Monday, August 22, 2011


With Irene about to buzzsaw up the east coast of Florida possibly as a MAJOR hurricane that will affect us here in Sarasota, it is worth contemplating chickens and hurricanes.

" Along toward low gray-yellow twilight, Postmaster Smallwood, on his knees beneath his store, is raking out the last of his drowned chickens. . . . He is a big man and bangs heavily against the wall of the frame house, causing his wife, somewhere inside, to cry out in alarm, Slowly he straightens, arches his stiff back. He takes a deep and dreadful breath, gags, coughs and shudders. He hawks the sweet taste of chicken rot from his mouth and nostrils."

Wet Hen from Six Orange Carrots website

That quote is from the beginning of Peter Matthiessen's Killing Mister Watson, and no chicken owner wants to go through that. So before Irene, or some other storm, arrives it is worth thinking about those hens.
Tropical depressions and hurricanes can pound our area with persistent rain for days. This can create three problems, wet birds, wet feed and wet litter.  Chickens do not like being wet (ever hear "madder than a wet hen") and wet feathers can alter the appearance of a hen and lead to an attack on it by the others. Wet birds are more susceptible to disease, so the coop needs to provide a dry retreat for the hens. Wet food spoils so you need ways to store and deliver feed that remains dry. Finally chicken droppings become more obnoxious and smelly when they get wet, so work on a design that keeps litter as dry as possible. If your yard floods, this may mean a little elevation.

One aspect tropical storms and hurricanes is high winds that can drive rain almost horizontally. You may want to provide a capacity to block wind-driven rain from getting in the coop. Walk-in coops in particular need secure anchoring, while mobile chicken tractors can be hauled into a carport or garage when a tropical storm approaches.
This, of course, is where the City of Sarasota requirement for a movable coop pays off. 

Here are CLUCK's recommendations for hurricane preparation (many suggested by Dr. Robert Kluson):

1) Clear space in your garage (or carport) for your movable coop.

2) Make sure feed is in a container and location that will not get wet. Bring it in the house if need be. 

3) Stockpile some newspaper, cardboard or other material for a bottom layer so that droppings are not ending up directly on the garage floor.

4) Check the mobility of your coop and be prepared to move it in before wind speeds complicate the process. 

5) Have a system to provide several days food and water to the birds if you have to evacuate.

If you do not have a movable coop: 

1) Check its stability and consider using screw-anchors and rope or webbing to better anchor it. 

2) Make sure feed is in a container and location that will not get wet. Bring it in the house if need be. 

3) Consider adding temporary panels to reduce wind driven rain, but remember the birds need good ventilation -- don't wrap it in polyethylene and cook them -- they need air. 

4) Set aside dry bedding material so that after the rain stops you can get birds up out of the mud.

5) Plan on keeping them cooped up and off the ground for awhile.

6) Have a system to provide several days food and water to the birds if you have to evacuate.
Projected path of Irene as of 5:00 pm Monday

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Next CHICKENS 101 Workshop - September 1Oth

It is not too late to sign up for the fourth Chickens 101 workshop, which will be held Saturday September 10th from 8:30 until noon.This is the half-day workshop recommended for people that are considering getting backyard hens. This is not a lecture in an empty classroom, but experiential education with lots of chickens of all ages. The workshop covers local laws and resources, benefits of chickens, basic care, biosecurity, and getting started. The cost is $15, which is great value for the expertise. You can register at the local ag extension website or have questions answered by calling 941-861-9900.  This event is limited to 30 people and pre-registration is required so don't delay if you are considering participating. Click here for a video montage of the last workshop.