Last week, I took a trip with a few of my girlfriends to Porto, Portugal. I had never been to Portugal and when the opportunity arouse, I could not resist saying yes! I was curious about what I would see in Portugal and began doing research along with my girlfriends. There were a few things on the list that I definitely wanted to see. I wanted to see historical places, churches, taste local food, absorb the culture, sights, sounds and smells. I also wanted to visit the cafe and bookstore that J.K. Rowling frequented while teaching English in Porto to school children while writing Harry Potter.
Last month, we quietly slipped away for a family vacation. It had been so long since we had taken a really big vacation. Off we went, even the kiddos, to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands. We had such a blast exploring. We hiked to waterfalls, rode horses, swam in the most amazing lagoons with sea turtles, snorkeled, sailed, and peered into a sleeping volcano. Of course it is never long enough and I knew it was a complete success when my kids asked me when we could return. As I was unpacking the bags, I realized that the kids had picked up maps, brochures and oodles of pamphlets. To me, holding onto these meant something to them. So instead of putting them away in a box to collect dust, I scooped them up and decided to turn them into this vacation shadowbox.
|Epcot’s Flower and Garden Show 2010|
There comes a time in every backyard chicken keeper’s life when you will take a vacation. It might be just overnight or it might be for a week or longer. Whatever the length, it can provoke some anxiety. The first time I left my chickens with the chicken sitter, they were about six months of age. My heart felt like a parent leaving a child home with the babysitter for the first time. Of course I worried. Would they be well cared for? Would they remember to harvest the eggs? Would predators know we were not home? What if one became ill? With some thought, planning and preparation, your flock should do just fine. Most people will want to watch your chickens for the eggs alone. As you know, there is nothing like a freshly laid egg.
Your chicken sitter should:
Enjoy backyard chickens
Chicken sitting for a flock is also a wonderful way for someone who is thinking about getting chickens to experience keeping chickens without the full commitment.
Who would make a good chicken sitter?
Local Dog walkers/Pet sitters~some will chicken sit if you call and ask
Local 4-H Club members
Don’t forget to ask if your local feed store knows of anyone who could help too.
1. Clean the coop and the nesting boxes a day or two before you leave. This makes chicken sitting much more pleasurable for your sitter. When the coop is clean, it is much easier and welcoming.
2. Be sure you have extra food available. Always keep extra food, grit, oyster shells on hand just in case.
3. Label everything and tidy up. I would strongly encourage you to label even the obvious to you. Label feed, scratch, grit and the like. Chicken scratch to a newbie could easily be confused as feed. Also, tidy things up so that everything they need is visible and they do not have to spend time sifting through a cluttered place of chaos.
4. Give directions. In addition to reviewing directions in person, write them down. This serves as a great reference when you are not available.
5. Be sure the sitter keeps the routine as close to what you do when you are with the chickens.
6. Harvest eggs frequently. This should still be done in the morning, afternoon and evening. If this is difficult for one person, than perhaps this task could be shared with another friend, such as a neighbor.
7. Prevent boredom. Leave some suggestions, such as tossing in a whole cabbage every few days or so.
8. Leave a phone number of a fellow chicken keeper. This is so important. You might not be available when a question or concern pops up. It helps to have a knowledgeable chicken keeper available to make an on-site visit if necessary.
9. Keep a chicken first aid kit.
10. Provide a phone number of a local avian vet.
11, Inspect the coop and run. Be sure all of your latches function properly. Be sure all aspects of your coop are in good working condition. Be sure to inspect your predator proofing. Make any repairs as necessary.
12. Predators will know when things are different. They will notice the absence of the family dog. If you always lock up your chickens, then the chicken sitter should do the same. Do not leave the coop pop-up door open if this is not your common practice. Predators will and do take note. Be extra vigilant. Utilize motion sensor flood lights. Keep the porch light on.
13. Let your neighbors know you will be away. Encourage other neighbors, friends and family to stop in and visit the flock while you are away.
14. Leave a thorough, easy reference book that is not intimidating for the chicken sitter. How could anyone feel intimidated by a copy of Raising Chickens for Dummies?
A day or two before your trip, schedule a quick training with your chicken sitter.
Review all of your planning.
