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Caring for chickens on your weekend away

Posted by Justin at Dine A Chook NZ on

Living in New Zealand with a backyard flock of chickens doesn't mean you are chained to the house for the rest of your days. Yes, you can still go on a trip. But there have to be some things planned before you go. Our Top 5 tips can be your go-to guide to make sure you think of everything when it comes to Caring for chickens on your weekend away.

How Long are you going?

  • 1 - 2 days your chickens can be accommodated for
  • 3 or more days and you will need a pet or chicken sitter.

What do my chickens need while I am away?

1 - 2 nights away your chickens will need:

  • A feeder or feeders which can hold enough feed for up to 120 - 150g per bird per day
  • A chicken drinker or multiple drinkers which can supply a minimum of 500ml per bird per day
  • Shade
  • Predator protection
  • Protection from extreme weather

If you can provide enough food, water and also weather protection, your chickens can be perfectly fine locked in their coop. However, it is important to remember:

  • Confined space causes irritation as well as boredom. Imagine being locked in a small area, eventually, someone will snap. It is the same with Chickens and Hens. So ensure there is adequate space so they can move around.
  • Chickens should never be left alone in extreme weather. There are two threats to chickens in New Zealand from severe weather. Heat Waves and also Extreme Cold.
  • The longer you're gone, the more critical it is to have someone checking on your birds, even if it is only a quick look over the fence.

These are some of the things to consider when you think of Caring for Chickens when you go away.

Do I need a chicken-sitter?

So can you leave your chooks without supervision? You need a chicken sitter if:

  • You will be away for more than 3-5 days
  • High temperatures or severe storms predicted
  • Extreme cold weather is forecasted
  • Your drinker doesn’t hold enough water
  • Your feeder doesn’t contain enough feed
  • You have an egg-eating chicken
  • Your coop is too small for your chickens to stay in there 24/7 and you don’t have an automatic door or secure run (with high fences and preferably a roof)
  • Your coop isn't shady
  • You have pest or predator problems

If you do need a pet sitter, remember that chickens are not like dogs or cats. The most attention they will need, even if you are away for a few weeks, is a quick morning and also evening visit. And chickens are even kind enough to provide their payment for pet sitting, in the form of lovely, fresh eggs.

Wind and Shade protection for your chickens

Chickens and Extreme weather

Extreme weather can kill chickens. It is that simple. So if you are planning a day or more away and there is severe weather predicted you would need a pet sitter. New Zealand weather can change quickly. These are things to consider for your chickens to help them survive without being in your bed.

Heatwaves and Hot weather

  • If using refillable Chicken Drinkers then ensure you instal them in a shaded position
  • Insulate the chicken coop roof
  • Partly roof the chicken pen and where possible insulate
  • Consider installing a Dine A Chook Mains pressure or Drum Drinker for larger flocks
  • Heat affected birds may be assisted using electrolyte solutions available for chickens.

Extreme Cold and Freezing Winds

Having lived on the South Island during a minus 19-degree winter, the cold in Central Otago can rewrite the very definition of cold. Thanks to their feathers and huddling together, chickens are much better at surviving cold events than hot ones. But here are some tips to help them through.

  • Ensure your pet sitter changes the water in a Chicken drinker or Waterer Drum each morning and night as it may freeze.
  • Eliminate coop drafts and breezes by insulating
  • Use timber perches
  • Provide additional feed
  • Consider heat lamps in the chicken coop if we are talking NZ extreme cold.
  • If the coop is too drafty, you should try to insulate the walls of the chicken coop.

How to look after your chickens while you're away in 5 steps

By following these guidelines, you can Caring for chickens on your weekend away and know that your chickens will be perfectly fine.

1. Water

Water is always the biggest concern. Dehydration can happen quickly in the hot New Zealand summer. Even when you are at home dehydration is a risk in high temperatures. At a minimum, birds should have access to 500ml of clean, fresh water per day. In hot weather, closer to a litre may be needed. Whichever Chicken waterer option you use, ensure there is adequate water at all times. Remember Cold winds and extreme cold weather also can lead to dehydration.

Open Drinking Containers

Avoid using open containers as a waterer for Chickens. They can cross-contaminate drinking water with chicken faeces. Also, they can topple over leaving the hens with no water.

Chicken Drinkers

Our chicken drinkers come in a variety of sizes. Just make sure you have enough water to last an extra day. If not then you should have an additional drinker. You can make a large drinker using Dine A Chook DIY parts and a 40-gallon drum. Our 20 Litre Drum Drinker contains enough water to keep ten birds happy for four days (at 500 ml/day each).

Automatic Mains Pressure Drinkers

If you have a garden hose or tap in your chicken coop, you may want to invest in an automatic drinker. Once it is set up, your birds will have clean, fresh water, straight from the tap. Also, you will never have to worry about dehydration again.

Because hydration is critical to Laying Hens, having access to water from a Chicken Waterer is top on our list of Caring for Chickens when you go away.

2. Security

Chickens should not be left unlocked at night. Even if you have never had signs of a predator, they are simply defenceless if left open. If you have time to plan before you go away, consider the points in our article on Protecting your chickens from Predators.

One solution to the security issue is an automatic chicken coop door, also known as an auto door. These generally are run by battery or solar. For more information on these, we suggest you make contact with your local Chicken Breeder or Farming Supplier. 

3. Feed

Ensure chickens have access to 120g - 150g of feed per bird, per day. Entirely equip your chicken coop before your holiday with Professional Dine A Chook NZ Chicken Feeder and Drinker Kits

4. Amusement

Cooped up chickens are physically okay, but they get bored. And boredom = trouble. They might not rip up your cushions or chew your shoes, but chickens will pick on and peck each other. It may only be a few days, but providing your chickens with some amusement while you’re gone can help if they’re not going to be able to free-range.

You could consider:

  • Hanging a whole cabbage or iceberg lettuce from the roof, like a cool chicken piñata
  • Whole sunflower heads, cobs of corn and big bunches of weeds, seed heads or greens make great piñatas too!
  • Making an old drink bottle into a chicken toy – these toys can roll around on the ground or be hung up
  • Repurposing dog toys for chickens
  • Throwing in a couple of really stale bread rolls – if they’re hard enough, the rolls will give your birds something to peck at for days
  • Adding a big pile of garden waste (hopefully with some bugs) for birds to forage through
  • Buying or making a chicken swing
  • Hanging old CDs on strings
  • Adding a small, plastic ball (obviously not one they can pop) to kick around
  • Forming a seed block for them to peck at
  • Stuffing bones, hollow logs or even lengths of pipe with something tasty

And if you have enough room, making sure birds have a good-sized dust bath will also amuse – a kid’s paddling pool (the hard plastic kind) filled with sand is perfect.

5. A clean environment

An extra couple layers of bedding on the chicken coop floor is also a great addition if you are going to be away. It keeps the coop that little bit cleaner, and gives your birds yet another thing to peck at that isn’t each other.

Rest easy on your holiday

Any chicken keeper knows that things don't always go as planned. Caring for chickens on your weekend away doesn't have to be a major problem. A little planning as well as considering the important things will allow you more time to enjoy yourself.

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