CHAPTER 6: Dog-Eating-Chicken
When I was in seventh grade, back in the day when Mr. Roseberry taught English, we had daily journals. One of the topics which caught a lot of attention was dog-eating-chicken. We were prompted to write based on our perspective of the art and title. It came down to; is this a dog eating a chicken or a chicken that eats dogs. Dog-Eating-Chickens.
NO FENCE CAN STOP A CHICKEN.
If you’re joining my blog for the first time, welcome. My husband and I are homesteaders in training and we tend to share our story through the struggle, tragedies, and humor we encounter. I ask that you like our page @ryefamilyfarm and maybe even give us a follow. I share these updates or chapters to prevent others from making our mistakes, shares funny stories and helpful how-to’s, and of course what’s not entertaining about our chaos. So grab a snack and let’s get started. To catch everybody up on the chicken tragedy, I’m going to attempt not to write a novel, just a healthy chapter of a book I’ll probably never finish.
I’ll start with the death of 7 chickens in the last 10 days.
You may ask yourself what critter got our chickens, what made them sick, or did they have some sort of disease. However, it was none of that. It was merely our ignorance and lack of experience with chickens. If you're reading this and thinking about getting chickens, learn from our mistakes, please.
The first chicken was only a couple of weeks old, she was with five other baby chicks in a brooder with six guineas. Now guineas are significantly larger at that age than baby chicks, and they are incredibly restless and terrified of everything. The guineas constantly run around squawking and overall they’re just always on edge. We thought it would be a good idea to keep the guineas and the baby chicks together to allow them to bond and maybe claim one another. But, the guineas got overly excited and trampled one of our baby chicks. That’s how the first chick died.
Since, the guineas have been separated and are in a special guinea brooder thanks to a friend and mentor, Don. His timing was perfect and the contraption thus far has allowed us to keep all the guineas and baby chicks alive and well.
We have been incorporating the chickens with our dogs since day one, and so far the dogs have been great with them. We’ve had older chickens, baby chicks, and the guineas all in the house at some point and we get them out and play with them to socialize them. We started incorporating the dogs into that socialization, and we’ve seen great results. Harley tends to be terrified of the chickens and Sheba is unsure but she has shown some signs of wanting to eat them. We’ve been incredibly cautious with her, she’s a German Shepherd, so it wouldn’t surprise me if she did try to have herself a chicken nugget or two or three. Meeko has been fairly neutral towards the baby chicks, he likes to nudge, sniff, and check on them when they get too loud. We have no concern that Meeko would show any form of aggression towards the baby chicks and the larger chickens are bigger than him so he steers clear. As for Sheeba and Harley, I fear that they would chase them and their animal instincts will kick in. It’s basic sense that dogs have animalistic instincts and I wouldn’t expect anything less. That’s why we have been working so diligently with them.
Shortly after we found the baby chick trampled, David walked outside and found both dogs chasing a chicken, and Sheba caught the chicken and was holding it in her mouth. David demanded that she drop it in which she did and the chicken was unharmed. After that we had slight concerns that she would continue this behavior. So we built a fence from one side of the yard to the other to separate the chickens and the dogs. We only had cattle fencing, so we used that between posts to secure the dogs away from the chickens! So the dogs have their very own area and they are completely fenced in and cannot get to the chickens. Problem solved!
We were incredibly proud of ourselves for doing this in an effort of being cautious and good checking farmers. About five minutes after we finished the fence, which took us about three days mind you, we stood back and admired our work. And just like that, a chicken walked right through the fence. We did everything we could to keep the dogs away from the chickens, we didn’t account for the curiosity of the chickens or how we would need to keep them away from the dogs. Turns out those little fluffballs can downsize themselves to fit through tiny spaces. I just assumed that chickens would have some level of common sense and would stay away from the dogs. I admit I was very wrong and naive in this way of thinking. David and I felt slightly defeated and decided that we would analyze the situation to see what it was we could do with the fence to prevent the chickens from coming to the dog side. We ordered more chicken fencing so we could reinforce the cattle fencing. We didn’t use chicken wire to start with because I know Meeko could get through the wire and so could the other dogs. We had about 3 days before the chicken wire arrived, so we were being extra vigilant.
