. Have Someone Check in on Your Chickens
If you are leaving them for more than a few days, consider arranging with someone else to care for them while you’re gone. Their responsibility would be to:
- Visually check that your chickens continue to look healthy and in good shape.
- Collect eggs: if too many eggs accumulate, they may break and lead to the terrible habit of egg-eating among your chickens.
- Ensure that there is food and water
- If you are gone for a longer period, they will also have to clean out the chicken coop.
Make the job as easy for them as possible: fill up enough water and feed that they don’t need to refill unless the feeder or waterer has tipped over.
You could ask neighbors or family members if they would be willing to take care of your chickens during your absence. In exchange, they can take all the eggs they want.
If this is not an option, consider hiring a chicken sitter. It may cost you a bit of money, but it will save you time and worry. Perhaps a teenager or child in your neighborhood would be happy to check on your girls once a day or every second day in exchange for eggs and some spending money.
You want someone trustworthy, but they do not need to know a lot about chickens. Just make sure they have access to the coop. Here is what to do when introducing the sitter to your chickens:
- Show them how to access the coop and where to collect eggs
- Show them where the food and water is and how to refill it
- Remember to give them your phone number. Consider writing it on a laminated piece of paper near the chicken coop. Remind them to call you if they have questions or in case of an emergency.
How to Leave Your Chickens Alone for a Week or Longer
If you are planning a long trip, it is necessary to plan for how best to care for your chickens while you are away.
The most reliable solution is to find a trustworthy caretaker and teach them how to do all of your chores, including cleaning the coop. Also, tell them where to buy more feed or make sure there is more than enough on hand.
1. Set up Cameras
If you don’t know anyone to ask, or if they are not available at the time, one other solution is to set up security cameras that cover all of the chicken run and coop, including feeders and waterers. This way, you can make sure they are not being attacked, and you can check on their health and behavior.
2. Use Large Feeders and Waterers
Most chicken feeders do not hold more than 15 pounds of food, which is enough for ten chickens for about five days. This feeder can hold up to 65 pounds, but if you want to feed a lot of chickens for a longer period, you can build one yourself from a large garbage can. Most waterers hold less than five gallons of water, so you may also want to build a large waterer out of a barrel.
3. Install Roll-away Nesting Boxes
Roll-away nesting boxes have a sloped bottom that makes the eggs roll out of the nest and into a compartment where the chickens can’t get to them. This will prevent egg-eating while you are gone.
Most smaller roll-away boxes only have space for a few eggs, and considering most chickens prefer the same box, it will get packed quickly. Instead, build or buy a large model, like this one, with space for lots of eggs. Unless the weather is unusually hot, the eggs should last at least three weeks in the coop.
4. Clean the Area Throughout
Take the time to clean and disinfect the coop and run completely before you leave. This can take a while, but it is worth the time for how much healthier your chickens will be while you are gone.
These few preparations will take care of most day-to-day essentials. However, unless you are able to return home at a short notice, you will still need a contact person who can come to your house if something goes wrong. So make sure you have an emergency contact who will be available to take care of your flock if needed. If all goes well, you will not require their help, but they will be invaluable in case of an emergency.
What if You Have to Leave for a Very Long Time?
If you plan on staying away longer than six weeks, then it’s best to give up chicken keeping for a while. Consider selling them or giving them away. It’s much easier for you, and you can always get new chickens.
Alternatively, you can move them to someone else’s property while you are gone. A friend or local chicken keeper may be willing to take care of your flock for a few months or more.