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Hurricane and Storm Preparedness for Backyard Chickens

Read my personal account of preparing my backyard chickens and ducks for a hurricane that was heading for the East Coast.

It seems that the weather is getting more extreme year to year, and hurricanes and tornadoes are popping up all over the place.

We hear storm warnings all the time and they usually turn out to be nothing, but back in 2011, we got hit with Hurricane Irene while we were living in Virginia and I realized just how unprepared I was to handle severe weather when it came to protecting our backyard flock. 

Back in southeast Virginia, our biggest threat was hurricanes, but they often also spawn tornadoes in their wake. The advice here goes for not only hurricanes and tornadoes, but also blizzards if you live in the northern climates.

Hurricane and Storm Preparedness for Backyard Chickens

We have our "people" disaster preparedness kit in the house with flashlights, batteries, canned food, bottled water, a battery-operated radio and such, but we really didn't have anything prepared when it came to the animals.

Flying debris, flooding and high winds that could blow your coop over are all concerns when a hurricane or tornado is predicted.

Also not being able to get to the feed store for several days for feed because of blocked roads or power outages, injuries that may need to be taken care of and a lack of electricity to power your well are also of major concern. Plan now so if a storm is headed your way you will be ready.

We first heard the warnings that Hurricane Irene was suddenly changing course and heading right for us one warm August evening. With visions of the opening scene from The Wizard of Oz running through my head, I ran down to the barn.

Chickens are small and light and there's danger of them literally blowing away in high winds and also danger of them being hit by flying debris. Well in advance of the storm be sure the chickens are all rounded up and secured in their coop.

~stock photo courtesy MGM~ 

Before the Storm

I knew I needed to get the chickens and ducks to a safe, dry (preferably windowless) area.If you can, bring them inside, a garage or basement will work, or even a spare bathroom if you have just a few chicken.

Put down a tarp first, then add some straw, water and feeders, a ladder for them to perch on, or even a board run across two chairs, and a few baskets or boxes with straw in the them to lay eggs in.

First, I shooed the chickens out of the coop. I would normally advise that you leave your chickens inside your coop if it's a large permanent structure, but our first coop was not very large nor heavy and just stood up on cement blocks so it could easily blow over or be lifted by heavy winds. So leaving the chickens inside for the duration wasn't a safe option.

I decided the safest place for the chickens and ducks to weather the storm would be in the tack room of our barn. There is only one small window and the room is raised about a foot above ground level, so no worries of flooding.

Coop Considerations

If your coop is small and movable, consider moving it right into a garage or basement (that won't flood).

If it is too big to move, but not a permanent structure, tie it down or otherwise secure so it won't blow away. If it's a shed-like structure, lock the chickens inside. Cover glass windows that might break with plywood or at least a tarp on the inside to catch any broken glass.

If the coop is raised, like many are, there's less danger of flooding. If its set right at ground level and movable, you might need to move the chickens to higher ground, away from trees that might fall on it. Another option is to move the coop to a sheltered location blocked from direct winds. 

If you only have 2-3 chickens, putting them in a dog crate or puppy playpen in the house works too. Again, with some bedding, feed and water.

(One note: Barn and large shed-like coop windows and doors (as long as there aren't chickens in it) should always be left open during storms involving high winds to let the air flow through and hopefully not lift up the structure right off the ground. 

Conventional wisdom dictates that larger animals, horses, cows, etc. should be let free during storms because they have a better chance running loose in a pasture than in stalls where they could be crushed if the barn collapses, but chickens are so small and light that they would blow away too easily, so barring a direct tornado hit to your 'bunker' they will be far safer 'cooped up' in a sturdy structure.)

I decided that the chickens would be safer for the time being out in the run/paddock area of our horse barn while I prepared a hurricane shelter for them. Since it was already getting dark, they immediately sought the high ground and roosted on top of the run fence.

I put down a plastic tarp in the tack room to try and keep the floor as clean as possible and then set up some temporary roosts for the chickens using wooden ladders. A 2x4 set across two lawn chairs would work as a temporary roost too.

I set out enough feed for several days and several water stations and then filled as many buckets as I could find with fresh clean water in case we lost power to our well or I wasn't able to get back down for a day or so.

