Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


The Dog Ate My Chickens

IMG_0138.JPG

The animals on my farm enjoy a good life: free range, fresh air, sunshine, plenty of food, and humane treatment. I care for them, and in return they care for me. The chickens provide eggs and meat. The goats provide brush control, meat, and fertilizer for the garden as well as a fair amount of entertainment. The bees provide honey, wax, and pollination. The cat keeps the mice out of the barn, and the dogs keep away predators. Sounds like the peaceable kingdom, right? Well not quite.

I like to quote Gene Logsdon regarding farm animals. In Gene Everlasting, he says, “We raise our farm animals with loving care, grow quite fond of them, put our lives at risk to save theirs if necessary, and then we kill and eat them.” So there’s that — the farmer who eats her animals. And then sometimes, there’s the animals that turn on one another.

IMG_0650.JPG

Recently, I spent one month incubating 10 eggs on the kitchen countertop, another month caring for the newly hatched chicks in the brooder, and a third month caring for them on their own partitioned-off side of the main chicken coop. When they were 2 months old, I started letting them out with the big girls to free range during the day. Even though I locked them up every night, they immediately started disappearing!

One day as I was out in the yard, a few of the older hens hopped the fence and began scratching around in the yard near the dogs. The dogs, Dixie, a beagle/foxhound mix, and Bud, an Italian mastiff, ignored the hens as usual. When the dogs are not in the house sucked up against the wood stove, they are in the yard and are quite used to the chickens and guinea hens. Soon some of the half-grown chicks squeezed through the fence and fluttered after the hens, hoping to get some of whatever goodies the hens had found.

Then as I watched, Bud walked over, snatched up a chick, and started chomping, right under my nose. I was horrified! Dixie saw what was happening, looked at me just as guiltily as if she were the one chomping on my chick, and immediately slunk away to hide from what surely was coming. However, Bud just kept chomping away nonchalantly, as if I’d just given him a new chew toy.

I ran over too late to save the chick but in time to catch him with a mouthful of half-chewed bird and in time to rain down on him a fair amount of wrath and un-grandmotherly language as I removed what was left of the bird from his jaws. He looked surprised and then forlorn (and yes, a dog does have these expressions). Although this wasn’t his first offense, it had been years since he’d killed a chicken.

IMG_0112.JPG

I’d tried a bevy of things to break him back then. Tying a dead hen to his collar had not worked because I hadn’t caught him killing the hen. He loved having the foul thing flopping about his neck, even managing to get a bite of it now and then and rolling in the smell. The stench was unbearable for the rest of us and we were truly punished. But when I finally caught him red-pawed, feathers in his mouth, the shock of my displeasure and a couple of hard swats had cured him of killing my hens — until now.

So I assumed he’d learned his lesson this time too. Surely he’d learned that these little erratically moving nuggets were actually my hens too and off limits to him — problem solved. After all, he really is 100 pounds of well-muscled sweetness and just loves to please me.

Well I was dead wrong. One evening I returned from town well after dark and closed up the chicken coop before going in for the night. In the morning when I opened the coop door, all the adult hens paraded out to start their day, but no chicks? I looked in the coop--no sign of them. I went back and looked around the yard and found little chicken feathers scattered all around the house and in the flower beds. The “sweet” monster dog Bud had been at it again and I was livid!

But I could only look helplessly at Bud as he wagged his tail and looked back at me with those big soulful brown eyes. I couldn’t punish him now — he wouldn’t have a clue about why. What was I going to do with him? I thought of childhood stories like Where the Red Fern Grows and The Yearling, stories in which children’s pets had to be shot to save the farm families’ food supplies.

With a grocery store a few miles away, I was in no danger of starving and I couldn’t shoot him, but I didn’t want an animal around that was going to kill and maim my other animals. So I did what people do in these more modern times, I posted his picture on a local Facebook trading site as well as my own Facebook page and offered him up “free to a good home.”

Wow, did I get blowback from that! Later in the day, when I checked the Facebook trading site, I was shocked at all the criticism I was getting. Apparently chicken-killing and maiming aren’t good enough reasons to re-home (that’s what I’m supposed to call it I was informed, re-homing) a dog. And didn’t I know that offering him up for free like that would only attract people who wanted to use him to fight or as a “bait dog” for a fight? Well, no, it really never occurred to me that people who would do such a thing exist.

At first, I tried to ignore the uproar, but then I got a little snarky over the whole matter. I posted this cheeky comment, “Well gee, maybe it would be kinder to have him put to sleep?”

When I checked the Facebook site again the next day, it was full of dressing-down comments, advice on breaking dogs of killing hens (mostly tying dead birds around their necks), but no offers to take his chicken-killing butt into their homes.

