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Fire evacuation preparedness

After an unusually hot week, a thunderstorm broke out and lightnings sparked many fires here in California. These wildfires have been devouring many thousands of acres displacing people and their animals. I helped evacuating a couple of animal sanctuaries, and when the evacuation warnings came close to our neighborhood, I started to seriously think about our own evacuation. Are we ready to leave at a moment’s notice with 11 chickens, 2 turkeys, and a dog? Are you?

The first and possibly the trickiest task is to catch each of your animals. If you can call your chickens and pick them up, congratulations! If not, corral them back in some enclosed area where you can catch them easily. If you can’t do that, then you will need extra hands and some movable fencing / pens to help you gather the birds in a corner of the yard so you can then catch them. Another option - if time permits - is to wait till sundown when all the birds are roosting in their coop. It’s then quite easy to pick up your sleepy chickens one by one.

If you have difficulties corralling your chickens, I strongly recommend that you train them during a normal time. Take their favorite treats (scratch, grapes...) and lure them into their coop where you give them the treats. Repeat that every day, and you will see after just a few days, they will follow you running!

Evacuating chickens at night at Sweet Farm.
Evacuating chickens at night at Sweet Farm.

Before loading them into crates, we are planning to put a leg band on each of our chickens so they can easily be identified. The band will have two numbers: my phone number so we can be reunited in the event we get separated, and a unique number to tell a stranger who she is (a name would have been nicer but didn’t fit on the band). See the how to ID a chicken video.

If a chicken needs special care, write her treatment and medication down on a paper with her number. It will allow anyone to take proper care of her.

Next, put them in crates. Cat and dog carriers are great; they are sturdy and well aerated. Place a towel on the bottom so the chickens have some grip and don’t slide around during transport. You could also use poultry crates; they are purposefully low so the chickens have to sit which is safer for them during transport. They stack well, and thus allow to put more chickens in one vehicle. But they are for transport only, chickens cannot be kept in these crates for many hours as they cannot stand, eat, nor drink in them. Make sure you have enough crates to evacuate everyone at the same time, and have them handy as soon as evacuation warnings arise. Label all the crates with your name and contact info. Who knows where they end up in the evacuation chaos?

Also make sure that you have enough vehicles and drivers to transport all the crates. Test it! Put all the crates (without the animals) in your vehicles and see. We realized we could just fit all our animals in our 2 cars! If you have a large number of animals, you may need a trailer.

Crates ready to evacuate all animals at Clorofil
Crates ready to evacuate all animals at Clorofil

In addition to the animals, pack food and water along with bowls, waterers, and feeders. Instead of a big feeder and waterer like they have in their coop, we chose to bring many little ones that can fit in the crates. So in case we don’t end up in a large safe enclosure for a couple of days, everyone can eat and drink from within the safety of their crates.

Similarly pack a medical kit with the medicines they currently need but also all what you have extra. If something goes wrong while you are away, you don’t want to spend time searching for an avian vet who could prescribe the medicine you left home. Also have your vet’s phone number with you, maybe they can consult over the phone if needed.

Ideally you have all this ready by the door before you start catching the chickens and loading them in crates. Don’t leave the chickens standing in their crate outside for too long. Wildfires usually happen during late summer and fall when the temperatures are the hottest. Confined chickens are at a higher risk of heat exhaustion (I have subcutaneous fluids and needles in my med kit just for that case). Bring the crates inside the house, or in the vehicles with the AC turned on while you are getting the other stuff ready.

If you still have room in your vehicles, add some temporary fencing / x-pens and netting to let the chickens stretch their legs at destination. Always do that under supervision of course. You don’t want to end up wrangling chickens in a strange new place.

And have a plan of where to go, ideally with several backup plans! Make sure your friends are ready to welcome you with all your animals, and that they aren’t in evacuation zones either. Usually counties open some space like their fairgrounds for evacuees and their animals during disasters. Local shelters and sanctuaries may be able to temporarily house some of your animals. Have a list of all the addresses and phone numbers ready. Our last-minute plan was to drive out of the fire area and camp for a couple days till we figure out where to go. Luckily for us, a friend reached out and offered to house us and all our animals. It was a huge relief. Next time, we will have a list ready ahead of time.

At soon as you arrive at destination, make sure to give your chickens water and food. It’s crucial to keep them in a cool place. The risk of overheating is real, especially as they will be already stressed by the evacuation. Have shade, ventilation, and water available to them. Keep them in the vehicle with the AC on if it’s too hot outside (but never let them without supervision in it with the AC off). Also protect them from all predators, there may be a lose dog in the next encampment or wildlife escaping from the fires.

If you are not able take all the animals with you, open the door of their enclosure. Give them a chance to escape if the fire comes. Yes, they probably will be attacked by predators but burning alive doesn’t seem a better option.

Lucky fire survivors in the Santa Cruz mountains
Lucky fire survivors in the Santa Cruz mountains. (Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter)

One last note: If you are housing evacuee chickens, do your best to quarantine them before putting them anywhere near your own flock. Don’t try to integrate them with your chickens if they are staying with you for a short time. There is no point in adding stress to the evacuees nor the residents for just a few weeks or months.

Stay safe.


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