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How to Transport Chickens: 5 Steps for a Safe & Stress-Free trip

If you have backyard chickens, then you'll have to transport or move your chickens at some stage. Which is why it's important to learn how to transport your chickens safely, without stress. Whether you’re:

  • Getting started with chickens and need to get them home safely
  • Moving house and you simply can’t imagine leaving your pet chickens behind; or
  • Taking your sick or injured chicken to the vet.

My first attempt at transporting chickens nearly ended in disaster

When it comes to chicken transportation, I learnt the hard way. My first attempt nearly ended in disaster. 

I was bringing home my first coop (second hand), which came with a lonely hen we called Cluck. I had taken the plunge with zero planning and I couldn’t wait for the fresh eggs. It was a spur of the moment thing and I figured it couldn’t be that hard? But I didn’t even get home before the problems started.

Chicken on the loose in the backseat

I was driving down the highway with a chicken on the loose in the backseat. I can’t believe I didn’t shut the box up tightly! Cluck was flapping around like crazy, with feathers and poop everywhere and loud squawking in my ears. When Cluck got loose, it scared the crap out of me and out of Cluck apparently! 

In the end we made it home safely

Cluck was pretty shaken up and the car was a mess. But I know it could have been way worse. It was only luck that saved me from an accident. 

Plan before you jump in

This experience taught me a valuable lesson to “plan before you jump in.” A bit of time spent planning, makes transporting chickens way easier and a lot less stressful.

Transporting chickens can be so overwhelming 

There’s so much to think about when transporting chickens:

  • Should you transport chickens yourself or pay someone to take care of it for you?
  • How much does it cost to move and transport chickens?
  • How do you move chickens without them getting hurt or stressed?
  • What type of chicken carriers should you use to transport your chickens?

How to Transport Chickens without stress

This experience taught me a valuable lesson to “plan before you jump in.” A bit of time spent planning, makes transporting chickens way easier and a lot less stressful.

Here are two quotes from people who had very different experiences from transporting chickens. 

A bit of planning will take you from this:

  • “During the trip, she slipped and slid around the cage, and she arrived a nervous wreck, covered in poop.”

To this:

  • So relaxed they laid an egg during the trip”

5 Steps for a Safe and Stress-Free Trip

If you want to be prepared, you’re in the right place. This guide will take you through 5 steps for a safe and stress free trip

Transporting Chickens Checklist

To put this guide into action, get the step by step checklist for a safe and stress free trip.

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Step 1. Before you get started with chickens

Ideally transporting chickens is something you should think about and plan for before you get chickens.

Step 2. Gather information for the trip

Before transporting chickens, you need to get your ducks (chickens) in a row, by gathering the facts.

  • How many chickens are you transporting?
  • How far are you transporting your chickens?
  • What are the Chicken keeping regulations in your new location?
  • Permits and Quarantine for transporting chickens interstate?
  • What Chicken Keeping Equipment are you Transporting?
  • Time of year and weather

Step 3. Decide on How to Transport Chickens and prepare for the Trip

Good planning and preparation is the key to transporting chickens. Decide how you’re going to transport your chickens and prepare for the trip.

  • Decide on how to Transport Chickens: Paid / DIY
  • Finding and choosing a transporting company
  • Stress Factors - what can go wrong when moving chickens yourself?
  • Chicken Transport Truck / Vehicle
  • Chicken Carriers: Transport Cages, Crates, Carriers and Boxes
  • Travel Timing, stops, multi day trips  
  • Feeding and Watering during Transportation  

Step 4. Traveling with Chickens

How to travel safely with chickens. Prepare for things to go wrong and roll with the punches.

  • Plan for things going wrong
  • Do a test run
  • Getting chickens into their transport boxes
  • Driving

Step 5. Arrival

What to do when you arrive at your destination.

Step 1. Planning before you get started with chickens

Chickens live for 8+ years. Is it possible that you’ll move house during that time? This is something you should ideally think about and plan for before you get started with chickens. It might make you think twice before getting carried away with too many chickens.

At the very least, you’ll need to have a plan for getting your new chickens home (if you are buying point-of-lay chickens).