One afternoon David walked outside to find a dead chicken on the dog side of the fence. It was unfortunately the runt of our very first flock of chickens. We weren’t sure who did it because all three dogs were outside. We had our assumption that it was Sheba but all three dogs were fairly guilty. In the situation, the chicken was all intact so it appeared that whichever dog did it, chased the chicken and when they caught it they shook the chicken and then left it there not sure why it wasn’t moving. Now, I’m not one to usually punish the dogs, typically it’s David who gets on the dogs and keeps them in line. But this time I was so furious, that I pushed David out of my way and I busted through the back door with my wooden spoon in hand. I thought that any form of discipline coming from me might have been more effective and in that moment it seemed to be. I’m pretty sure the dogs were more scared of the fact that I was angry and yelling more than they were with a swat on the butt. They don’t see that side of me and I’m pretty sure that was the first time David saw me that mad. He said he was scared, so I was fairly confident that there would be no more dog murdering chicken incidents.
Again, I was very wrong. This seems to be the post of me admitting just how wrong I am. But the very next day Sheeba and Harley were outside playing and yet again we found another dead chicken. This time the chicken was covered in saliva and Sheba was drooling immensely all over the back porch. We immediately decided that it was likely Sheeba who did it. However, we didn’t have proof. So both dogs were in trouble. It was one of our baby comets, which just breaks my heart. We have 4 comets in total, they were the last four at tractor supply and David couldn’t bear to leave them there so he bought all of them. When we got Hennie, she was the only one in her age range so we kept her inside. We brought in the smallest comet to keep her company and they became good buddies. The other three roamed the backyard and constantly found ways to get out into the back pastures. As for the dog responsible for the first comet death, we determined that it was likely Harley who killed that chicken and Sheeba who probably tried to lick it to get it to come back to life because she knew she was going to be in trouble. Both dogs got in trouble and we thought THAT was going to be the end of the dog attacking chicken era.
That same weekend we were putting the chickens away one evening and noticed that two of them were a little bit slower than the rest and we’re acting a little weird. We had gone to feed them and one of them appeared to have some seizures she was one of our Barnevelder chickens. The other one having issues was a rooster who we named Monty. Monty wouldn’t eat but was drinking water and acting very lethargic. We were very concerned so we monitored them for a while and both chickens went into the coop with the rest of the chickens and were showing immediate improvements. The next morning when we let all the chickens out of the coop again the same two of the chickens were acting ill. This time much worse than before. We brought them into the house and made a small chicken hospital quarantine area for them to keep away from the dogs, kids, and other chickens. We quickly scrambled to research and because they were showing different signs of illness, we were all over the place. Of course, WebMD declared that each chicken was rapidly dying of cancer. We decided to name the Barnevelder Darla, we couldn’t let her die unnamed. We watched over them vigorously for hours and immediately reached out to mentors and chicken forums for help. The gist of what we made of our research is that Darla could have been dehydrated and/or had a lodged crop (the pocket under their throat where they store their food for digestion). Monty we were still very unsure, he would only drink but refused to eat. I was rubbing fruit on his beak and he was tolerating me at best. David spent a lot of time just holding him because that was the only time he seems to sleep and be comfortable. For two days we were attempting to do it we could to nurse him back to health. After day two, Darla was back to normal and helping us nurse Monty back to health. We did treat the entire flock for coccidia but it was unfortunate that late Sunday night we lost Monty.
After further investigation and very confused as to his loss and difference of symptoms we concluded that when Monty broke into the pool area a few days prior, he may have eaten some of the dead bugs and wasps. That would usually be harmless, but David had sprayed a large wasp nest with termiticide to clear out the area. David saw Monty squeeze into the pool area and he immediately removed him and tried to block the area off better. This is a really big motivator for us to switch to all-natural chemical-free products inside and outside of our home. There’s no reason we should compromise any of our animals/birds in an attempt to elemental pest. That’s part of the reason we got the guineas, they eat all kinds of insects including North Carolina fire ants. If you’ve never experience NC fire ants then consider yourself blessed. I would rather be stung by hornets than being attacked by those ants. In summary, It’s very unfortunate that the reason we lost a very beautiful, well-mannered, and expensive, rooster due to our negligence and ignorance. So we will mark this one up as a lesson learned moving forward. His death will be our motivation.
A couple of nights later we were headed out to the barn to put all the chickens away and Harley was acting incredibly rambunctious. We chalked it up to the number of coyotes we could hear in the distance. We took Harley out to the barn with us knowing that she would be separated from all the chickens and the chickens couldn’t get into the goat area. So we thought. David and I were doing some work out in the barn and I kept seeing Harley run up and down the fence. I was very concerned that it might be a coyote or deer that she was trying to get to or some other critter. David and I took a minute to evaluate and I thought I had seen something brown running past but I couldn’t confirm identity. We could still hear coyotes in the distance but they weren’t close enough for concern. I told David that something didn’t seem right and that I wanted to take her inside. We only had a little bit more work to do so we went and got the work done and as we were finishing up I noticed that our barn cats were also acting incredibly suspicious. So I followed one of the cats outside of the barn to find two of our comets roaming around inside the goat area.
