What should you do with your hens when you go on holiday? Anne Perdeaux offers some suggestions

Summer is coming – we hope! Many of us will be looking forward to a holiday, but for those who have recently acquired chickens, there will be a new consideration … what do we do with the hens?

Look at the DEFRA website www.defra.gov.uk. There you’ll find stern warnings about the welfare of poultry, which includes ensuring they are checked daily and have adequate food and water at all times. Those of us who keep a few hens as pets don’t need telling twice – we’d take them with us if we could.

As this is unlikely to be practical, although maybe not impossible, what alternatives are there for ensuring that the girls are properly looked after while we enjoy that well-deserved break?

1. The friendly neighbour

This is the most obvious option, but depends on the friendliness and reliability of the neighbours. Will a regular supply of eggs (plus a few bottles of duty-free) be recompense enough for chicken duty twice a day for a fortnight? Maybe they’ll love to help, but make sure they understand exactly what is involved, how to recognise if anything is wrong, and what to do about it.

2. Take the chickens to family or friends

If you have a small ark with a few chickens, it may be possible to transport it to another garden (take the chickens in a pet or chicken carrier, and if a car journey is involved, be careful they don’t become overheated). If the family/friends are unused to chickens, be sure to leave clear instructions, and also look out for any unfriendly pets or predators that may be found in these new surroundings.

3. Arrange a chicken-sitting circle

If there are other hen keepers in the neighbourhood, you could get together and arrange to help each other out during holidays.

4. Leaving them with automated equipment

Some people do this, especially if the chickens are in a secure enclosure, and are only to be left for a few days. Automatic pop-holes and feeders are available, but still should be checked daily to make sure they are working properly. The hens should also be inspected every day in case of sickness, or even death – a healthy looking hen can quickly turn into a very sick one, and may be attacked by the others. If eggs aren’t collected regularly, egg eating may be the result, and this habit will be difficult to break.

5. A paid pet-sitter

Look on notice boards at the vet’s surgery, or in the local feed/pet stores for pet sitters who will come in to feed and water animals whilst owners are away. Make sure they know how to look after poultry, and can supply references. Alternatively, a local odd-jobber or student may be glad of some extra income, but you should feel confident in their reliability – and in allowing them access to the garden while you are away.

6. A house-sitter

If you have several animals, or are worried about leaving the house unattended, it may be worth considering a live-in sitter, who will take charge of everything, even water the plants. There are several companies advertised on the Internet or in country magazines, as well as individuals who may advertise locally. Of course, you will want to check references extra thoroughly.

7. Send them to chicken ‘boarding kennels’

With the growing interest in chicken keeping, it is now possible to have your chickens ‘boarded,’ in the same way as the family dog or cat. Some establishments will even supply the arks and feed, although others will require you to bring your own. There is a list of ‘chicken sitters’ on the Omlet website http://club.omlet.co.uk/forum (under ‘Eglus and Cubes’). You will have to register to view individual details. Also see the feature about The Chicken Hotel on page 26 ??

Also try www.ukpetsitters.com for lists of all kinds of help, for all kinds of pets.

8. Take them with you!

Not impossible if you are holidaying in a self-catering property, which is suitable and will allow you to bring your hens. However, long journeys can be stressful for chickens, and they don’t react well to heat (don’t put them in the car boot, keep the air-conditioning on and stop regularly to offer water). They should travel in chicken or pet carriers – cardboard boxes may become too warm – and should not be overcrowded. You will also need a large enough vehicle or a trailer to transport the ark. Be aware of any new potential dangers at the holiday house: foxes, badgers, and that pretty stream could be home to a mink.

Most animals dislike change to their routines, so if the hens can be safely left in their own environment, they will probably be happier.

When leaving someone to care for your hens, it’s only fair to make sure there is enough feed to last while you are away. Ideally, the coop should be cleaned out at least once a week, especially if the weather is warm, so ask if your chicken sitter is willing to do this task, and leave the necessary equipment, including fresh bedding.

You should also provide a contact number, and it’s better to write out a list of basic instructions, rather than trying to give verbal information which may be forgotten. The list should include how many hens are in the ark, their essential needs, and any peculiarities (such as: ‘the grey hen is inclined to go broody’).

Indicate what should be done if a hen is unwell, and include the phone number of a chicken-friendly vet. Hopefully, none of this will be necessary, but a little extra preparation will reassure your sitter, as well as allowing you to go away and relax.

Make sure the hens are well cared for – and then have a good holiday!