Demonstrate coop locks and have them work them while you are there.
Encourage phone calls to you with flock updates.
Discuss a plan on how to handle an escaped chicken or if one does not return in the evening from free ranging.
Talk about treats including types, amount and frequency.
Alert them to any current issues such as molting, wounds, health concerns, pecking order or egg problems.
General Tips for Smoother Chicken Sitting:
1. Let the chickens out in the run in the morning. Once they are all are out of the coop, lock them out into the run and perform your chicken sitting duties. Refill feeders and waterers. Check for eggs and do any other necessary housekeeping. This is less stressful for the chicken sitter and also helps to prevent chickens from inadvertently escaping or distracting the sitter who may not be accustomed to the flock’s behavior. Do not forget to re-open the pop door once the daily tasks are complete.
2. Double up on feeders and waterers just in case something happens during the day that might not get noticed quickly. This also helps to prevent problems if a feeder or waterer malfunctions.
3. Keep a few spare egg cartons or an egg basket near your chicken supplies in case your sitter forgets to bring one from home for the eggs.
We have been away a few times and I can honestly say that the flock does very well with a little preparation. Typically our chicken sitter is my Mother. She is the only one who has gorgeous blond hair and the chickens, I believe, have come to recognize her for it. The chickens and her get along very well. Even when she comes over to visit, they perk up and call to her as soon as they see her get out of the car. They know her voice and they expect treats! It is always nice to know that she, the neighbors and friends are there and visit when we are away. The girls are well cared for. Yet, one of the things that I look forward to when we come home is seeing the chickens giddy with excitement. They do remember us! It warms my heart to look into Tilly’s eyes and tell her that her chicken Momma has returned, just as promised.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
|Tilly and I|
I leave tomorrow evening on a surprise trip from my husband. We are going to the Carribean for an entire week, without kids, to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. I am unbelievably excited and a little nervous to be away from my kids, both human and feathered. This will be the longest I will have ever been away from them.
I have spent the last few days, trying to get all the last minute errands done; laundry, writing down instructions and calling in some favors from friends. Although exhausting, it has proven a great distraction from the other thing that is occupying my mind, Country Living Magazine’s Blue Ribbon Blogger Awards. Tomorrow, we find out if we have won either the editor’s choice or the reader’s choice category. I am nervous, hopeful and optimistic.
Today, I prepared the girls’ coop, run and supplies for the chicken babysitter. I thoroughly cleaned the coop. I even removed the cobwebs from high up in the rafters. As half my body was in the coop, I heard a knock on the closed coop door from one of the chickens. I asked, “Who is it?” Usually, no one answers. Today, Tilly answered me in her best little chicken sentence. I smiled. For a brief moment, she made me forget that scrolling checklist that kept playing through my mind of all the things that I still needed to accomplish.
Even though I’ll be away, life will continue here at home as it always does. The chickens will be chickens and the kids will be kids. The magazine will announce its winners. Dinners will be shared at the kitchen table. Eggs will be laid. My oldest will procrastinate about his homework. Soccer games will have a winner. I am glad to share my children and my chickens with family members who are watching the kids. For me, the best memories I have with my family are those made on just ordinary days. I hope they are able to make some while I am away. I can’t wait to hear about their week and yours when we return.
Photo Credit: 4JPhotography
My grandfather and his younger brother purchased adjacent parcels of land within walking distance to Lake Winnipeusaukee when he was just 18 years old in the 1930s. There over the course of time and many numerous weekends, two jacks of all trades, created what would be “camps” in their families for generations to come. My grandfather eventually created a two bedroom rustic home complete with running water and electricity. Here the family would retreat over the decades. His children brought their children and now I bring mine. I have many fond memories of the “camp” and now my children are creating the same and different memories as I did when I was just a little kid.
My grandfather passed away over 5 years ago and left the camp to his children in a trust. I find now that I do a lot of reminiscing when I am there and everywhere I turn, my mind floods with distant memories, smells, adventures and sights, when I return. Signs are everywhere and there are so many personalized touches that remain long after my grandfather. Although he was very strong and rough around the edges, everywhere I look, there is love.
