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September is on us, and it’s time for one last summertime jaunt. You’ve booked your vacation days and selected your destination. You’re ready to hit the beach, the mountains or wherever you plan to explore. You only need to pack and … find someone a chicken sitter to look after your birds. Uh oh. Perhaps getting away isn’t as easy as you’d hoped.
Not to worry. While choosing a chicken sitter is vital to a successful getaway, it’s not an insurmountable task. Multiple options exist in your community; you just need to know where to look. Knowing what you’ll expect from your stand-in will help you determine who is best suited to sit.
1. Remember Biosecurity
The first person you find to work as a chicken sitter is not necessarily the best choice. Protect your hens’ health by practicing backyard biosecurity: Don’t call in a bird-owning buddy to babysit. Illness might not be apparent in your friend’s flock, but diseases such as Marek’s can survive for months in poultry dust and dander. Just a few germs carried into your yard on your caretaker’s clothes or shoes can quickly contaminate your whole flock. If a poultry-keeping pal is your only option, provide plenty of disposable boot covers and coveralls for use while caring for your birds.
2. Look Into Youth Organizations
Your local 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups are great sources for finding a chicken sitter. 4-H and FFA kids already show an affinity for animal husbandry and tend to be diligent and dependable. Taking care of your birds while you’re on vacation can even serve as an independent project for them. Just make sure your youthful caregiver has his or her driver’s license or a parent willing to serve as a twice-daily chauffeur, and that your sitter specializes in chickens rather than steers, sheep or swine.
3. Check With Family Members
A poultry assistant might be closer than you think. Your family members are undoubtedly accustomed to your everyday routine and can be your chicken sitter while you’re away. Check with your sister, your mother-in-law, your uncle or another relative for availability. They might not lavish your flock with love, but they probably understand the emotional ties you have to your birds better than would a stranger. During our recent visit to Omaha, we left our 24-year-old son, Michael, in charge of the chickens. To our delight and amazement, all birds survived. Sure, I was swamped by hens demanding treats and TLC the minute I stepped into the yard upon our return, but Michael kept them fed, watered and safe—and he cleaned one of the coops, too.
4. Help Train A New Person
With the proper guidance, a person with no prior poultry experience can successfully serve as a chicken sitter. A friend, neighbor or even a person from a pet-sitting service might can watch your birds for you, with a little additional tutelage. Arrange for your caregiver to come out for a walk-through once or twice prior to your departure. This way, they can familiarize themselves with your birds, your coop and your expectations. Take the time to explain everything, and never assume something is too basic to discuss. Leave a written outline of the daily chicken duties, and include your contact information as well as the name, phone number and address of your preferred farm-supply store just in case supplies run short while you’re away.