I replied with a not-so-kindly comment about how all these Facebook commenters were out of touch with the realities of farm life and were probably the same folks who were getting salmonella from kissing their backyard chickens and then discarding them in animal shelters when things got real. Within 5 minutes, the site moderator took down my post and threatened to ban me from the site forever.

Appropriately chastised, I sat down to think about what to do about my Bud problem. I offered to trade him to my daughter for my 17-month-old granddaughter, who has just learned to hit and is driving her mother crazy. I told my daughter that we could both re-home our problem causers and know that they would be well loved. She considered it for a minute. But I am already softening and beginning to hope that no one will offer to take Bud.

I think I’ll remove his picture from my own Facebook page as well. Maybe he can sport a muzzle whenever he’s outside in the yard with any new batch of chicks, at least until they’re full grown? OK, Bud, one more pardon for you…or maybe only parole.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.
anonymouseisawoman
1/6/2015 6:25:07 PM

A friend of mine has had different "rescue" Golden Retrievers over the years. They have all done things like carry live birds to her, or live baby opossums. I suspect that some breeds are much easier to prevent from harming stock than others. I know trying to persuade a coonhound to leave small animals alone was pretty tough - and you have to train them to chase only the varmints you want to hunt, not every rabbit in the forest.


mkparker
1/6/2015 10:52:09 AM

I helped a friend with lots of birds rehome a German Shepard Dog that was killing her chickens. There are only a few breeds of dogs that have had the instinct to kill birds bred out of them. I charged a nominal amount and vetted everyone that responded by taking the dog to their home to make sure they were the type of people who would give it a good home. He ended up with a family with young kids and another dog. I would say that was a success all around.


jandohner
1/5/2015 2:27:25 PM

Expecting a dog with strong prey or chase drive, such as a hunting or herding breed, to not play with, stalk, hunt, kill, or otherwise go after chickens is a bit foolish. Most dogs from the the recognized livestock guard dog breeds can be trained to respect and even guard poultry. And you do need to train them. The vast majority of dogs, even livestock guard dog breeds, see a flopping, flying bird as a potential plaything or even a snack. There are humane and intelligent methods to train a livestock guard dog to respect and guard poultry. Here's a good one, but there are others, including books about training livestock guardians. http://www.anatoliandog.org/poultry.htm Most importantly, you need to completely supervise pups and young dogs to prevent them from developing bad habits. They may make a mistake and that's your signal that you failed on the supervision. Don't condemn a dog for a mistake either. Dogs can learn with thoughtful and humane methods.


anonymouseisawoman
1/4/2015 1:37:49 AM

Well, I have to admit that when When MyLadyAlexis made it clear she'd rather have people put down than dogs, it sort of made it clear that her issue isn't killing something, it is whether it is a human animal or something else that is being killed. In the end, I'm a wee bit confused by all of this stuff about humane solutions that focus on the stock killer and ignore the sufferings of the poor stock. Apparently the suffering of biddies is of no relevance to the discussion of whether or not a solution is humane. The whole notion that people are somehow inherently evil and flawed and sinful and deserving of death is just too Christian for my lights. Up next, the idea that dogs have "pure souls", a concept ripped off from the tribes and horrifically distorted. Someone needs to go study Handsome Lake or Wavoka.


paulajeromeg
1/3/2015 12:02:03 PM

@ myladyalexis.... Your comments are right on. @ charles and scott.... You comments are terrible at best and are degrading. This board is for humane info for the problem. If you cannot contribute a humane comment please don't comment at all. There are better and humane solutions to this problem and everyone's situation is different and one needs to do some research that doesn't involve hurting or doing something disgusting to remedy any problems with any animals.


scottv
1/3/2015 8:01:30 AM

Sorry, that dog would die of lead poisoning on our homestead. the yard dog suits a purpose, once that job has been compromised, there is no reason to continue the relationship.


