Disasters can hit at any time and, as luck would have it, they seem to occur when you least expect or can least afford them. From tornadoes that ravage the Midwest and South to the recurring and intensifying cycle of wildfires and floods along the Pacific coast, disasters have devastating consequences for humans and animals alike. Emergency plans rarely take animals into account and almost never consider backyard poultry. In this article, we’ll discuss how to best prepare to care for your backyard chickens when in anticipation of a disaster.  

Know The Dangers In Your Area

Understanding how specific disasters affect you is an essential component of planning. Consider some of the most common disasters in Southern California: 

  • Earthquakes often disrupt transportation routes, so anticipate evacuation routes being severely compromised. 
  • Wildfires can grow unexpectedly fast, however they are less likely to cause destruction to roads. Fast and safe evacuations are doable. 
  • Flooding can cause severe damage to transportation. The road can be inaccessible so evacuation before flooding occurs is often the best option as opposed to waiting at your house for a rescue team.

A flooded street is littered with cars. Photo by Jim Gade on Unsplash.

Preparing For Evacuation

When it comes to pets, many people stay longer because they don’t have a viable plan in place for their animals. This increases the risk for you, your pets and first responders. In order to be prepared “to stay or go” and to decrease the time and risks for you and your animals, have a check-list so you can easily prepare, evacuate, stay or both.  Things to have on your checklist include: 

  • Ways to get relevant up to date information (a.k.a. have an emergency radio) ) 
  • Physical maps with multiple evacuation routes and emergency animal shelters identified
  • Plan for transporting your chickens: 
    • Create a “go list” in order to have the following readily accessible:
  • Cages: Crates to transport chickens are easy to purchase on-line or at your local feedstore. Select a crate that has approximately 1.5 square feet of square footage per chicken. 
  • Vehicle: Best case scenario you should be able to keep the crates in the bed of a pick-up and bungee cord the crates in so it doesn’t excessively slide all over the truck bed. IF you don’t have a vehicle with an outside bed, odors will quickly build up. To reduce odors, having a crate that allows a substrate like rice hulls or shavings will be helpful.
  • Keeping them calm: To reduce stress, cover the crate with a “breathable” cloth that creates a draker (aka calmer) environment. 


What to Have Ready

It is essential, and strongly advised, to have a go bag (or bags) ready to go with supplies to last at least 2 weeks. In addition to your own “go bag” not covered in this article, things to have in your chickens “go bag” include:  

  • Feed and Water: An average laying hen eats approximately one-quarter cup of feed per day. Chickens drink roughly twice as much as they eat. So plan on about one-half cup of water per chicken per day. Plan for at least 14 days of feed and water. Include a feeder and portable waterer or low walled container to portion feed and water. Clean feed and water dishes frequently.
  • First Aid: If your chickens get burned or are otherwise injured, make sure you have contact information for your veterinarian and have contact information for a diagnostic lab since these laboratories will typically euthanize chickens for free. For small injuries, keep a bottle of povidone iodine solution on hand for disinfection. A list of private veterinarians in California who treat backyard chickens is available at the following website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/poultry/contact/
  • Temporary Enclosure:  Once you reach a safe area, allowing your birds to resume their normal behavior will help to reduce the stress of evacuation. Plastic fencing and/or collapsible metal cages work well. Ensure that the enclosure you choose is taller than the height of your birds and allows for at least one and a half square feet per bird.
  • Other Emergency Equipment: Keeping a readily accessible flashlight with extra batteries is important for safe evacuation at night or when the power goes out. Additionally, make sure to include any tools and material you expect you’ll need to take care of your animals and set up your enclosure (e.g. stakes, mallet, cord, etc.)

What To Expect When Returning Home

Each emergency has unique challenges for returning home. For example, structural damage after an earthquake can damage coops. Flooding can result in the increased presence of pathogens and mold that can affect you and your chickens. Urban fires can affect air, water and soil quality. Consider each potential risk and seek guidance from experts if necessary. 

This article was written by Ari Sallus, Joseph Gendreau, and Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.