Written By Don Schrider
Hello from the great state of West Virginia. At the beginning of April we moved our household from Virginia to West Virginia to a new home. This was a very positive and exciting move, but laborious too as we had to move not only all our household belongings, but our animals and pens as well.
Moving with poultry takes a good bit of planning to avoid potentially lethal mistakes. Since we have both a guard dog for the chickens as well as the chickens themselves, we had to figure how we could transport both safely. We also had to dismantle the pens and set them up again in order to have a place for our hens. Planning had to include the transportation of dog, hens, and pens as well as the order of packing them. We had to know what we were going to do with the animals while we reassembled their pens and we had to know how long it all would take and how to feed and water everyone during this transition.
Since many of you may find it necessary to transport your poultry at some point, whether to a county fair, vet, swap meet, or moving to a new home, let me break down the basics that will keep the birds alive and healthy. Chickens can actually survive a few days without food and water if necessary. I don’t recommend stressing the birds this way, but they can survive. What will kill the birds are high temperatures, a lack of airflow, and too much sun in conjunction with one of the two preceding. So how do we address these three primary concerns?
I have a truck with a cap on the back. Seems like I have always had a truck with a cap and have transported poultry in such at all times of the year. The cap has the advantage of shading the birds and the disadvantage of restricting airflow. I open all the windows of the cap to provide as much airflow as possible. I also follow a rule a friend of mine suggested – once your birds are loaded, get moving and keep moving. Good airflow will help to overcome high temperatures.
I have several types of crates for different purposes. I have commercial, plastic crates that are extremely ventilated. I have Pullman crates that are four feet long and designed with four compartments – the fronts of which are extremely well ventilated. Lastly, I have enclosed boxes that are designed to carry individual male birds safely without damaging their tail feathers. These male crates are perfect for fall, winter, and early spring but they do not have a large amount of ventilation so are the worst possible crates to use during warm weather. For this move I used only the Pullman and the commercial crates.
Before loading the crates I counted my hens and the number of spaces I had available. I also feed the birds a good meal that included Omega Ultra Egg™ so that they would have full crops before loading. I also had to consider how many would fit on my truck without packing too tightly or airflow would be restricted. While the commercial crates could handle eight birds in summer when transporting a short distance, I opted to reduce the number in those crates to six. In the Pullmans I placed one bird per hole (four per crate).
I started loading all the birds, being sure to put them into the crates head first – which makes their natural tendency to go forward into the crate. I found myself in a position of have two extra birds, and so I placed two birds per hole in two of the Pullman holes. For these two doubled up pens I made sure they were in the last, most open positioned pen so that they received the most airflow. I also made sure the paired birds were pairs that got along well and which were smaller in size to reduce the amount of body heat possibly trapped in the pen.
I placed my crates into the truck after they were all loaded, and just before we were ready to leave. Until that time, the birds were crated in a shady and cool location. I put the Pullman crates into the truck facing the rear, in this way as I drove they would get the most airflow. Between each crate I placed 2x4 boards, to ensure there was air space between crates. (My mentor told me of a breeder who once placed his prize bird first into his truck. He packed the truck so tightly that the bird ran out of air and died before they arrived home. Air space is very important.) I place my commercial crates on top of the Pullman crates, placing 2x4 boards between them and being careful not to seal in the birds in the centermost holes of the Pullman crates. Once we started moving we drove straight through and all the birds made it to our new home safely.
Upon arrival, it was going to take several hours to set up the chicken pens and it was late at night. I opted for leaving the birds on the truck overnight. In the morning I got up early to make sure the sun was not going to overheat the birds, making sure I was parked in a shady location, and opened the tailgate of the truck so that more air could move. I fed the birds a breakfast of slices of apple. Apples make excellent food for crated birds. They are not too messy and provide a source of energy, food, and moisture. It took a couple of hours to set up the pens, but everything went well.
Once the pens were set up, I first filled water containers in each pen. My birds had gone twelve hours without fresh water, so I knew the first thing they needed was a good drink of water as they were uncrated. I removed each bird from its crate head first, being sure to maintain good control of its legs. I carried them cradled in the crook of my arms, their heads a little lower than their tails to keep them calm – never hold them upside down, as it can cause them to suffer strokes and is very stressful. Instead of tossing the birds into the pens, I lowered each one so its feet touched the ground and let it walk away. Doing this builds trust in the birds for being handled. Each bird walked over and had a satisfying drink. Next I feed each group a fresh bit of feed with Omega Egg Ultra to ensure that they got plenty of vitamins and nutrition and to help keep their stress level down and egg production up.
When I was done unloading, not only did all the birds survive in good shape, but the hens had laid eggs in the Pullman crates. One of the reasons I like the Pullman crates is that they feel like being on a nest for the birds.
I have had friends transport their birds to and from county fairs in the heat of summer with no bad effects. What are some of the points they follow for success?
- Plenty of airflow around the pens
- Never pack the crates too tightly – use boards and board scraps to maintain space around each crate
- Never more than two birds to a pen if using a Pullman type, and never fill to capacity a commercial type crate
- Load late in the day, near evening, or at night
- Keep in mind how long the first birds loaded have sat in the truck without a breeze – once you start crating birds move quickly
- Unload in the morning so that you are not stressing the birds by handling during the heat of the day
- Remember, direct sun in the summer can kill crated poultry – use as much shade as possible without restricting airflow
- Once you get moving, keep moving
- If the birds will be crated for more than twenty four hours, stop and water all the birds (bring water cups for this purpose). Also feed the birds – corn makes a good feed for this purpose
- Apples make an excellent food and moisture source and will help relieve boredom for transported hens
- Cardboard boxes can be used, but large or many ventilation holes must be cut – even when the birds will only be in these boxes for a short time, as cardboard retains heat
- Pine shavings or straw work well as good bedding sources. Bedding will keep the hens comfortable while traveling over bumps in the road
The most important things to remember are airflow and temperature during transportation. By keeping these tips in mind, you can transport poultry safely any time of the year.