Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's all fun and games until somebody looses a chicken

Maybe you are thinking of moving to the country - or maybe you already live there. "It will be so lovely and peaceful," you think. "We can get a dog. And let them run anywhere they want. Because it's The Country!"


Like many small farmers, we raise chickens for specific environmental and moral reasons. We have chosen breeds, and individuals that are good foragers but don't range too far from home. We expect the chickens to mostly take care of themselves and act like real animals - finding their own food. We provide water, a safe place to live, and treats, but for the most part the chickens find their own food throughout three seasons.

Our chickens are free-range birds. You know what this means. You know that it is good. It's better for the birds, the environment and the people who eat them.

The alternative is to keep them locked in a building and feed them agricultural products that are grown on large farms through the use of oil, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And then processed and transported to be fed to chickens.

Around here, for most of the year, the sun shines on our 8 acres. Plants grow, bugs crawl around...and my chickens eat them. This "solar powered" system is sustainable and natural. I'm not polluting the air or warming the earth to produce my food.

The drawback is that we loose some birds to natural predators pretty much every year. For the past few years, I think red-tailed hawks have nested in our woods and the juveniles find our birds (particularly the young chickens) to be an easy target. We usually lock the birds up in their fully enclosed run for a week or two until the hawk moves on.

It's annoying because we have to feed the birds. Their run is too small to support their needs. There aren't enough bugs or plants to feed them, so we go to town and purchase mass-produced, oil-dependent chicken food for them. Everyone is unhappy, but eventually the threat goes away and the birds free range again.

We accept this as part of the natural cycle. TANSTAAFL. Our birds eat bugs (which are free) instead of chicken food (which is not) and there is a trade-off.

This week we came home to a pile of chicken feathers in our driveway, and we knew something had happened that was not part of the natural cycle. When you have poultry, you learn pretty quickly to identify predator damage so that you can compensate. After 3 years of practice, we know the grisly details of what sort of predator typically leaves what sort of carcass.

A pile of feathers and no body made us think Domestic Dog. Our neighbors happen to have two, which have been on our property multiple times chasing our chickens. We already suspect them of killing two chickens previously. When we found the feathers near our driveway, which is near the middle of our property, we counted our birds and found we were missing two hens and had a beat up rooster.

We searched all over our property and could not find the hens. Fortunately, they did turn up - unharmed - at bed time. We figure the dogs attacked, and the rooster countered while the hens escaped and then hid for hours.

Here are the consequences:
  • The rooster, who is a backup that I don't particularly like, has been declared A Hero and earned the right to live out his natural life. Bill has made him A Pet.
  • The birds are locked up in their run during the day, meaning I have to buy them food from the agricultural system I'm trying to escape.
  • Our tolerance of the neighbor's dogs is at an all time low, which will make it easier to shoot the dogs if we catch them in the act of attacking our livestock.
Can you believe that last bit? Do you like me a little less that I've said it? I know it's not the dogs' fault. I understand that dogs are animals with instincts. I know they are not children. I know they need rules and boundaries. I know it's not their fault they have stupid owners.

Though I would actually probably not shoot a dog (at this point), if I see one in the act of attacking my livestock on my land, it is my right to do so in Indiana. The dog owner would also have to pay for damages to my animals. There are similar laws like this in most states.

That my irresponsible neighbors are making it impossible for me to live the way I'd like, on my land, makes my blood boil (probably as much as us letting our backyard return to woods - rather than a monoculture lawn makes theirs boil).

The dogs next door are beautiful, playful animals. I want to like them. I love dogs - quite a bit. But they are not people. Dog owners need to keep their animals under their control or supervision at all times. Even in the country. Not just for my stupid chickens, but for the safety of the dogs.


  1. It is not the dogs fault, but the bottom line is you have to shoot them. Once a neighbors dog gets the taste of blood they are coming back. In this case, sounds like the only blood they tasted was their own from a rooster spur, so maybe your neighbor dogs are OK. But, killing someone else's dog is a fact of hobby farm life, I have come to accept. In my case, my wife won't let me have guns in the house, so I have to lure them to me and then cut their throat. This seems horrible, but way worse is burying them, cause burying them immediately out back in your pasture so no one finds out is the only way to humanely treat your neighbor. Then, they realize that dog just went an' run oft, and they should be more careful next time. But burying a big dog is a lot of work. You will get over the guilt by converting it to anger as you sweat that out. A bottle of homemade wine will finish off the guilt.

    This policy is not something I came up with on my own, but was told to us from several other couples. It is law in NY too that the neighbor has to make financial amends, but better to just bury that dog at nite and no one be the wiser, I say.

    Our dog is not allowed to leave our property, because I know what the consequence is. Good fences means good neighbors.

    1. Good point,Chris,oh what wine do you make? Ive tried making ginger beer but need a better recipe.

  2. Well said,irrasposible owners leads to grief on both sides,Im sorry about your chookies,dogs are aproblem like this everywhere and a lot of the time their owners denie its their pets doing it.I know one farmer who repeatedly warned the town folk what he would do if he caught these dogs on his land some 30 ks away from Town,they came in packs mawled his sheep,killing and leaving horrendous injuries,so one night he locked up a few sheep in the yars near the shearing shed and lay in wait, he managed to shoot and kill all the pack,about 12 I believe,he then took them home and left them at thier owners doors,everyone of them had registered collars,he wasnt popular for months but the problem was fixed for the time being,sad as it may be for the uncontrolled pets.Good luck with your chooks maybe build several pens and circulate them through in a rotaion thingy so they can still have fresh ground and greens?

  3. my wife won't let me have guns in the house, so I have to lure them to me and then cut their throat.

    I'm certain that's exactly what Kelly wants you to do...

    Another idea that worked for us (for a while) was to let our friends dump the remains of deer hunting season in our back woods. The neighbors were quite displeased when the dogs brought home a present, and they put up an invisible doggie fence. Except, the dogs would sit at the edge of the fence and whine until the neighbors shut it off and let them run.

    I hadn't even thought about the rooster doing damage to the dog, but you may be right. The neighbors put up a rather large wooden fence yesterday.

    And Guru - you're totally right about people's willful ignorance. I dragged another dog back to its owner after it attacked my dog (who was on a leash in my hand on my property) and they were shocked - shocked I say! - to hear me tell the story. "Lady would never do that!" Uh, yes she would. And she did. She. IS. A. DOG!