I yelled for David as I rescued them from the cats. Harley came running up from the back pasture also acting incredibly suspicious. I told David I was taking the chicken inside and that he should probably walk the perimeter to find the other chicken before the cats or Harley did. I should have trusted my gut instinct originally, David found another comet dead in the back field. Harley caught it and was picking it apart.
I can not express the level of anger I had. I was ready to find this dog a new home. It didn’t help that I was already mad at her for eating the twins' dinner off the counter as I was catching them and getting them washed up for dinner. I had to make them dinner on the fly after that. So she and I are not friends at this point.
I think at this point it was Tuesday or Wednesday, but the chicken wire arrived and David got it installed quickly. We also installed 6 feet of netting around the pool to keep the chickens out of the pool area, the dogs have access to the pool area. Later that day we saw the two comets roaming in the front yard. We were completely perplexed. After we put them back in the chicken area, mind you they have two acres of land they can safely roam on, we tried to find their escape route. We had no luck, the only conclusion I could come to; they were jumping into the fruit trees and then gliding down into the goat area. About two hours later, David found a comet in the dog area and a dead comet in Haley’s mouth. We put the loan comet in with Hennie and Ginger (the comet we put in there with her to bond with). We concluded that the chickens got out and came around to the front and then went into the dog area. I’m not sure what’s so appealing in the dog area, but I guess chickens like to live on the dangerous side.
The three chickens inside started picking on each other and mainly Hennie and Ginger picking on the loan comet, who we later named Delilah. We allowed them to go outside during the day to graze so they weren’t so cooped up, in an attempt to prevent them from bullying each other. The three stuck together once outside and they hid in the flower beds from the other chickens.
Fast forward a few days when Catarina, our oldest, found another dead chicken in the dog area. This time the gate had been left open. For those of you who didn’t see my prior post, I sent a pretty direct nasty-gram vis text to her and our son fessed up quickly. You can check out that post if you missed it. David wrote us an apology note and he's going to spend his earned money to buy another chicken. That same night we lost Hennie. Not 100% sure how she got into the dog area, but we think it may have been through the pool area. It all happened so fast, David had taken his mother and two of the kids to the store. When they got back Catarina and I got the dogs outside so they wouldn’t bark and wake up the twins. 30 seconds after we let them out, Catarina realized she needed to go put the chickens up because it was finally darkish. She slipped on her boots quickly and ran out back in an attempt to slide past her dad. She didn’t want him to know she forgot. Within 7 seconds I hear her screaming. The family was coming in the front door and she was running through the back door yelling that the dogs got Hennie. I’m not sure what exactly happened after that, it’s all a little foggy.
For the record, I don’t love chickens. I tolerate them. David is the chicken guru, I’m the goat person. Hennie was the exception. David chose her due to her coloring. As soon as we got on the road with her, she broke out of her box and jumped to my shoulder where she stayed for the remaining 3-hour drive home. We were immediately buddies and she stayed with us in the house as a pet. The dogs had gotten to know her and were great around her. Sheeba even let her sit on her head. Harley didn’t pay any attention to the chickens in the house.
David and I plan to keep the dogs. We have installed yet another gate so the dogs can’t get to the pool area. We are looking at ways to better secure the chickens into the backyard. We intend to get a couple more chickens as we are down more than half our original flock. Before then, we will be working diligently to secure the safety of our existing chickens.
Our writing prompt in seventh grade was a perspective challenge. I am a big proponent for always taking a moment to see another perspective or to try and find the silver lining.
It’s hard to find a silver lining after so many chickens have been sacrificed. I’m not sure I’ve even fully come to terms with it. I am, however, starting to better understand the saying, “that’s the farm life”. I’m not one to always just accept the way it’s always been and in this case, I’m not giving up. When I say that I’m not giving up I don’t mean that I’m going to be bringing chickens back to life. I mean that I am going to work diligently toward training our dogs or having them trained and I plan to take every lesson learned and use it as an example. As we are getting more experience we are learning so much and though some things harder learned than others, I want to use these past two weeks as motivation in the future. My heart hurts for what has happened, in this case, we have dogs that eat chicken thus dog-eating-chicken versus a chicken that has eaten our dogs, dog-eating-chicken. If the roles were reversed I think I would be permanently terrified of chickens, so maybe that’s the silver lining.