Today we are going to look at a few of the problems and issues that can come with caring for chickens.
Of course, these issues don’t arise solely for chickens, but for any livestock you are caring for- even pets.
Your animals and birds rely on you to feed, water and house them so it’s impossible to just ‘drop the ball’ and ignore their welfare.
However sometimes emergencies arise and you need to make sure you can deal with them.
Today’s article will share with you how to deal with a variety of problems from small to large and how to create a backup plan for your chickens.
It may also help you with disaster planning and preparation for you and your family.
Have you ever considered what happens to your birds in the event of an emergency?
We should all think about this at some point, preferably before it happens!
Do you have relatives or friends that would care for your birds? Do they know how?
If you have someone that can help you, make sure you have a written daily agenda they can refer to for guidance. Leave them with emergency contacts too, just in case.
What if there is no-one that can help you? Keep a list of people and organizations that may be able to help. Some rescue organizations can find a volunteer that could help you. This is usually in consideration of a donation to their cause.
Since we can never predict when such an emergency might happen, it is wise to scout around for potential helpers way in advance of the event- just in case.
Some people network with others on Facebook chicken groups and find help that way. There are even people who advertise themselves as chicken sitters!
Injury and Sickness (You not the Chickens!)
It happens to us all eventually. It happened to me last year. A short hospital stay followed by lifting/mobility restrictions, it was incredibly frustrating! Without my partner taking over ‘chicken chores’ I likely would have had to reduce or sell my flock.
What would happen to your flock if you were in hospital or rehab for several months? Would your family or friends be able help you out?
What would happen if you could no longer do your ‘chicken chores’ because of loss of mobility or ability? These are questions that you need to think about early on in your chicken addiction.
The vast majority of people have someone who could help on a limited basis at least. If you should be unfortunate enough to lose your mobility- don’t give up! There are a huge number of disabled people out there who keep chickens.
They may have had to reduce flock size and make accommodations for wheelchairs but they have been determined and have overcome the obstacles put in front of them.
In The Event of A Catastrophe
The ‘catastrophe’ is only limited because it only applies to you and your birds- it can include things like a barn fire, predator attack and such.
Unfortunately, things such as barn fires or house fires are still relatively common among poultry keepers. During the colder months many people feel their birds need extra warmth and install a heating lamp in the coop, or in spring-time a heating light is used to keep chicks warm.
We have noted before in our blogs that chickens do not need extra heat in the winter.
If you use a heating lamp be sure it is safely secured by at least three methods. I use a metal chain, duct tape and strong twine to secure it in place for chicks. I have recently started using a brooder plate which is much safer and easy to use. The chicks like it too!
Is your coop safe from predators? Remember that a determined predator can chew through chicken wire. Use hardware cloth to be secure and keep your birds safe.
Although nothing will replace your flock members, do you have insurance? We may look upon our hens as a hobby, but they cost money to replace.
Running Out of Feed
Most people buy enough feed to last their flock a couple of weeks or so, but sometimes situations arise that prevent you from topping up.
If it’s just for a day or so, chickens can exist on a variety of other foods. It’s not ideal, but a couple of days really won’t harm them- it might however stop them laying eggs.
If your own food supply contains oats, corn etc. chickens will happily fill up on these.
They love a bowl of oatmeal! In winter I will give mine oatmeal with a big dollop of plain yoghurt about once a week as a treat, then stand back as they start flinging oatmeal everywhere!
Corn is really not an ideal food for long term- it has very little protein, however the girls love it!
Cat food/dog food is also good in a pinch. It has a lot of protein that the birds need. Make a mash out of dried dog/cat food. Again- short term only.
In the ‘old days’ chickens pretty much fended for themselves, so if your girls can free range they will likely find all sorts of goodies to eat. Chickens are omnivorous, so it’s not hard to feed them. Bread, fruits, leftover meats (e.g. chicken or turkey carcass), greens etc. will all help to fill up your ladies.
Just make sure not to give your birds certain treats as they are poisonous and detrimental to their health.
Also, occasionally the specific brand of feed you use stops producing feed or changes their recipe. In this case buy the nearest you can get to their regular formula.
All feeds contain minerals and vitamins. The ingredients that usually change in concentration are protein, fat and fiber content. These changes will not make an appreciable difference over a short period of time.
Depending on where you live, there are a variety of ‘natural disasters’ that can happen in your area- wild fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding and ice storms to name a few.
Without any doubt, this is something you must think about before it happens. Preparation for such an event will improve your chances of saving your flock from harm, not to mention your family!
Several of the local agricultural extension sites have disaster planning pages for both livestock and people. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has several informative pages on disaster preparedness.
In preparation for such an event you must think of how you are going to move your flock and to where are they going?
Plastic transport cages for ten birds can be bought for around $50 and can be re-used many times over.
Where are you going? You should have a disaster plan in place ready to roll out for your family, pets and livestock.
Perhaps you can take your birds to a friend or relatives for safety. Occasionally, a local farmer will help you out, but if the disaster is widespread, they may be worried about their livestock too.
The local extension office may have a plan already in place- you will need to know this in advance.
If you are advised to ‘stay put’ during the crisis, you should be aware of the possible disruption of many essential services as outlined here:
- Electricity- have you got a generator? Fuel?
- Water- your hens will need access to safe, clean water.
- Food- you and your flock need to eat!
These are but a few of the services that may be impacted over an unknown period of time.
While it would be nice to be able to predict the predator landscape over the years, the truth is, new predators migrate and move into ideal locations based on things like prey volume, climate changes, and other changes to their typical stomping grounds.
If you are suddenly faced with a new type of predator in your area, you must be able to pivot your predator-proofing plans to ensure your chooks remain safe.
New owls in the area? Make sure you have aviary netting available to cover any gaps in the roof of the coop or run.
More foxes present? Know what to do to keep keen predators, who hunt by digging, out of your chicken coop.
(hint: it usually involves burying fencing below the ground so predators become discouraged and give up.)
Are you prepared for a new neighbor dog?
Not all pups know not to mess with your chickens, so what would you do if a new neighbor dog, or stray, started preying on your flock?
Consider the conversations you will have with your neighbor to keep things neighborly.
As with many things in life, things occur unexpectedly. By having a plan in place you are saving yourself precious time and money should such an eventuality happen.
Most of the smaller mishaps require nothing more than a quick adjustment to your routines. However, major disasters require much more forethought.
You and your flock may be one of several hundred people who need assistance, by being better prepared your chances of weathering the storm are greatly improved.
Let us know in the comments below what safety plans you have for your chickens!