Somehow we became those people. Those crazy people who you see on the road hauling weird animals along on their trip. And now I’m admitting it for the benefit of any other crazy people who might be looking for the best way to do it.
This summer, 2 adults, 2 kids, 1 dog . . . and 6 chickens made the trip to Missouri. Really, it all makes sense because we were going to be gone for 5 weeks. And that’s a long time to pay someone to make twice daily trips to your house to take care of chickens. And my parents have a barn with a vacant chicken pen on their land. And they offered to watch them for us when we took our other trip out to Colorado. For free.
So you see, it was quite reasonable (while also utterly ridiculous) to bring the girls along on our family vacation this year. The only hurdle was getting them there and back.
I was determined to find the absolute best way to do this. So I researched and researched and realized that there’s just not much information on the best way to travel with chickens. I know, surprising, huh? Almost every discussion board I came across about traveling with them involved the relatively short ride home from the farm you buy them from. Not a two-day road trip. There and back.
Mainly I was focused on the ‘getting there’ part of the trip. I didn’t put as much thought in the ‘getting back’ side of things because 5 weeks feels like a long time to not have to worry about logistics. I ended up handling both trips in very different ways.
I’m going to tell you first about the ‘getting there’ part so you can learn from my massive mistakes.
I used 2 dog kennels to transport the 6 chickens. The three big, full-grown girls got the taller kennel and the three half-grown chicks got the smaller kennel. They still weren’t getting along great so it was imperative to keep them separate. And you definitely want to keep the numbers down per cage. You don’t want to overcrowd them and have someone get hurt.
The day of our trip, we weren’t going to leave until my husband got off work in the late afternoon. I was going to leave them all in their enclosed runs for the day so we could easily catch them to put in the kennels but Fly Guy convinced me that they should have one last day of freedom before being penned up for the road trip. (He knows I’m soft-hearted and can convince me using these arguments.) Please picture the frustration and hilariousness that ensued as we had finally gotten ourselves packed and then had to head to the backyard to round-up the girls. Four of them were easy to lure with treats and snatch up but we have two that are a little more . . . wild. Or wily. I was beginning to believe they were evil geniuses after we chased them around the yard for 30 minutes. In fact, at one point, my husband and I were fed up by the situation and had our 8-yr old just run the worst one around the yard to wear her down. Matilda’s an incredibly fast runner and is almost impossible to catch unless she gets tired and gives up. After about 45 minutes, we had all the chickens snug in their kennels and were ready to go. FAIL #1 – keep the chickens in an enclosed area the day of the trip to make catching them easier when it’s time to go!
I had two thoughts on the type of bedding to put in the kennels: old towels or pine shavings. I decided to go with the old towels to help give the girls more grip so they wouldn’t slide around as much. Also, I thought they’d be neater since pine shavings tend to go everywhere. FAIL #2 – I learned the hard way that the towels were an awful choice. They ended up getting pushed aside and not really helping with anything whatsoever.
I cut apples in half for the chickens to peck at for food on the trip. I replaced them with more fruit the second day of the trip. This worked out really well and was one of my only successes on this first trip.
We were taking our travel trailer up to Missouri to park on my parent’s land and live out of for this trip. I thought it was the perfect solution for bringing the chickens in because then they wouldn’t be bothered by us and we wouldn’t be bothered by the smell. We put the kennels into the bathtub and bungeed them down. The only drawback was that it was almost July, HOT, and we couldn’t run the A/C in the trailer while driving down the road.
My solution was to buy a couple of bags of ice and to wedge them in around the cages to help cool the ambient air around the girls. It worked just fine to cool their area and we bought more the second day to make sure they stayed cool. The main problem with this method was that the bags melted throughout the day and those bags aren’t waterproof! As they melted, they didn’t run down the drain into the holding tank because the plug didn’t stay open in the moving trailer. And I didn’t notice until it was too late. FAIL #3 – if you’re going to use this as a cooling method, make sure to transfer the ice to waterproof baggies first to keep the area dry!! Water mixed with poop is disgusting. Which brings me to . . .
I had read that chickens MUST have access to water at ALL times. I wanted to make this trip as easy for them as possible so I went looking for some portable water bottles. I found the ones for rabbits and small animals that have the small metal ball at the end that keeps the water from leaking out until it’s pushed/pecked at and then they can get a drink. Then I rigged them up to the cages so they’d be accessible to the girls. This is the worst FAIL of them all.