The Ultimate Guide for Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

Moving or transporting your chickens is just one of many things you should think about before you get started with chickens. If you’re just getting started, then check out the Ultimate Guide for Getting Started with Backyard Chickens. 

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Step 2. Gather information for the trip

Before transporting chickens, you need to get your ducks / chickens in a row. Here is a list of the key things to think about and information to gather.

How many chickens are you transporting?

Transporting 50 chickens is a completely different prospect to transporting 5 chickens. A few could be managed in a family car. More than that and you will probably need a truck.

How far are you transporting your chickens?

If you are transporting chickens long distance, then you will need to do a lot more planning. On long distance trips:

you will need to plan for any stops and your chickens are more likely to suffer heat stress, get injured and get stressed out in general.

  • You will need to plan for any stops
  • Your chickens are more likely to suffer some sort of stress
  • You will need to provide water or plan for regular watering stops.

What are the Chicken keeping regulations in your new location?

Chicken keeping laws are usually set by local councils, so can be different between cities and even different areas within a city. If you’re permanently relocating your chickens, then check if you’re allowed to keep chickens any restrictions you need to plan for.

Permits and Quarantine for transporting chickens interstate?

If you’re moving chickens interstate, you should check for any permit or quarantine requirements. As an example, I did a quick google search on the quarantine requirements for bringing poultry into California. From there I found the California Department of Food and Agriculture website. This website tells you the requirements for bringing poultry into California, which includes an entry permit and Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI).

What Chicken Keeping Equipment are you Transporting?

If you’re relocating chickens, you will need to decide what chicken keeping equipment (if any) you want to take with you. Will you be transporting your coop, feeders, drinkers and fencing? This decision will depend on:

  • how permanent your existing setup is
  • amount and size of your coop
  • cost and time of replacement vs the cost and time required to move it
  • how suitable it will be for your new house.

Time of year and weather

It's important to plan for the weather when transporting chickens.  Will it be cold and snowing, moderate or a scorching hot summers day?

Step 3. Decide on How to Transport Chickens and prepare for the Trip

3.1 Decide on how to Transport Chickens: Paid / DIY

There are two options for transporting chickens:

  1. A paid transport service
  2. Transporting Chickens yourself (DIY

The best option depends completely on you and your situation. Here is a comparison based on 3 criteria: Cost, Control, Experience and Time.

Cost of Transporting Chickens

Generally the cost of paying someone else to transport your chickens will be more expensive than doing it yourself. However, the costs involved in moving chickens yourself can add up if you need to hire a car or truck, pay for petrol and buy special transport boxes.

Control when Transporting Chickens

When you pay someone to transport your chickens, whether it’s a professional transport company or someone from gumtree.com, you're putting a lot of trust in someone else to look after your chickens.

If you transport chickens yourself, you have complete control to make sure they don’t get stressed and that they are well cared for during the trip.

Experience in Transporting Chickens

If you use a professional delivery service, they will have all the right equipment and will know exactly what to do. In some cases, an experienced and well equipped transport company is a better option, rather than trying to handle it all yourself with makeshift boxes jammed in the back of your car.

Transporting Chickens takes time

If you are transporting chickens long distances or have lots of chickens, then it’s going to take more work to plan for the trip. If you don’t have the time to worry about it, then a transport company might be worth looking into.

3.2 Preparation - Paid transport service

If you’re looking to use a paid transport service, it can take some work to find the right person or company.

Finding a transporting company

How do you find a transport company in your area? Here are some ideas and examples:

Professional Transport Service

Search on google for:

  • Pet transport
  • Livestock transport
  • Poultry transport
  • Chicken transport
  • Birds transport

You can also check out this Quora post for a great list of shipping companies.

