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.