Leaving the Hens Home Alone

Sometimes I leave home. On Wednesday my husband, son and I took the train to New York City. We left at 7:30 am and were back home at 9:30 pm. In that short amount of time, we were somewhere totally different than our small, quiet town. I wrote about simplicity in my last blogpost. This is not.

The world, from the top of the Empire State Building, is exciting, invigorating, and BIG. I love it.

But, when you have animals, even easy-to-care for ones like hens, you can’t just travel on a whim. Can you leave them for a day? For a weekend? For a week?

If you are going on a day trip, do the morning chores and make sure that the waterer is filled and you’ve latched the gates. The only thing to worry about is predators. Hopefully, your pen is secure against daytime hunters. When night comes, and you’re away, there’s always the risk that someone hungry will get into the open coop, so it’s best to have the chickens locked in safe. Lots of people I know use an automatic door closer, that shuts the coop up after the hens have gone to roost. I can’t use it, as I never know where Candy will be, and I don’t want her inadvertently closed up in the coop all night. Nor do I want her hopping about outside in the pen. Especially in the winter, I want her in her hutch, cozily sleeping in her bed of hay, protected in her sturdy house from anyone who might want to eat her. In the summer, when it doesn’t get dark until quite late, coming home late from a day trip isn’t an issue. But in the winter, when night falls by 5 pm, I do worry about predators coming by before I get back. If you have only hens, you balance the risks. One option is to keep the chickens inside all day, or you could take your (minimal) chances and close them up when you get home late. That’s what I would have done, but since the trip to NYC was 14 hours, I had to hire a pet sitter for the dogs, anyway. Luckily, Luisa, who’s been caring for my varied menagerie for over a decade, will come and feed and let the dogs out, get them back in, close up the hens, give Candy her nighttime banana chip snack, and convince the goats to get into their stall (not easy!) If you have only hens it’s so much simpler!

That automatic door closer will also open up to let the hens out in the morning, which is great if you’re going away for the weekend. If you have a big waterer and feeder there will be plenty for the hens on the second day.

But, after that, I would make sure that someone comes by to check on your chickens. So much can go wrong. Chickens can survive for many days without food, but without water they can die within 48 hours. Always, when thinking through what your animals need in your absence, imagine the worst. The waterer will fall over. An animal will get injured. A coyote will come skulking by. In the summer, the temperature could soar and your animals get heat stroke, in the winter the door could stick shut with ice. In the winter, too, if it’s very cold, you’ll need either a heated base for the waterer, or someone to bring water to the hens three times during the day.

Besides, there will be eggs in the nesting boxes. In the winter they’ll freeze, in the summer they’ll go bad in the heat. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend willing to stop by your coop and collect the eggs as payment for checking in.

We’re taking another trip at the end of the month. This one entails a long flight on an airplane and a hotel stay. We’re going to a joyful wedding. I’ve already arranged with Luisa to take care of the animals. I know she can handle it. One year Lily made Luisa’s routine afternoon visit anything but. Lily discovered the rotten pumpkins that I’d tossed into the woods months before, when they were even too mushy to feed to the hens. Who knew that when frozen that Lily would think them edible? And then throw up all over the house. Luisa got paid extra to care for that mess. (We still had to hire a professional cleaner to finish the job.) Then there was the year that we went away and a foot of snow fell the next day. Luisa shoveled her way to the barn. Luisa was also here to care for Coco when she was ill, and when Lily had a bandage on her foot and needed medicine. I’m hoping we won’t have anything dramatic happen while we’re at the wedding, but I can go because I have competent care lined up. This year there are no pumpkins in the woods. I think that Lily will stay out of trouble.


  1. They all know when Mommy and their family are gone. Activities and things they would never do while your home, they dream up and act upon when we leave. Most for us have been funny and enlightening but others have been tearful. We’re lucky in that David and the boys built a coop of Fort Knox with hard wire fencing that encompasses the coop and down eight inches underground. We also have a neighbor whom enjoys and loves our girls just as much as we do and will pick up the care needs when we are away.

  2. Terry, I find it emotional today, of all days, that you happen to write about what “might” happen while you are gone. Yesterday, one of my hens was eaten by a hawk. When we noticed that not all of my girls were in the coop at nightfall, my husband and I went looking. We found her remains very close to the coop. I do let my hens out during the day and had taken pride in the fact that nothing was bothering them until, of course, yesterday. I was only gone a few hours. My heart hurts. It was the Queen of my ladies. I feel silly even saying I’m emotional but I am. I found the hawk today just waiting for another option, but decided it is probably best to leave them in the run and let them out when I can be right there. I know you do the same.

    • Not silly to be emotional at all. It’s always a question of balancing protectiveness with the health and mental benefits of allowing them to get out. I have a friend who was in the backyard and could do nothing as a hawk swooped in and got a bird. I do try to be outside when my birds are out, but sometimes I go in for a few minutes. Sorry for your loss!

  3. I have learned to pull up a chair and a glass of wine while I let the girls out…I have lost too many to a coyote lurking or a hawk. I try to do it just a couple hours before sunset so I am not sitting out there too long. Somestimes I go in just long enough to check dinner or refill my glass. I remember one very nice July 4th, we popped next door to have some refreshment and when we returned about an hour later a neighbor’s dogs had killed my entire flock. Just mangled them and left them dead. I was sick about it and the ONLY time I EVER called animal control. Learned my lesson the hard way. Sorry for your loss, Lori.

    • That’s a nice image of sitting outside and drinking wine… but you are in Southern California! It was cold today. Perhaps I need to imbibe hot rum toddies? :)
      BTW, pet dogs are the worst. I just put in a fence along the street side of my house to keep them (and their clueless owners ) out.

  4. Wish I had known you were coming- I’da baked a cake. Love your blog and watching the goings on in your neck of the woods.

  5. We just had a night away last night and I fretted over the girls ALOT! I heated a Snugglesafe and put it under the drinker so it wouldnt freeze overnight. All looked good when we got home this morning. Their door was left open all night but husband built a weldmesh run with paving slabs all the way round in case of foxes.
    They wanted treats and a run round the lawn this afternoon – plus left a present of 5 eggs :o)

  6. Glad the hens and animals took your trip okay. And that you had a nice trip to New York City. I have always wanted to go to the Empire State Building and know acourse visit the WTC memorial. Did you get a chance to see it as well ?

  7. I did a similar train trip to NYC years ago as an Amtrak ‘fam’ trip. I spent the afternoon walking up 5th Ave. looking at the fantastic store windows. As the train rolled back to Boston, I was struck by the scenes in the various cars. Most were darkened and quiet, a few reading lights here and there. Our car, tacked on at the end just for us, was brightly lit, everybody telling new acquaintances how they had spent their afternoon, and the overhead racks filled with colorful shopping bags! Good time was had by all.

  8. I always board my dogs when I go on a trip. I just rest easier.
    I have a great chicken sitter too, PRICELESS.

  9. i have an animal sitter who takes care of them whene we go on trips but i still cant help but to worry about them. but my bunny likes to take trips so he normally goes with me (he is spoiled)

    merry christmas