Going on Vacation? Caring for Poultry While You’re Away

Reader Contribution by Corinne Gompf and Heritage Harvest Farm
article image

A reader of my blog asks: How can you have backyard chickens when you are gone? We go to Norway to visit my family for about 2 weeks every year. Is there someway to deal with that?

Let me just tell you how wonderful it must be to be able to travel to Norway every year. I am so jealous! My passport is a long-lost relic of my traveling days after I graduated high school. I was able to visit Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona when I was 18, and I wish I had more time to travel now that my children are a little older.

Reader, I hope that your jet-setting ways haven’t discouraged you from getting chickens because it is possible to have backyard birds and have the ability to adventure away from the homestead.

Feeders and Waterers

If you are planning a short trip, a weekender, perhaps, then your poutry should be fine with a large-volume feeder and waterer. I do not recommend these for everyday use, but they work perfectly for those times when you are unable to do daily chores.

I Googled high-capacity poultry feeders, and a ton of ideas popped up that are inexpensive, so you don’t have to spend a fortune before you even leave your property. My father-in-law cut four-inch-diameter holes in an old plastic shopvac canister and made a wooden lid for us a few years ago, and it worked great to feed our layers.

For water, you could purchase a few more waterers (which is good to have on hand anyway because these will freeze tight over the winter, and it’s good to have extra to rotate while they thaw inside). Or, my husband bought poultry waterer nipples and drilled holes in a five-gallon bucket to hang in the coop. These are nice because it keeps the water clean and prevents tip-over when your birds get a little flighty.

Now, I do not recommend a large-volume feeder for regular use because you need to feed your chickens only what they will eat in a day. Leftover grain is a magnet for rodents, and you will likely have a problem with mice or wild birds eating your chicken feed. It might not seem like a big deal to see wild birds eating feed, but migratory birds can spread avian flu and potentially infect your flock through fecal contamination.

Call In for Back Up

Here’s a tip that not too many consider if you’re going to be gone for more than a few days: If you live in or close to a rural area, your local high school may have an agriculture teacher. A quick phone call to your local ag teacher or county extension agent can help put you in contact with a responsible, experienced teenager who is more than happy to care for your chickens while you are away, especially if you’re willing to pay a little something for his or her service.

I should know a little something about this because I’m married to an ag teacher, and Matt gets calls all the time from people in our community who need help baling hay or unloading wagons. In a few texts, he can contact students he knows that can handle the task and get you the help you need so you can be rest assured that your poultry will be well-cared-for.

And, it is a good idea to have someone collect eggs every day because there is a likelihood of broken eggs as the nesting boxes get full. Broken eggs left in boxes is attractive to chickens, and they will eat their own eggs. This is NOT a habit you want to encourage in your flock. Once an egg is broken and eaten, the hens may then purposefully break and eat the rest of the eggs in the box. And if they start doing that, it is very hard to get them to stop. Your supply of eggs diminishes, and you’re wasting money feeding chickens that are eating what they’re producing.

If you are concerned about the eggs, know that they do not have to be washed and refrigerated every day. An unwashed egg can be safely kept in a cool, dry place. It is when eggs are washed, removing the natural protective coating, that they must be refrigerated. Have your student caretaker collect the eggs and keep in a designated spot, or let him or her take them as part of the pay.

These students are extremely experienced with livestock and are a great resource for any community. Getting to know your local ag teacher and county extension agent is vital for when problems arise and you have questions about your backyard birds. They can steer you in the right direction to get you all the information and help you need.

I hope this helps ease your mind when it comes to vacationing and poultry keeping. If you, or any readers, have more questions, please leave a comment below or message me on my Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page. Enjoy your trip!

Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.