Low budget and personalized services

Low budget and personalised providers may be less organised and less well equipped. On the other hand, they can provide more personalised care. Here are some ideas:

  • Classifieds: Post an ad or look for transport services on classifieds such as www.gumtree.com
  • Facebook Groups: Look for Facebook groups in your area, focused on backyard chickens. Like this one “I’m passing that way, Australia (Poultry)” which has been setup so that people can help others with transporting chickens if they are heading in the same direction
  • Forums such as www.backyardchickens.com
  • UShip – a site that connects people with transporters www.uship.com
  • Airtasker – enables users to outsource a range of tasks www.airtasker.com
How to choose a transport company

When looking for a transport company, how do you choose the best one? Here are some of the key things your should consider:

  • Price: Is it value for money? Is the price fixed? Are there any additional costs?
  • Pickup / delivery: Does it include door-to-door pickup/delivery? If not, where and when will the drop-off and pickup points be?
  • Accomodation: Is accommodation provided before and after a move if you won’t be available immediately
  • Delays: Are there any guarantees on timeframes and delays?
  • Food and water: If and how food and water will be provided
  • Vehicle: What type of vehicle will be used
  • Experience: Ability to demonstrate experience in transporting chickens
  • Chicken health and safety: are there any guarantees in place for your chickens health and safety. Will Vets be available if there are any issues during the trip.
  • Stress management: How is a stress free environment maintained (temperature, handling, cages)
  • Reviews / testimonials: Check for reviews (e.g. on their website, Google and Facebook)

3.3 Preparation - Do it yourself (DIY)

If you decide to move your chickens yourself, then there is a lot more planning and preparation to do.

 Stress Factors - what can go wrong when moving chickens yourself?

Transporting your chickens by car is stressful for chickens. It’s a strange confined environment, there’s lots of noise and movement from the car.

There are also the elements to watch out for such as heat, wind and cold.

Stress can result in dead chickens. And it can impact egg laying for days or even weeks afterwards.

The combination of lots of movement, stressed chickens and a lack of airflow inside a car can result in chickens covered in poop and a stinky ride.

Transporting Chickens: Safety Checklist

Checklist for a safe and stress free trip.

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Here is a list of the key stress factors to avoid:

Heat

High temperatures, direct sun exposure and a lack of ventilation all contribute to heat stress. 

  • DO NOT use air tight crates, trailers or trucks to haul chickens, especially in warm weather.
  • Remember, air circulation stops if you are stopped or in slow traffic. It may be necessary to open windows or doors until you get moving again.

Signs of heat stress include panting, holding the wings out, a pale comb and even laying down. If your chickens are suffering from heat stress, cool them by spraying or dipping the chicken in cool water. This should help bring the chickens body temperature down to a safe level.

Cold / Snow / Frostbite

In cold weather, avoid drafts. Excessively cold drafts can cause frostbite.

Movement

Too much movement from turning corners and stopping / starting can cause injury and stress.

Sudden temperature changes

Adult chickens can adapt to a high range of temperatures where the temperature change is gradual and slow. A steady shift in temperature causes much less stress than a sudden change. 

For this reason, don’t transport your chickens in an air conditioned vehicle. Your chickens won’t be able to easily adapt to the temperature change when you arrive at your destination.

Wind

Lots of wind and rapid air movements while your car is driving will stress out your chickens and can cause eye and ear irritation and feather damage. To avoid wind exposure, don’t use open air coops on open bed trucks and trailers, especially at highway speeds. Crates with closed sides and an open air top works best with open bed vehicles.

Rain

It’s not ideal to let your chickens get wet in the rain, especially if it's cold and windy.

Odour and mess

The combination of lots of movement, stressed chickens and a lack of airflow inside a car can result in chickens covered in poop. This can make for a stinky and uncomfortable ride for you and your chickens. 

Chicken Transport Truck / Vehicle

Your average car will only fit a few chickens. To transport more chickens, you will need a trailer or chicken transport truck. If you’re using an open bed truck, you will need to provide protection from the elements including air movement (from driving), Sun, Rain, Snow.

Chicken Carriers: Transport Cages, Crates, Carriers and Boxes

To keep your chickens from flapping around, you will need to move them in chicken transport cages. Providing your chickens with a well ventilated and dark space will keep your chickens calm and safe. In a dark and comfortable environment, your chickens might even sleep. It doesn't have to be fancy or complicated, which means there are lots of different types of chicken transportation crates, cages, carriers and boxes you can use.