While away, I also thought about my chickens. Apparently, they were well behaved, or so goes the report. They did not lay as many eggs as they had been but I suspect that is due to the horrendous heat wave that we are experiencing. My neighbors enjoyed their funny little antics and also found it fascinating discovering all of their unique personalities. They also viewed the girls’ eggs as precious as gold. It is amazing the new found value we place on things once we partake in their creation. I am sure my grandfather felt this way about the “camp”.
Every time I return home from “camp”, my faith in family is renewed. Despite families having their ins and outs and their ups and downs, memories of places and things need to be cherished. Sharing moments and creating new ones is what it is all about. I hope that I can help make memories with my family in our home. Hopefully, even some with the kids and the chickens. I can only hope that one day my children will return to what we will have left for them and feel the same way that I do about the “camp”, remembering the love, laughter and life.
We are going away for a few days to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Our neighbor is watching the girls, as my usual sitter, Mom, is coming with us. We are looking forward to getting away, but like a good chicken Mom, I can not help but be a little nervous, especially knowing that the fisher cat has been in our yard during the day!
It will be nice to get away but as always after a trip, I can’t wait to get home and get the report. I love to find out how many eggs they have collected and if the girls were good. I always worry about one of the chickens getting loose and numerous other things that only I would or should be worrying about. Some people tell me, “They are only chickens.” I tend to disagree. They are all my pets. They have names. Like dogs, yes, I can get another chicken of the same breed but it would not be my Tilly, or Dolly, or Oyster Cracker. They are one of a kind with their own personalities and I have a relationship with every single girl out there.
So I hope that the reports are good, the weather is nice and the downpours stay away. I hope that the young ones remember to climb onto the roosts at night. I will miss tucking them in and checking all of the locks to make sure that they are secure as they drift off to dreamland. I know that when I come home they will be happy to see me. Just like puppies, they come running and can’t wait for me to hold them. The good thing is that there will be no copious amounts of slimey drool involved when I get my chicken kisses.
Be good girls, I will be home before you know it!
I do have posts scheduled for while I am away, please feel free to leave your comments that I look forward to so much, I will respond to them once I return. I am not sure of the internet service I will have when I am away.
Today was a traveling day. We returned home from a couple of days visiting relatives in the Berkshires. I am usually anxious after a long trip to return to the girls and see what they have been doing. I am also curious to see if they remember me.
First I visited with the chicks. Apparently, the chicks decided to grow like little weeds! They all seem so much bigger than when I left. Their bodies are completely feathered and now their head feathers are beginning to appear. Dottie Speckles is also growing. As she is now one week old, I am beginning to see signs of wing feathers. Can you believe the chicks are eating about a pound of food per day? It is amazing that at 5 weeks, the older chicks are starting to look like mini-chickens!
Next, I went out to the main coop and flock. Everyone was so happy to see me. They came running across the run. I even think I saw Oyster Cracker leap for joy. It is so nice to get such a warm welcome! Everyone enjoyed taking their turns with me. Later, as I opened the nesting boxes, the three broody girls were still sitting on their invisible eggs. This made me smile the most. Everything is just as I left it.
I am going away for a few days alone. This means no husband, kids or chickens. I am nervous. I will be 3000 miles away from my Mother Hen duties. I’ve done this before. My husband is awesome at taking care of the kids. He is a real Mr. Mom when he needs to be. It’s just the chickens…
He has seen me feed them and attend to their needs daily. He just hasn’t learned how to actually do it. He is excited and has taken to asking me questions. The chickens love him, as many morning he frees them from captivity and he also tucks them in at night.
Today, he was given a crash course with the waterer. He will learn about the feed tomorrow and then I’m off. I know he wants to do a good job so that I don’t worry. Chickens are pretty easy and self sufficient. I just hope he can round them up when they are done free-ranging.
The best thing are your chicken friends. When your chicken friends know that you are out of town and a non-chicken raiser is watching them, they are like doting step-parents to your flock. They stop by to see them daily, even if it is out of the way. They bring them treats like lettuce and berries. They talk chicken talk even if they sound ridiculous. They squat way down to get on their level.
In the end, I know that my entire flock will be fine, including my human and chicken family. Absence just seems to make the heart realize how there really is no place like home. Even if home happens to contain a chicken coop!