4/10/11

Bird dogs and chickens don't mix

Ruth
Our pointer Ruth dreams about birds. She obsesses about every robin, blackbird, sparrow, mourning dove, and goose that flies over or around our property. Pointers tend to be a little OCD anyway, but really good hunting dogs, like Ruth, take the obsession to another level.

The dogs' kennel is about 30 feet from the chicken coop. There wasn't a ton of planning involved with this proximity; it was just how the place laid out. We thought it would be an advantage to have the dogs close enough to deter any chicken predators, but unfortunately, it has transformed Ruth into chicken predator number one.

When we let the chickens out to scratch and peck, the dogs go nuts. When we herd the chickens in for the night, they go even more crazy. When we let the dogs out, Ruth runs as fast as she can the 30 feet to the chicken coop and locks up on point. If the chickens go inside their coop, Ruth runs back and forth until she makes eye contact with one and locks up on point again.

But Ruth isn't the only canine who obsesses about our chickens. We have four foxes living on our property who obsess about them too. We have lost dozens of chickens to the foxes in the last two years, and we are restricted to allowing the chickens out only when we are close enough to watch for the fox. The foxes, in turn have become bolder and bolder, appearing at all hours of the day, even when the kids and I are out playing just 50 feet away.

Because we live within city limits and our town has an ordinance against discharging any type of firearm (including pellet and BB guns) within those limits, we and our chickens are at the mercy of the foxes. Our only recourse is to let the dogs out to chase the fox(es) off the property. So here's what happened last weekend.

Pigeon on point and Ruth honoring
Last Saturday, I went down to the shop to tell the Hubby that lunch was ready. As we headed up to the house, I saw Hubby take off toward the dog kennel, open the door, and run with Ruth straight toward the chicken coop. At the same time, Pigeon, our notorious runaway dog took off across the pasture. I hollered at Pigeon to call him back, but Hubby's yells brought my attention back to the chicken coop, where he was wrestling our Buff Orpington's flailing body out of Ruth's mouth. By the time I'd taken a step toward the coop, Ruth took off around the back of the barn. Seeing Hubby now dealing with the hen and the dog safely away from her, I paused, wondering why that buff hen was out of the coop. No sooner had that thought materialized when I saw Ruth appear from around the barn with a Barred Rock hen in her mouth.

By now, the Hubby was really pissed. He wrestled the other hen out of Ruth's mouth and screamed for me to come get the dog, which I did promptly. Ruth, thinking she was the best bird dog in the world, was completely confused by being drug, unceremoniously away from her birds.

Hubby dispatched the mortally injured hens and eventually came up to the house. He was still too pissed to talk about what happened, so it wasn't until that night that I found out why he apparently sicked the Ruth on our unsuspecting chickens, resulting in the deaths of two of our last seven productive laying hens.

When we were walking out of the shop on our way up to the house for lunch, Hubby spotted the fox trotting down the fenceline toward the chickens. Thinking that all of the chickens were in the coop, despite the fact he'd let them out to range earlier in the day, he ran down and opened the dog kennel to sick the dogs on the fox.

Pigeon dutifully chased the fox across the pasture, and got yelled at for it...I never saw the fox so I had no idea he was doing his job.
Ruth subduing and retrieving a pheasant

Ruth did not chase the fox. In fact, this was the opportunity Ruth had been dreaming about her whole life. She wasn't born and bred to be a fox hunter, but she was born to be a top of the line bird dog. Hubby, seeing that she wasn't heading for the fox in the pasture but rather for the hen who had picked the wrong time to wander out of the coop, tried to intercept Ruth before she got the hen, but alas, it was too late for poor Buffy. I'm not sure if Hubby knew there was another hen behind the barn, but Ruth certainly made short time in discovering it.

And then there were five...mature laying hens, that is. Fortunately, we have 18 pullets growing up to take their places, but I had to buy eggs from the grocery store for the first time in 2 years. As for Ruth, well, how can we get mad at her for doing her job. And the foxes: still at large, still hunting our hens.

As for we humans, we still lack a resource to manage the ever-growing predator threat here in town. And my Hubby has informed me that next time I see him run like mad for no discernible reason, my job is to expect the worst and follow closely so I can lend a hand in a pinch. Never one to follow the crowd, and ever faithful in my Hubby's well-thought-out master plan (which he usually has) this may be a little tricky to perform gracefully, but we'll give it a go.

Lesson learned: If your flock is being stalked by a predator, don't add more canine predators to the mix and think they're going to go for the fox...oh yeah, and bird dogs and chickens don't mix.

1 comment:

  1. OMG That sounds exactly like something I would do. But come on now. You really can't blame the dog for doing what comes natural to it. Wouldn't you be more pissed if it just ignored ALL birds?

    DM

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