I also cut the circuit breaker to the barn. Just to be on the safe side, you want to cut power to prevent a possible electrical fire.

I filled some tubs and baskets with straw and fake eggs so they would know where to lay their eggs.

First Aid Supplies

I gathered all my first aid supplies and made sure they were handy in case of any injuries due to bouts of panic due to the unfamiliar surroundings and wind whipping outside. Things like gauze, Vetrap, Green Goo, etc. to treat wounds.

You also want to be prepared for lacerations in case of a broken window (although we did cut a piece of plywood and screwed it over the window to prevent the window breaking). 

One product I always keep on hand is Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets. It is a homeopathic liquid that eases stress and calms not only chickens, but also cats and dogs, in times of anxiety, illness or injury. Chickens generally aren't bothered by loud noises, but like most animals they can sense changes in weather and can get anxious during storms. So it's always best to be prepared.

When everything was set up, I ushered our little flock to their new temporary quarters. By now it was dark and they were noticeably nervous with the wind starting to pick up considerably and it had already started raining.

They were understandably confused at first,  but a fresh bale of straw kept them busy and their minds occupied.  I  shut the door, locking it and securing it with a bungee cord, confident that they were as safe as they could be.

I picked up any loose items in and around the coop and secured them before I headed back to the house.

The hurricane hit overnight and raged all the next day. We had several trees in the front yard uproot ed and lost many trees limbs. With all the debris flying around, it just wasn't safe to make the trek to the barn until the storm had subsided.

After the Storm

As soon as it was safe, once the wind had subsided and things stopped blowing around, I raced down to check on the chickens. As an aside, don't risk your life to check on your flock. If you have prepared their area well, they should be fine for the duration.

The following evening I was finally able to safely get down to the barn during a lull in the wind and driving rain to check on things. I opened to tack room door to find quite a mess (we had the ducks to thank mainly for that!) but everyone was fine.  The chickens had even laid a few eggs in one of the baskets!

I refreshed feeders and waterers and tossed some sunflower seeds in the straw. I was worried about pecking issues with them all being in such a small space for a prolonged period of time so the sunflower seeds would keep them busy.

It ended up being two full days before I could safely let everyone out and back into their run, which had flooded. We suffered only minor damage to the barn and lost only two trees, so I was grateful for that.

Once I got them settled back in their coop, I made sure to check the area carefully for broken glass, pieces of metal or other objects that could be potentially dangerous for them to eat or step on.

The tack room needed a thorough cleaning, but I was able to drag most of the mess outside on the tarp, which I dumped into the compost pile then hosed down and let dry in the sun. Everyone was safe, so that was all that mattered.

Lessons Learned about Hurricane and Storm Preparedness

After this experience, I know that I will a little bit more prepared in the future for impending weather. Here is my flock hurricane preparedness list:

1) Fully stocked first aid kit

3) Buckets and barrels filled with water. A chicken drinks about 2 cups of water a day, so plan accordingly.

4) Feed to last at least three weeks stored in a dry location. You will need enough feed to last for the duration of the storm and to allow for the possibility that roads might be blocked, feed stores might not be open during the cleanup or delivery trucks won't be able to get through. A chicken eats about 1/2 cup of feed a day, so plan accordingly.  

5) Several bales of straw (I wish I had enough bales that I could have stacked a few for the chickens to hop onto and perch on) stored in a dry flood-safe area.

6) Treats including sunflower seeds and other things that can be scattered for them to find to keep them busy and prevent pecking issues. Or heads of cabbage or lettuce to keep them busy for the duration of the storm.

A lack of proper planning could result in losses or injury to your flock, so take some time to figure out what your storm preparedness plan might entail.

Note: I apologize for the poor quality of these photos, but trying to get ready to weather the storm and snap photos at the same time in the impending darkness was a bit challenging!

Please have some kind of plan in the case of a natural disaster of any kind. Please don't just abandon your flock if you have to evacuate.  Separating several chickens together in dog crates or cardboard boxes in the back of your vehicle, in a horse trailer or pickup bed, all will work. 

During a previous storm, someone in Key West had chickens wrapped in newspaper like burritos stacked in the back seat of their car taking them to a safe place (I kid you not!)

If you absolutely can't take them with you, be sure they are confined to a secure location up high off the ground with plenty of feed and water for a week or more. 

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