Take Me Home (via) Country Roads…
Spring is in the air – crocuses, daffodils, birds singing and making nests, the promise of some fine warmer weather and longer days. We all look forward to the lighter evenings. For the chicken keeper, those lighter evenings can bring a rather different problem. It presents itself on those evenings when you’ve just had enough, are too tired, exhausted even, or are simply hoping for an evening out…
…you see, the thing is, you have birds that need shutting in, ‘keeping them safe’. Existing keepers will know that come dusk, your birds will almost without exception ‘put themselves to bed’, they will also know that for the keeper to have an early finish can prove difficult! Sometimes, even rattling that tub of corn will only get all but one in, that very annoying ‘naughty’ last one that just won’t go in! Although I can’t give you a magic answer for getting that last one in, what I can say from experience is ‘don’t chase it’, particularly if it’s free-ranging or a large area pen, it’ll just get faster and can ‘turn on a sixpence’, you can’t, a twisted ankle or ground face plant can ensue! The only real way is with an established evening treat food, patience and don’t leave it until the last minute!
A few issues ago I said that the best time to start keeping poultry is when ‘you’ are ready. There are many other factors to consider, but once you’ve researched, read and maybe attended a course or two! You must still be ‘ready’. This could be at any point during the year, though most have ideas that beginning any new outside experience is best done in the spring – it’s that ‘starting anew’ feeling!
So, whether you are starting that new experience, or just off to top up the flock, have you considered how you are going to transport your new additions home?
Some suppliers will be expecting you to provide a carrier, some may supply a box of some sort, others may have them for sale. Our ethos here for many years regarding the transport of birds leaving Mantel Farm has been that where possible it would be very helpful if customers are able to bring their own carrier, if not we are able to supply one. For many years we were able to supply free of charge, suitable sized cardboard boxes, being second use ‘recycled’ boxes collected locally from other businesses. In more recent years, recycling itself and various council legislation regarding the same has made sourcing these boxes for reuse as animal carriers quite difficult. We therefore still do what we can, but now offer cardboard (recyclable) Mantel Farm animal carriers free with chickens supplied or for separate purchase in our shop.
Let’s have a look at the various options for carriers… Firstly the humble cardboard box, as I’ve already outlined above, these can be sourced from elsewhere and used again, or maybe you’ve had something delivered or purchased an item in a suitable box. When recycling, there is one element that has to change, it needs ventilation – the birds need to breathe! This can be achieved by punching holes through the sides with something sharp. (Responsible adult needed, health and safety, so be careful!) Many opt for a pen or pencil, these are ok, but you will need to punch many holes as ideally they need to be of a bigger size, say 12-25mm (half-one inch) diameter or square, not much bigger as it’s best that the birds cannot poke their heads out. Another method is to cut corner slots, either carefully with a sharp knife, or perhaps more safely with a fine hacksaw blade. All holes should be around the full perimeter of the box in the top half as they also function to let out excess heat.
Probably the cheapest form of suitable animal carrier available for purchase is the lightweight (often sold flat packed) cardboard type, plain or printed with company advertising logos. We advise lining the bottom with extra cardboard or newspaper for each use to prolong their life. I have also seen corrugated plastic versions of these, they might last slightly longer but are not very recyclable at the end of their life.
Widely used are the sturdy plastic animal carriers, mostly referred to as ‘cat carriers’, but equally useful for poultry and many other pets. Some unclip around their middle and break into two halves, ideal for access and for cleaning. In addition they have a side hinged or clip on plastic or wire mesh front opening door – our preference for loading and removing birds, not the central unclipping!
Homemade carriers – over the years I’ve seen many, from over the top to just about useless, and everything in between! There is nothing wrong with making your own carrier, just as long as it meets a few basic criteria: durable not rickety, easy access for loading and unloading, hinged, clipped or sliding door or lid with securing method against escape, carrying handle (though not essential) and solid floor or removable droppings tray. Most critically, suitable for the purpose – seek advice if unsure (we are always happy to advise).
We often have customers turn up with open metal mesh dog transport crates for chickens, particularly for larger numbers. These are ok, though I wouldn’t be recommending their use. Whilst solid and extremely safe, they do afford a little too much space in the vertical direction, one thing you don’t want is your birds panicking and trying to fly during transit, this could cause injury. Not to say you can’t use them, we have regulars that do, and all is well – but we do recommend that they travel these covered with a blanket to settle and keep the birds calm.
Many sources do recommend travelling poultry with a blanket over as this tends to settle the birds for their journey, particularly in open wire cages, plastic or wooden crates where visibility is high. This is fine in theory and does work mostly. However I am always cautious, particularly in hot weather as this could obstruct both their breathing and release of excess heat. Care must be taken to ensure there is still adequate ventilation.
For larger numbers of birds (mainly in commercial practice), poultry crates are used. Mostly now made of heavy duty plastic for ease of cleaning, they can hold around 12-16 average sized chickens. I do have a set of good old wooden poultry crates (made by myself many years ago), still in use (and preferred), though I have to admit harder to get clean! If you are considering purchasing one or some of these, in plastic, I would strongly recommend the solid plastic bottomed ones. Personally I would like to see the open mesh floored type banned as they have no consideration for the welfare of the birds in this design of floor. Once stacked, the droppings just fall through the open floor onto the birds below, in addition, I have seen some really nasty injuries caused by toes getting caught between crates as they often protrude through the open floors.
