Moving with chickens is stressful, but Liz Fulghum has excellent suggestions to make things easier on everyone.
Late last year, construction of our new home finally wrapped up. While the builders were putting the final touches on our house, we were busy putting the final touches on a new coop and run for our chickens. Our flock of four (Blue, Florentine, Hedwig and Omlet) would be making the move with us. Like our new home, theirs was going to be larger than their old one, brand-new, and chock-full of quality-of-life improvements. The coop and run would be located in the new mini orchard we were planting, in an area that benefited from more sun and better airflow. Once the orchard was fenced, the flock would be in charge of pest control and would be able to enjoy free ranging under the protection of the canopy of fruit trees.
They were going to love it. … We just had to get them from here to there.
Moving is Stressful for Everyone
Chickens, like a lot of people, don’t like change. Something as simple as adding a new toy to their coop can cause a ruckus. They’ll spend hours or even days suspiciously eyeing whatever the new thing is, avoiding it entirely, deciding not to lay eggs out of spite, or (most likely) all of the above.
If a toy causes all that, just imagine the trauma of moving! The horror!
But, seriously; all of the changes associated with a big move are stressful – and stress is just as bad for your chickens’ health as it is for yours. So, the goal is to minimize that stress before, during, and after the move. If you’re moving a long distance, you may even want to consider selling your flock or gifting them to a local friend or farm. While you can certainly move a small number of chickens longer distances by car, it’s still rough for both you and them, and trying to ship a flock cross-country is impractical at best.
But, if you’re moving close by and plan to take your flock, here’s everything you need to know to make the transition as smooth and stress-free as possible for you and them.
Get your Chickens Ready for the Big Move
When humans get stressed, we often stop maintaining healthy eating, drinking, and sleeping habits. Then, of course, our immune system takes a beating, and we get sick. In this way, chickens are no different, so the first thing you can do to help your chickens’ move go smoothly is give them a boost to their immune system in advance.
A week or so before your moving date, start mixing a vitamin and electrolyte additive into your chicken’s water according to instructions. This will ensure that they are as healthy as they can be going into the move and give them extra resilience against any stress-related illness.
Prepare Your Chickens’ New Home Before Their Arrival
Before you move your chickens, make sure that their new home is 100% prepared for their arrival. This means that the coop and run (if you plan on including a run) are completely built; your food and watering stations are set up, filled, and in their final positions; the bedding has been added to the coop; and the nesting boxes and any toys or activity areas are set up.
Your chickens will have to adjust to their new environment and re-learn where everything is. It’s easier and less stressful for them to do that once rather than multiple times while you continue to make adjustments to their space after they’ve moved in.
It’s also a great time to find ways to improve your chickens’ setup. Want to increase coop size so you can increase your flock size? Add an automatic door? Transition them from a run to free ranging? Build an automatic food and watering system? No matter what you want to try, there’s no better time than right before your flock moves in, so take advantage of the opportunity to make changes.
Use the Right Container to Transport Your Chickens
The trip to your chickens’ new home will be the most stressful part of the move. They’ll be in a confined space, bouncing around in a vehicle, assaulted by road noise, and terrified of everything that’s going on.
Don’t dump some straw in the back of your SUV, toss your chickens in, and allow them loose in the car as you drive them to their new home! They’ll injure themselves, each other, and possibly even you.
Chickens need to be transported in a confined space to keep them safe. You can use a small-to-medium-sized dog crate, a cardboard pet crate that you might get from a pet shop, or even a cardboard box that has small holes punched in it for airflow. Ensure there’s straw or another kind of bedding in the container to help absorb any droppings.
Don’t overcrowd your chickens, but ensure that they’re in close quarters to help minimize movement during travel. Two or three chickens per container is best, depending on the size of container and bird. If you have a larger flock, you may need to use multiple containers or make multiple trips. And if you have chickens that you know don’t get along, make sure keep them separated during the drive to avoid any conflicts.
If you’re using a dog crate, have a blanket that you can drape over the top of the crate to darken the interior. Darkness stimulates chickens’ natural instinct to roost and rest, so keeping it dark while you’re moving will help keep them calm and reduce stress levels.
Choose the fastest, smoothest route to your destination. Drive slowly and avoid potholes, sudden stops, and fast turns as much as possible.
If you’re traveling a longer distance, you may need to provide food and water for your chickens. It’ll be important for them to keep hydrated if they’re enclosed for longer than an hour or so. You can combine their food with water to make a mash that’ll help fulfill both needs without turning into a gigantic mess, or you can just offer them food and water when you stop. Make sure you stop frequently to check on how they’re doing and to give them a break from the movement.
Regardless of how long the drive is, ensure that there is good ventilation to help keep your chickens from overheating, they’ll be more prone to it with the combination of tight quarters and stress.
Finally, if you can, time your move so that your chickens arrive in their new home at dusk. They’ll be primed to sleep then, so you can put them in the coop, and they’ll immediately get to work settling in for the night. This is an easy way to quickly get them acclimated to their new roost and show them what they need to do.
Help Your Chickens Adjust to Their New Home
If you plan to free range your chickens, keep them confined to their coop (and run, if you have one) for a least 24 hours. This allows them to imprint on the new coop as “home” and build that instinct that’s this coop is where they should return to roost at night. After that initial 24 hours, you can let them start to fully explore their new home.
Keep a close eye on them for several days to ensure they’re settling in, staying healthy, and have found their food and water sources. You may need to provide alternate sources of both if you’ve switched to a new feeding or watering system and they don’t immediately take to the new locations. Watch closely for any changes in their behavior, and have supplies on hand to address any health issues that may come up.
Continue to provide vitamin supplements for a few days after the move. If you have hens that are currently laying, you may have an interruption in eggs for a couple of days. But as they settle in, they should easily discover their new nesting boxes and find their schedule again.
We changed a lot of things around when we moved our chickens. Their new coop was much lower to the ground than their old one, the roosting bars were much higher, and there were more nesting boxes than before. We also took the opportunity to replace the dispensers on their watering system with new and improved ones that would hopefully keep the ground drier.
With so much change, we didn’t know if they would make the adjustment quickly or struggle in their new environment. All we could do was make sure we covered all the bases and then hope for the best.
Fortunately, they adapted immediately to the new space and seem to be enjoying all the extra room.
I’m pretty sure they also enjoyed all the extra treats they got as a reward for handling the move so well.
Liz Fulghum is an entrepreneur and technologist who also has a passion for low-maintenance, productive gardening. Her urban backyard homestead is an oasis from busy days and home to raised vegetable beds, fruit trees and shrubs, bees, and a small flock of chickens. You can follow her on Instagram @LizFulghum.