After detailing my move from Southern California to Central Oregon in this post, a slew of emails landed in my inbox, asking how we managed to move all the chickens with us — and how we did it without a livestock trailer.
Well, the beauty of having a small backyard flock (only four hens) is that they all fit in the back of our SUV!
Theoretically, if we’d traveled with an empty car and only used it to transport chickens (plus the driver and passenger), we could’ve fit up to eight adult birds comfortably (or more if we had bantam breeds). We made the nearly 1,000-mile trip in one shot (with only stops for food and gas) and the chickens were well-behaved for the entire 18 hours. They were so cozy, in fact, that one even laid an egg en route to Bend!
Whether you’re moving just a few miles in town or crossing state lines with your flock, traveling with chickens isn’t any more challenging than traveling with other pets. (In fact, we found them easier since they didn’t require walking or potty breaks!)
Here’s how we prepped our flock and set them up for a safe journey on the road.
Choosing the right vehicle.
Providing good ventilation and a comfortable climate is key to keeping your chickens healthy and happy in the car. For a small flock, this can mean the back of an SUV, the backseat of a car (as long you can level the seats with rolled-up towels or blankets), or the interior of a minivan. The bed of a pickup truck can also work if you’re able to provide shade and shelter from the elements while maintaining proper airflow.
We had our car serviced before the long drive to make sure all the components were in working order, especially the AC. Since we were moving at the end of summer, we wanted to mitigate any risk of the chickens overheating. Under stressful situations like a move, they tend to overheat easily, so maintaining a cool and consistent temperature inside the car is important.
Reducing stress in the flock.
Chickens don’t respond well to stress; any sudden changes in their pecking order, diet, or environment can cause a drop in egg production, increase susceptibility to diseases, or bring out latent illnesses.
That said, we took some preventive measures a few days ahead of the move to lessen the shock of an unfamiliar environment. Just as we did when we integrated the new chickens, we added fresh chopped garlic to their feed each day for its antibiotic and antioxidant benefits. (You can also supplement their water with fresh garlic, using one crushed clove per quart of water.)
We continued giving them fermented chicken feed before and after the move. (The benefits of fermenting your own feed can be found in this post I wrote.)
If fermented feed isn’t feasible in your own situation, I recommend giving probiotics (like this one or this one) that are specially formulated for poultry. Among their many benefits, probiotics help improve intestinal health and strengthen the immune system. This leads to better absorption of nutrients in feed, better egg production in terms of size and quality, and reduced risk of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella.
Adding a vitamin and electrolyte supplement (I like this one) to your chickens’ water is another way to go. No matter which option(s) you choose, the main purpose is to give your chickens a healthy boost to prepare them for an unsettling move.
Assembling the gear.
On short drives (like the day we brought our new chickens home from the farm), a cardboard box with a few holes punched on the sides for ventilation will suffice. But for longer journeys, wire dog crates (or rabbit cages) are a great, inexpensive mode of transport.
A medium crate/kennel can hold two full-sized hens comfortably and it fits perfectly, end to end, in the cargo space of an SUV. It gives the girls enough room to stand (and even peck and scratch at the floor a bit) but still keeps them contained so they aren’t flapping or getting jostled during the car ride.
Depending on your vehicle setup, you may also need a towel or two to drape over the top of the crates. This blocks any glaring sun that they can’t hide from, prevents them from watching the world go rushing by outside the windows, and also keeps curious folks from bothering the chickens if they’re walking by your car.
For holding feed and water, I like these galvanized hanging feeders. They conveniently hook onto the side of the crate and are just the perfect size for two hens. As long as the ride is smooth, I’ve found that the water doesn’t splash outside too much.
If you have a particularly aggressive hen, you may want to contain her by herself in a small crate. Use your best judgment here, which leads me to the next step…
Choosing travel mates.
Since each medium-sized crate can hold two hens, we matched ours up by temperament. Our oldest, Iman, was paired with Greta, our Easter Egger who tends to do her own thing. We knew she wouldn’t get in Iman’s face, so to speak, and her mellow personality worked well with Iman’s quiet nature.
Our other two hens, Harlow and Ginger, were more sociable, excitable, and curious, so they were perfect travel mates as they could expend their energy on each other. They could still see/hear/talk to the other ladies (and reassure each other that they were still together), but the separation helps keep squabbles to a minimum in the car (kind of like separating siblings who love to get on each other’s nerves on a family road trip).
Preparing the crates.
Each wire crate comes with a plastic mat on the bottom, which works well to contain poop and other messes. On top of the plastic mat, I added a thick layer of straw (about 3 to 4 inches) to keep the chickens from sliding around. Straw is an excellent bedding material since it doesn’t fly around as much as shavings do, and it’s harder for the chickens to kick out of the crate.
We tossed a handful of stress-relieving and immune-boosting fresh herbs from the garden (such as lavender, mint, and oregano) over the straw. As a bonus, the herbs help freshen the air when you’re in a confined space like a car. I recommend placing a bundle of sprigs near your air vents too — keeps things smelling, shall we say, less “farm animal” inside.
Hitting the road on moving day.
If you have a long drive ahead and can push it till after sundown, I highly recommend doing so. The chickens will naturally be more inclined to rest and not feel antsy from being cooped up all day. There’s less traffic on the road, which means fewer delays and a smoother drive. An overnight drive also means you won’t have to worry about food and water until daylight.
Once the chickens were loaded in, we piled all of our other stuff below, above, and around the crates. One, because they had nowhere else to go! (Moving day — or shall I say, moving week — was rough.) But two, they also kept the crates nicely wedged in so there would be no risk of tipping over or rocking back and forth. Just remember to not obstruct the flow of air around the crates, and to secure everything so they don’t fall in/on the crates and potentially injure your chickens.
During the trip, we kept the waterer and feeder filled but tossed in a new treat at every stop (black oil sunflower seeds, dried mealworms, dried grubs, or veggies) once the sun came up. Not too many, though — else the straw would go flying everywhere as the chickens dug into their bedding!
Because of the warm weather and the already very long journey, we didn’t make extended stops for meals. Food was grab-and-go on the road, as we really just wanted to get to our destination as quickly (and safely) as possible. We kept an eye (and an ear) out for panting or flapping, which could indicate stress.
Thankfully, the chickens made it through an 18-hour drive without so much as a squawk and when we opened the back door, they just looked at us like, Well? Where’s our treat?!
You made it! Now what?
In brand-new environments, chickens can be somewhat skittish. They’re cautious about exploring too far from what’s familiar to them (in this case, the crates they were traveling in) and they need a little time to get used to their surroundings — not unlike humans.
Being in an entirely new region also meant we needed time ourselves to assess what kind of predators were common here. Without knowing how often hawks, owls, or coyotes roamed the neighborhood, day or night, we certainly weren’t going to let our ladies free-range right off the bat.
To help your chickens feel safe in their new environs, I recommend letting them get settled for a day or two in a protected and confined area like a barn, portable pen, chicken tractor, or the enclosed run of their coop.
We arrived in Oregon during the day and let the chickens forage in a mesh pen in the yard, where we could keep an eye on them from the house. Since their coop was still being built, we moved them back into the crates at night and into our garage, where they slept for a few weeks.
We continued with the fermented feed, garlic, and herbs every day, and kept an eye out for signs of stress, such as pale combs, soft-shelled eggs, and severe pecking within the flock. All went well and we’re happy to say, the girls aced their first (and hopefully last) big road trip!