The Dog Ate My Chickens

| 12/29/2014 10:23:00 AM


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.


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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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