What to tell your chicken sitter May 10, 2013

I wrote a post a while ago, entitled “three ways chickens will freak you out.” A recent comment by a reader reminded me of another way chickens can freak you out, and it inspired me to share the story of how I almost gave our chicken sitter a heart attack!

Poor John. He didn’t take his “chicken sitter” duties lightly, and we’re glad of that! But he did spend a few restless nights because I neglected to warn him about something.

Adult chickens just don’t need a lot of supervision. A chicken sitter is a luxury, really. You can leave them for a few days, provided they have plenty of food and water, and access to the outdoors so they don’t get bored (or overheated in a closed coop!).

Even so, when we’re gone, we like to have someone who will check on them just to make sure they don’t knock over their waterers, for example. We just want to make sure someone is around in case we should have an injury; just for emergencies, really. However, we live far enough out in the country that we don’t have neighbors close enough to just pop over and take a look… and we also live far enough out in the country that it’s something of a vacation for our in-town friends to spend a weekend out here with a big porch, many porch swings, and nothing but a view of the West Virginia mountains around them. We like to have a chicken sitter.

(Interestingly, when we spend time away from the cottage, we tend to visit West Virginia state parks, so we simply have a view of different mountains, and the occasional waterfall or gorge. There’s something to be said for spending a weekend at a mountain resort, riding a steam locomotive to the top of a mountain, visiting a beautiful riverside mill, watching the Greenbrier Classic from the PGA tour, or taking a lovely ski vacation… but I digress.)

While we’re off enjoying our beautiful state parks, I leave detailed instructions for my chicken sitters so they will know what to expect.

First we share  things about the house, like you would for a regular house sitter:

  1. Yes, we get great cell reception out here, and wireless internet… but no TV. Bring DVDs or use our netflix account. Or use the Xbox 360.
  2. The hiking path is mowed and ready
  3. We don’t have potable water way out here, so no drinking from the tap! Use the water in the fridge. Since our water supply is extremely limited, please conserve water.
  4. You’re welcome to any food in the house
  5. Our vintage oven must be lit by match; they are beside the stove. Turn on the gas, open the door, and hold a lit math by the hole where it says “Light here.” You will hear it catch.
  6. Dishwasher tablets are on the counter
  7. Coffee beans are in the corner cabinet, along with the hand grinder.
  8. There is enough firewood for a bonfire, if you’ve a mind. Follow all fire safety regulations. Marshmallow roasting forks are beside the door, and chocolate and graham crackers are in the cabinet beside the stove.
  9. Beer is in the fridge; liquor is in the buffet; cocktail glasses are on the top shelf with the shaker; citrus fruit, olives and maraschino cherries are in the fridge; mint is in the garden.
  10. Have people out for a party, if you want. Just clean up afterwards. Cleaning supplies are under the sink, if needed.

All in all, we feel like our sitters can have a pretty fun time.

I’m always careful to share specific chicken instructions for our chicken sitter, too. Not that there’s much to it, but a lot of people don’t know the first thing about chickens and they worry about the “taking care of the chickens” part. I tell them

  1. The extra chicken feed is in the coop, in case the feeders should need refilled. They shouldn’t need refilled unless they are knocked over, and that is unlikely.
  2. Check the water, in case the waterers should need refilled. They shouldn’t need refilled unless they are knocked over, and that is unlikely.
  3. Treats are in a blue bin by the front door, so you can have the fun of tossing out scratch or sunflower seeds for the flock
  4. Empty egg cartons for the eggs you gather are on the counter by the French press.
  5. Gather eggs at least once a day. You can  keep any eggs you gather.
  6. If a chicken should get injured in some way, even if it’s not bad, separate her out into the hospital area in the coop. It’s all ready with food and water, just in case it’s needed.
  7. If the injury is bad, call My Pet Chicken’s toll free number for advice: 888-460-1529, or email info@mypetchicken.com. If you prefer, here is the number of our veterinarian. You can reach us by leaving a message at the state park lodge.

But here’s what I forgot to explain to one of our chicken sitters, John. John the long-suffering, let’s call him. I forgot to mention broodiness. There’s always something you overlook, right?