Size of carrier – so what is a suitable size? There is no ‘one answer’ to this question, it really does depend on what you are picking up, how far you are travelling and what time of year, i.e.: weather / temperature. There’s quite a difference between ‘boxing up’ a quail – bantam – standard size chicken – large fowl chicken or a duck, just to name but a few examples! No matter what size, or how many, a little learning and common sense must prevail. It is important that the birds are ‘packed’ reasonably close, but not squashed, too much movement could allow room to panic and injury could follow. I would recommend about a quarter of the birds’ width as a space around each in the horizontal direction, ventilation remains key. Vertically, a maximum of the birds standing height plus a quarter again, definitely not enough room to attempt flight, most particularly with Quail, these are notorious for damaging themselves. Commercial transport crates barely allow a bird to stand, many do the whole journey in a sitting position. If you’ve ever had to travel standing on a bus or a tube train, remember how difficult it can be to balance. Now imagine this if you have no hands to hold on with, just wings! So, sitting might sound a little hard on the birds, but is actually safer during car travel, less chance of injury. Do also remember that a sitting position is a very natural position for a bird, it spends at least 8 hours a night on a perch. If you are travelling in excess of an hour you should consider a halfway stop, just to check the birds are ok. Although we like to stretch our legs, it is nigh impossible to let them do the same! Though for longer journeys, most particularly in hot weather, a slightly higher carrier allows them to stand for a while during the travel break at least. Again, ensure good ventilation, open vehicle windows or employ the air-con in hot weather.
One tip I’d like to give is to always travel cockerels separate to the hens, the journey will be stressful enough without anyone trying it on! Another thing to watch out for is the transporting of ducks in cardboard boxes, use plenty of extra padding in the bottom, they are more than capable of dissolving the bottom of the box with liquid mess before you get them home!
So, armed with the address of the poultry supplier (most likely in the countryside), and your carrier (suitable for the size and numbers of birds you intend to purchase), it’s off to collect and finally ‘take them home (via) country roads!
For this little adventure, I will advise caution and drive with care. Particularly for those who seldom venture onto the country lanes, it’s always puzzled me as to why the countries smallest, twisty turny roads hold the national speed limit, with so many people seeming to think that because the signs are there, it must be safe to do so! From experience let me tell you that just around that blind corner, or over the brow of that steep hill could be a flock of sheep spilling out of a farm gate or a tractor slowly maneuvering a large trailer or cutting the encroaching hedges, or just simply a rabbit or pheasant crossing the road.
So, when your new family members are in the carrier, about to experience their first ever car journey, indeed, take them home (via) country roads – and do it safely.
I’d like to say I’ve been the model student on the subject of chicken transport, I certainly like to think I have it sussed now, but many years ago, I still had many lessons to learn (most often, ‘the hard way!’), so to finish, here’s another Mantel Farm escapade – the day I learned the importance of ‘securing the package!’
We were on our way to the local village summer fayre just 1.25 miles away with 3 beautiful pure white Leghorns in a cardboard box to display as part of our stand. I must confess, I can’t actually remember now whether I had actually put any sticky tape on the box lid or I was stupidly relying on the classic interwoven folding of the four top flaps (but it was a very long time ago). Anyway, the other sin was I had balanced the box on top of other stuff (daft), just over half way there, one sharp corner, over the box went and out came the birds! Amazingly (probably terrified) they just sat there looking dazed and confused, so I carried on driving, reaching the fayre just a few minutes later. As I drove in, I think they saw all the people and activity outside and went into panic mode! We had to pull up in the middle of the field with the people all around soon noticing this mad family with the 3 white chickens flying around inside his car (what sort of idiots bring chickens not even in a box!) With wife and kids (toddlers) shouting and screaming, birds (pooing) and feathers flying, I managed to climb over the back of my seat to catch the birds. Eventually, (seemed like hours) the birds were safely back in the box, we emerged from the car to a roar of laughter looking like we’d been having a pillow fight! The inside of the car was a mess, feathers not being the only thing that had redecorated the upholstery – you can imagine! Lesson learned – make sure the package is secure, plenty of parcel tape!
Checklist for ‘unpacking your shopping’ (how to get your new birds from the carrier into their new home):
- Never try to open the box / carrier alone just in the open space of your garden, beware of the ‘jack-in-a-box’ possible scenario! If they escape in the garden straight from the box you may as well wave goodbye!
- Where possible place the box / carrier inside the chicken house (or run) and open, allowing the birds to find their own way out when ready. Where possible it is always best to start the new birds off in the house so they know where to return to come dusk. Except in really hot weather I would advise a ‘calm down’ shut in of 1-2 hours.
- If the accommodation is of such design that the above is not possible, then I’d advise opening the carrier inside a shed, greenhouse, garage or other enclosed space, taking the birds one at a time, holding firmly, and placing into the indoor part of the enclosure.
- Have food and water set up ready, ideally in the run, not the house, after the shut in period, this will encourage them out into the run.
- Finally, if these are to be introduced to existing birds, please take the time to refer to and thoroughly read my previous article on that subject in the November ’17 issue.