FAIL #4 – whatever you do – DO NOT use these kinds of bottles for water when traveling! Apparently, the trailer vibrated as we were on the road and the little metal ball at the end of the bottle didn’t stay put to block the water. And they leaked all the water from the bottles into the bottoms of the kennels.
If you know anything about chickens, it’s the amount that they’re capable of pooping. Mix that with 32 oz of water and you have a downright sewage problem. So now, instead of the comfortable, dry, resting chickens that I’d envisioned for the trip up, we had 6 miserable, wet, smelly chickens who had to travel in their own filth.
Please don’t call PETA on me yet. It wasn’t the worst until about 2 hours from the end of our second day but I felt absolutely awful about them. There wasn’t much we could do at this point except drive, so we didn’t stop at all because we were pushing hard to just GET THERE and let the girls out.
Still, I was just sure someone was going to get sick or get an infection from the nastiness.
You might be glad to know that as soon as we got there, we commenced Operation Chicken Clean-up. The girls got taken from the kennels one at a time and plopped in a tub of warm soapy water and washed up. They were either still in shock from the two days on the road or they were possibly smart enough to be grateful for the bath because this was an easy process for everyone involved. (A quick thank-you here to my understanding husband and parents.) After a quick towel-off, they were free to roam around their new chicken yard and explore. As happy as they could be.
The upside to all of this, is that the integration process was much easier with all of them a little disoriented and in a new place. We had had the chicks separated from the big girls up to this point but they’d gotten old enough to be able to join the older ones in the same coop at night. I’d heard that there could be problems so we thought the trip might be a good time to make the transition while they were all thrown off just a little. Although Olive and Matilda were enthusiastic about deciding the pecking order at the beginning, they mellowed out after a bit of time and everyone’s doing okay together.
Not a single one got sick either so they’re tougher birds than I had thought. But I was determined to have a better trip on the way back.
Getting Back – Success!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with family on the trip but five weeks is a long time and by the last week, we were itching to get back home. There was a major change though. My husband had had to fly back to Florida a few weeks before and wasn’t there to pull the camper home. It’s a large trailer and I’ve never learned to pull one so we were going to be leaving it in Missouri until a later date. Which meant everything had to fit into my 4Runner.
1 adult, 2 kids, 1 dog, and 6 chickens and a summer’s worth of luggage.
Packing them was much easier since the chicken pen in Missouri is much, much smaller than our yard here in Florida.
Luckily, we have a rooftop cargo thing and I was able to store a ton of our stuff in it to save room in the back. And Heidi, my trusty sidekick rode shotgun next to me. That left enough room to stack (they fit but barely!) our chicken kennels in the back and still have enough storage for their food and sundry other items that we needed. Because the kennels were wedged in so well between the floor and roof and then all the luggage on the side, we didn’t need to worry about strapping them in this time.
Also, since the car is air-conditioned, we didn’t have to worry about the ice for keeping them cool. We did keep the car chillier than normal though since the back tends to get hotter than the front. You might be wondering about the smell? It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It got worse about the last half of the second day on the road as waste accumulated. But we just cracked the back window and it directed the smell out the back and wasn’t really unbearable.
The only thing with the car is that people can see you have chickens in there. Every time I put up the back hatch to water the girls, people would stop and stare.
This time, I went with pine shavings. The towels were such a failure that I figured anything had to be better than that. I made the shavings as deep as I could in the hopes that the poop would make its way to the bottom of the cage – leaving the birds in a cleaner environment. This worked really well and I definitely recommend using pine shavings for your trip. Yes, the girls tended to kick the shavings out of the kennels a bit but it wasn’t too messy at all.
Food and Water
I stuck with the cut fruit and veggies. They got some cucumbers off of my sub sandwich at one point and were very happy girls indeed.
The biggest difference was the water. This time, I did NOT give them water at all times. I gave them dishes of water at the beginning of every stop just like I do with the dog. Then, I emptied out any leftover water before we hit the road again. The result was that their cages stayed dry and they were much more comfortable. They didn’t seem to suffer by not having 24 hour water access either.
To sum it all up:
Bad Ideas Good Ideas
In a hot trailer w/ ice In the back of the car with a/c
Towels for bedding Pine shavings for bedding
Gravity ball water bottle Dish of water at every stop
. Cut fruit for food
So that’s the end of this rather long post about traveling chickens. I hope that I’ve been able to help you out if you’re looking for information about moving or traveling with your chickens. I really hope you can learn from my mistakes and you and your girls can have a better trip just ‘getting there’!
Or that you can get a good laugh at the fact that we took chickens on vacation . . . .