When we got back from our trip, we found he hadn’t enjoyed the porch or the cocktails or the bonfire pit or the hiking trail or any of those things. The whole time we were gone, he’d been worried to death about our silkie, Sylvia, who had apparently gone broody the day after we left. She hid in the corner and whined, he said. She kept puffing up her feathers and screeching like she was in pain. Everytime he tried to get her to go outside, she’d just go back in the coop and huddle in the corner.

“She must be deathly ill,” he finished miserably.

I’m sorry, John. She’s fine. Don’t worry. You haven’t somehow killed all our chickens, or even one of them.

Broodiness is nothing to be worried about… if you know what “broody” is. But if you don’t, I can understand how it would be terrifying! You have a hen who spends her time in the nest box or corner, unmoving, screeching at anyone who comes to close, not eating or drinking much, and generally acting like a chicken lunatic. Poor John spent the weekend worrying and trying to get her to free range like the rest of our birds. She wasn’t interested. He looked her over for injuries repeatedly and found nothing. He was beside himself. I should have thought to mention that! But inexplicably, he didn’t call My Pet Chicken. Or our vet. Or us.

Anyone at My Pet Chicken answering the phone could have told him in a minute that he just had a broody hen on his hands–no worries!  The vet could have told him that. We could have told him that. Instead, he spent a shaky, worrisome weekend… and it’s something I could have avoided had I thought to warn him about the possibility of broodiness!

Take my advice: Don’t risk killing your chicken sitter by forgetting to tell him or her about broodiness. You might also warn them about sun bathing and dust bathing, which could also fool a person inexperienced with chickens into thinking that something is wrong.

What do you tell your chicken sitters? Have you ever forgotten something important? Have you added to your list after a bad experience? Please tell us in the comments, so we can help other nascent chicken sitters!

Sharon May 10th, 2013

Yes! I have written a 3 page “chicken sitter guide”. It has everything I can think of…. including “what to do if a chicken passes away”… guide is laminated & kept in the feed bucket.

Gwen May 10th, 2013

Hahaha :). That’s funny. I thought the same thing with my first broody chicken.

Kim May 10th, 2013

This is a great post! I am going on a little trip soon and have a chicken sitter coming. Thank for the information! The chickens in the first picture are soooo extremely cute!!!!

Karen May 10th, 2013

I am a petsitter and loved this article. There are so many things that get over looked until they happen. Usually 9 times out of 10 everything is fine, but it sounds like poor John the long suffering found that 1 item.

It was mentioned by another poster and it’s something NONE of us want to think about but that list should include what to do if the pet passes away while owner is gone. Does the owner want to know right away? How does the owner want things done by the vet? Does the Vet have that plan in the pet’s file? It’s hard to think about but it will give everyone a peace of mind to know what to do.

My own experience was rather scary funny – I was dog sitting at a home WAY WAY out in the country. I was in bed for the night and I heard something that sounded human like run across the roof. After 2-3 hours of this, I finally called the police. (In hind sight, I should have known if the dog didn’t care I shouldn’t have cared either) It turned out to be a family of raccoons using the roof as a highway back and forth between the giant Oak trees around the house. Phew!! When the owners returned their response was, “Oh yeah, I guess we should have mentioned that” YA THINK?!?! Thank goodness I loved them like family! HAHA

Susie M May 10th, 2013

Too funny! I’m glad you put the dust bathing and sun bathing in there, that totally freaked me out in my first chicken season. I might add two others

1. Eggs are nicknamed ‘cackleberries’ for a reason, how much noise would you make if something that big came out of your butt? Look how small those hens are in comparison. You have no idea how many times I ran outside to ‘save’ my girls from a predator, or my neighbors would call to have me go check in case a fox had got in there.

2. During free-ranging, don’t be surprised if, when you go to the back door, or even just peek out of the window to see what the girls are up to, and they see you, they come running at full speed to the house. All of them, and they tell the others, and they all come too. They are NOT attacking. It is a compliment, they trust you, and have connected the sight of you with treats. Of course, now you will know no peace out doors, but it is wonderful when one likes to sit in your lap.

Lissa May 10th, 2013

These are all good ideas! Maybe I can do a follow up post in a few weeks with a collected list of things to share, suggested by other chicken owners. I felt so bad for John. We were just sure he was going to have a blast! 🙂

Katherine May 10th, 2013

Omg i want to be a chicken sitter. Best sitter job ever.