Safety features for Chicken Carriers

To help you choose a chicken carrier for transporting chickens, here is a list of "safety" features that they should have:

  • Well Ventilated: Chicken carriers need good airflow, which provides your chickens fresh air and keeps your chickens cool. This is especially important in hot weather. Also make sure you consider ventilation if you are stacking crates on top of each other.
  • Dark: Ideally your Chicken Carriers will keep the light out. Darkness will make your chickens think it's night time, which calms them down. 
  • Snug fitting: The size of your chicken carriers is important. You want to keep your chickens snug, so they don't slide around during the trip. If there's too much room, your chickens can get slammed into the side of the carrier every time you stop, start and turn corners. As a rough guide, aim for about one cubic foot per chicken. Obviously this will vary based on the breed of your chickens.
  • Secure: Carriers need to be strapped down and secure so they don't go flying through the car from any sudden stops. This is a safety issue for you and your chickens. Also make sure you stack crates safely and securely so they can’t tip or slide if you stop or turn quickly.
  • Separated: Chickens squashed into carriers can amplify stress and cause bullying or pecking problems. Because of this, each chicken should ideally have its own carrier. Dividers can be a solution for larger carriers.
  • Light coloured: Dark coloured chicken carriers can turn into a deadly oven in hot weather and especially in direct sun. Light coloured carriers are best. If you have a dark carrier and are worried about the heat, you could paint it a lighter colour, use shade cloth or simply cover it with a lightly coloured material.
  • Enclosed: Don't use chicken carriers which allow your chickens to stick their heads out. If they can stick their heads out of the carrier, their necks can be accidentally broken if the carrier shifts. Also avoid using wire bottomed cages. When a cage with a wire floor slides. it can damage the toes of your chickens if they get caught between the wire and the floor.
Ideas for Chicken Carriers  

Here are some ideas on what you can use to transport your chickens:

Chicken Transportation Crates

These can be expensive but it might make sense to use them if you need to regularly transport your chickens. They are space efficient and don’t slide around much. If you are stacking chicken transportation crates on top of each other, make sure you use plenty of bedding, so they don't poop on each other.

Chicken Transport Cages

A general pet cage can be used as chicken transport cages. This can be a handy option, especially if you have one at home and you only need to transport a few chickens at a time. However they don't provide good protect from the elements and they are also too big for one chicken, which means sliding around can be a problem.

Chicken Carriers / Pet Carriers

A chicken carrier / pet carrier can be a good option, especially if you have one handy at home and you only need to transport a few chickens at a time. They are purpose built for carrying pets, so have good ventilation and are easy to carry. Some brands also include an attachable water cup which can be handy. However they do tend to be expensive and costs add up if you need to transport more than a few chickens at once. They are also too big for one chicken, which means sliding around can be a problem.

Cardboard chicken boxes

You can use a cardboard box to transport chickens. Make sure the cardboard chicken boxes are sturdy and you will need to add holes for ventilation. You will need more than just random air holes. Two long cut-outs on opposite sides of the cardboard box are a good way to provide some cross ventilation. If you're providing water in the box, then keep in mind that the box will become flimsy from any spilt water.

Plastic crates

Standard plastic crates can be used as transportation crates, which are more sturdy than cardboard boxes. Just make sure they are kept secure, dark and have plenty of ventilation.

Chicken wire or mesh

Wire or mesh can be used as a lid for your transport cages to secure your chickens.

Shade Cloth

Shade cloth is a great way to keep the sun off the transport cages, without affecting ventilation.

Bedding for Transport Cages

To keep your chickens comfortable and clean, you will need to put some bedding in your transport cages. Cushy and dry bedding is best, such as straw or sawdust. Bedding is also a good way to pad out the cages and make it more snug fitting for your chicken. Non slip mats can also help if slipping and sliding is an issue.

Travel Timing 

If it’s really hot and sunny and your chickens will be exposed to the heat, then you can plan to travel during cooler parts of the day. This usually means travelling in the morning or later in the evening / night.

