Whether rushing your prize hen to the vet or moving your flock to a new area, humane traveling is the key. Here are some tips to help make sure that your chickens remain as calm and safe as possible during transport.
One of the most common causes of poultry stress is transportation. This stress can cause chickens to produce fewer eggs and show multiple health issues. These issues can include weight loss, suppression of the immune system and a higher susceptibility to diseases.
Often there will be a need for transporting your chickens from one place to another. Doing everything you can to minimize sickness or in extreme cases, death is going to be very important. Here are some tips to ensure your chickens remain safe and healthy and to keep their stress levels as low as possible.
1. Give them something solid to stand on
Chickens hate having their feet off the solid ground, so make sure whatever you put them in has a solid bottom. Options for this are a cardboard box that closes, or a pet kennel or any other container that has a solid floor. Something you feel comfortable throwing away is probably your best option, however.
If you’re doing a short drive then something like a cardboard box with air holes will work, but for longer distances, we recommend using the Rite Farm Poultry Transport. You can also use a wire dog crate if one is available. Most of these are low-cost solutions that will be reused several times so they are worth purchasing.
A medium crate should be able to hold two full-sized hens and should stack in a truck or SUV nicely. Make sure you have hanging feeders if you’re going to be taking a longer trip. Add a thick layer of straw (around 3-4 inches) to keep everyone from sliding around.
When we transport our chickens, we usually bring along treats to toss into the cage each time we stop. They enjoy things like dried grubs, veggies and mealworms. Our flock particularly enjoys the FlyGrubs brands of dried mealworms.
2. Keep it dark
Chickens go into almost a sleep-like state in the dark. By closing the box or throwing a blanket over the top of a dog kennel, you will keep them much calmer. You’ll want to check to make sure they are getting enough air, but also check the air holes to ensure that there won’t be much light coming through. The darker you can make the crate, while still maintaining good airflow, the lower their stress level will be.
3. Do you want to keep it?
If you are using a box you will want to keep, consider putting shavings down to make clean up easier. If you put a nice layer of shavings in a cat or dog carrier for them to stand on, then all you have to do is dump the shavings and wipe the carrier out, rather than having to do a full on cleaning- as long as the birds are healthy.
4. Smooth and Quiet Driving
When you’re planning the route to your destination, try to avoid loud areas. This could include highways with a lot of traffic, construction, or other impediments. Avoiding roads with lots of potholes or uneven gravel is best if possible. The less bumpy and uneven the drive is, the better for your flock’s stress levels.
When you’re loading everything up, it could help to do some minimal soundproofing as well. Place the crates or containers that your chickens will be in, on sound-absorbent materials like blankets, rubber mats or packing foam. This will further reduce the anxiety causing elements that come with transporting your animals.
5. They have to breathe
One recommendation that I have seen is purchasing office file boxes from an office supply store. They will hold two or three chickens depending on size and have handles that can be popped in to make air holes. You MUST have air holes. You cannot put chickens into a box and then simply throw them in the car and go. The box MUST have a way for them to keep breathing.
6. Packing them up
Only put as many chickens in a box as can fit comfortably and still have room to move. This is dependent on how many chickens you have and what size they are but is generally between three and five chickens to a box. If you throw a blanket on them they won’t move quite as much, but anyone who has been packed into a bus, train or airplane knows that the best way to travel is with a little space between you and the other passengers.
It may also be a good idea to match your chickens together by temperament. If you have chickens that are more sociable, it might be a good idea to pair them together, while keeping the more stubborn or unsociable chickens alone or paired with a chicken they generally get along with.
Reaching Your Destination
You’ve made it to your destination successfully. When chickens are in a new environment, they can be a bit hesitant or cautious. This is perfectly normal and they will become familiar with their surroundings soon enough. We suggest keeping your flock confined to a small area for the first day or two. This will keep them safe from any new and unknown threats in the area and give them time to get used to things.
If possible it’s best to have their new coop or home built and ready for them upon arrival. Have fresh food and water ready so they can accumulate smoothly and quickly. If their new home is not ready yet, make sure to have something ready for them to sleep in until their permanent home is ready. You can move them back into their transport crates or boxes temporarily.
Be sure to keep an eye out for signs of stress that can sometimes show after a big move. If you notice things like soft-shelled eggs, pecking within the flock, pale combs, lifting of wings, lethargy, or other signs, be sure to take action right away.
Hopefully, your chicken transportation goes smoothly and you will be even more prepared for the next time. Good luck!
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