Lol poor John! I understand that completely being a pet sitter also.

Only I had the worst happen and had a pet get killed by three of the other pets, omg is that a story. Moral- hamsters are active at night- dogs, like cats, too, will play with rodents. I could have contacted the owners but the hamster was already gone and there was nothing they could do, so without ruining their stay I told them two days before the came back as a warning. The cats knocked the Hamster tubing lose While i had run home to lock my hens in at dusk. Escaped hamster + dogs= disaster. I probably would have wante to know right away if something had died but I know i for sure would be worried about it for the rest of the trip. I guess its a judgement call- or depends on the danger of the rest of the animals.

Lol I left a comment about my mom being scared by our broody hen- I guess there are more people out there with broody scares too!

Lol however once I was taking a nap during the day and I get called by my aunt. “There’s something wrong with the chickens!!!!”
“what?! What’s wrong?!” I come running.
“they are rolling around! Something is wrong!”
I stop at the stairs and sigh- half way to the coop ” there’s nothing wrong. They are dust bathing.” and I turn around and head back to bed.

Heather May 10th, 2013

I timed a hatch poorly. I have an incubator full of eggs starting to hatch and I am leaving for the weekend. I think my sister can handle it though. She is pretty chicken savvy. 🙂

kakasailorette May 14th, 2013

Hmmm…Last night a coyote was screaming the alert to his buddies that breakfast was right here at my house at 4 am. I hung out around my chicken coop with my headlamp until I felt he’d become discouraged for the night.
Next day my girl Dazey had laid a soft egg and an alien; fright I presume??? Can anyone tell me if they’ve seen their hens lay a weird lump with white tentacles!!!!!

Lissa May 15th, 2013

Your chickens are lucky to have you there to look out for them! I bet the “alien” was merely the egg membrane, or else egg membrane material. A fright like that, you’re right, can cause your girls to go off laying, or to lay odd shaped eggs or eggs with other unusual characteristics (too small, wrinkled shell, etc.) You can read more about soft-shelled and shell-less eggs on our website. Hopefully it won’t take them long to recover their equanimity–and their regular egg laying!

Stevee Salazar May 16th, 2013

How lucky are you all who have chicken sitters! My mom is the only one I trust to watch my girls. My girls free range during the day but have to be cooped at night due to predators. One thing I would want to remind my mom or a sitter, if I could find one I trusted, is that some hens will lay their eggs on the ground -in or out of the coop – and its perfectly ok. People new to chickens might be unfamiliar with the “pecking order” which also might make the list. Even if you have a nesting box for every hen they will most likely all fight over the same one or two boxes!! Don’t be alarmed to see an egg on the ground, its all part of the nesting game. Also hens will find some very interesting places to lay… not always where you expect! I’ve even caught my hens sharing a box once. …. oh how I love my chickens.

Practical Parsimony May 20th, 2013

I had to be out of town and needed someone to feed my hens. Actually, I had arranged to be able to return home once a day and feed them. Then, when I was iced in, I ha to depend on two people who had odd schedules to coordinate.

Luckily, the woman who was afraid had her father visiting over the New Year, and he had had chickens all his life before marriage. Then, the guy, a neighbor who could walk here in case it was too icy, had been reared around chicken houses. The woman did not want to walk in poop. I was so nervous because I did not know about the father who had raised chickens and the friend that had been raised around them.

Dust bathing chickens do look like they are in death throes. Two bathing together looks like a fight to the death.

I have a friend who comes to help me once a week. He came in all the time reporting strange behavior. It was all normal, like being broody, dust bathing, pecking order, and things I cannot remember.

Donna November 15th, 2017

One thing you might add is that if you have a rooster, he may think he has to protect his girls from the evil stranger that’s hanging around. I was chicken-sitting for my nephew once when his rooster flew at me and spurred me in the stomach! For a few days there, it looked like I had two belly buttons! For the rest of the week, I had to go to the coop with a tennis racket to shoo him away from me. Believe it or not, my experience of chicken-sitting for him was what convinced me that I wanted chickens of my own…just no roosters!! ????


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