leafhopper
1/2/2015 9:42:16 PM

Okay, here's what worked for us: Years ago, Hubby worked in a 'secured environment', and was assigned a huge, trained-to-protect, black shepherd guard dog. This dog wasn't supposed to ever go home with anyone, but he somehow managed to covertly follow hubby home one day, and that's all I'll say about that. He was a great dog, and an incredibly good family protector. But one day, hubby got reassigned which meant we had to move, and we were going somewhere that the dog simply was not allowed to go. Luckily, a friend who worked as a Border Guard wanted the dog. We went about getting the dog adjusted to the move which took about six weeks. Only problem that came up was that the new owner had a flock of two dozen chickens. He came home from work one morning, and found every single chicken was a goner, and the dog was just as happy as could be. He'd saved his new owner from those nasty birds, by golly! Our friend, however, was not a quitter. He gathered together some electric fence parts, and ran a wire around the chicken yard at about dog-nose level. Bought some more chickens, and waited for the outcome. It didn't take long. Turned out that the parts he collected for the electric fence ran a cow-strength current, thus having a pretty good jolt to it. Sure enough, dog didn't take long to spot new chickens. He made a big, serious lunge for one, and ZAPPP! right on the dog's nose. The dog let out a big, screeching yelp and fell over backwards! Got up and kind of shook himself, and looked at those chickens in a whole new light! You could almost see him thinking 'Man, those chickens are some really mean, bad-ass birds!' After that episode, this big, huge guard dog that could scare the living daylights out of, and bring down, the worst of hardened criminals was now utterly terrified of chickens! And he stayed that way for the rest of his life! He never touched another chicken. If a chicken started to follow him, he'd run and hide, or jump up somewhere that he knew the chicken couldn't get him. New owner kept his chickens clipped so they couldn't fly, but he never explained that to the dog. Kinda figured that it was probably sort of a sore subject with the dog, and the dog probably didn't ever want to talk about it, anyway. New owner, dog and chickens all lived a long, happy and content life for many years after this incident, without a single problem between dog and chickens again. Don't know if this incident will help anyone else or not, but it sure did educate one big, black shepherd dog about the amazing power of chickens! Might be something to think about...


myladyalexis@aol.com
1/2/2015 2:06:38 PM

AnonymouseIsAWom,Maybe you should be PUT DOWN!!


myladyalexis@aol.com
1/2/2015 2:03:22 PM

@Charles, nearly suffocating a dog to death is cruel and inhumnane and only a heartless idiot would suggest such a thing. If you would do this to an animals I am sure you would have no problem doing it to a child. People like you should not be allowed to breath!!


carol
1/2/2015 1:50:06 PM

I think what so far everyone has missed is that this dog does not eat the hens, only the chicks. Obviously - KEEP THE CHICKS RESTRAINED and away from the dog until they are hen sized. He currently doesn't know they are the same animal. Once they look like chickens he won't bother them. You only have a temporary problem unless you let him continue to pick them off as they grow up and he realizes they are the same thing. They he will begin to pick off your hens as well. If the chicks need to come outside, put them in a pen with fencing on the top as well as the sides so they cannot get out and he cannot get in.


paulajeromeg
1/2/2015 2:55:56 AM

WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


charles
1/1/2015 3:43:48 PM

Do not kill the dog. Here is the we have for years broke dogs from running or killing off game. Kill a chicken and cut him from the rear and remove most of the guts. Straddle the dog behind the front shoulders where you can hold him and stuff the chicken over his nose and mouth. Hold the chicken over his head tightly to cut off his air. Hold it on him until he NEARLY suffocates. He will fall down and will sometimes puke. The dog will forever associate chicken with nearly suffocating.


paulajeromeg
1/1/2015 9:35:16 AM

Hi Betty. I have the same problem with only 1 of my 5 dogs. She's already got 2 of my girls, but I caught her in the act with the 2nd one and she got the scolding of a lifetime as I cried after having to get my gun because the chicken was still alive after being chewed on. It's hard right now just writing about it because my girls are my egg layers and my pets also. All of them shared the same space when the 1st chicken got attacked (it was only 1 of my younger but strong dogs, the others always ignored the girls and rehoming her wasn't an option) So I seperated them and all was going very well until a couple of my younger girls didn't know any better and jumped on the gate to get out. Now at this time there were 3 chickens that I couldn't catch at feather clipping time and forgot to try again, well these are the ones getting out by fluttering to the top of the gate to go to the grass that was greener on the other side and that's when it happened the 2nd time (one of the posters are right that once they get the taste they'll do it again) I manage to spend a good bit of time catching the last 2 and clipped their feathers. The chicken dog goes out and is monitored but so far so good but I know she'll do it again given the chance, it's just a natural instinct that she does'nt know how to control yet but hopefully she grows out of it as she gets older and she is always reminded with that scoulding tone that she got and I check on my girls very often. I like the muzzle idea that one poster suggested, this would be a good idea if you can't seperate them. I hope you can find a solution that works for youa nd your dog without having to be rehomed. Sincerely, Paula


jimglennon
12/30/2014 12:19:14 PM

Been there, done that. Unfortunately there is no "cure" for a dog killing your chickens. Once they get a taste they will do it again (generally when no one is around for some reason). Keep the dog and accept your losses or the dog gets a terminal case of lead poisoning if you can't find a "no-poultry" owner to take it off your hands. Deal with the reality of your situation and don't worry about others say. Best to you.


davestrater
12/30/2014 8:32:40 AM

Try giving your chicks baths in bitter herbal infusions. Good luck


anonymouseisawoman
12/29/2014 6:38:07 PM

Sorry, I don't think giving away a stock killer is a nice thing to do; you are only sending the problem out for someone else to handle. There is a reasonable chance that your stock killer when rehomed will attack someone elses's stock. Either put the dog down or keep it.