Stops when transporting chickens

For longer trips, you will have to plan for stops. If your chickens will be in an enclosed car or truck, then you will need to be careful of the summer heat. When you stop, make sure your chickens have plenty of ventilation and don’t overheat. Keeping your windows slightly open won’t be enough on a hot day.

Feeding and Watering Chickens during Transportation

How long does the trip need to be before you worry about feeding and watering your chickens?

Your chickens should be watered at least every 3-4 hours. On a hot day, it is a lot more important that your chickens have regular access to water. 

When transporting chickens, food is not usually necessary and the stress of the trip can mean that your chickens will not eat much.

The problem with feeding and watering chickens while travelling, is that it can be messy. All the movement will spill food and water everywhere, making transport boxes wet and dirty and can create a real mess.

Some solutions:

  • Watery fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber and watermelon provide food and also keeping your chickens hydrated without as much mess.
  • Nipple waterers are perfect when transporting your chickens because they are fully enclosed and stop water from spilling everywhere. The only drawback of nipple waterers is the learning curve. It's not hard, but they will need to get used to nipple waterers before the trip.
  • Plan to take stops where you can give your chickens some food and water from open dishes. This will avoid the mess completely but is more time consuming.
Multi day trips

If you have a multi-day trip, things get more complicated because you’ll have to think about where your chickens will spend the night. You can’t leave your chickens in the back of the truck, in your car or in a motel room. It will need to be a comfortable environment, that’s secure, without stress and with protection from the elements.

Step 4. Traveling with Chickens

Plan for things going wrong

Despite all the planning and testing, things don't always go to plan, so you need to be prepared for that. When traveling with chickens, you need to be prepared to roll with the punches and improvise if needed.

Give yourself plenty of time and allow for things to take longer than planned. Take it slow and stop and check on your chickens if you’re concerned. Slow and steady wins the race.

Some supplies that can be handy when things go wrong:

  • Duct tape – which can fix anything
  • Extra boxes - especially if using cardboard
  • More water then you think you need
  • Towels
  • A Chicken First Aid Kit

Do a test run

If you’re planning on transporting chickens long distance or are transporting lots of chickens, then you should do a test run if possible. It doesn't have to be a full test. This can simply involve a short trip with a couple of chickens, just to make sure everything works the way you planned. If you decide to do a test run, focus on the things you are most worried about. Here are some things you could look at during a test run:

  • Check how much your chickens move and slide about when you're driving. Hit the brakes a couple of times (don’t get carried away). Turn some corners. And go up and down some hills.
  • Do a dummy run of any pit stops you will need to make.
  • Check for exposure to the elements to make sure you have enough protection such as shade cloth and ventilation.

Check that your chickens are fit for travel

A day or two before the trip, it’s a good idea to give your chickens a quick health check, to make sure they’re fit and healthy for the trip. Transporting chickens that are already sick or injured is not a good idea. The health check might also spot problems that can be fixed before the trip.

Getting chickens into their transport boxes

Early morning before the sun rises is the easiest and least stressful way to get your chickens into their box. While chickens are roosting and asleep, they are more docile and easy to pick up. Use a dim light so you can see what you’re doing. Grab them from the side, holding their wings down tightly, with their head faced away from you. Holding their wings will stop them flapping around, although this shouldn’t be too much of a problem while they are still half asleep. Try and do it as quietly as possible so you don’t wake up the other chickens.

Driving

I know it's common sense, but remember to drive carefully. This means driving a bit slower and more steady than usual, being careful to avoid sudden stops, starts and sharp turns. This will stop your chickens from moving, banging and sliding around too much, which can stress out and injure your chickens.

Step 5. Arrival

When you arrive at your destination, it's a good idea to give your chickens a check over, to make sure they aren't injured or sick from the trip. And it's much easier to do this while they’re still in their box.

If they are being relocated, then it’s important to ease them into their new environment. Leaving your chickens in their box with the door / lid open is a good way of doing this. This will let your chickens explore slowly and when they are ready for it.

Transporting Chickens: Safety Checklist

Checklist for a safe and stress free trip.

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