Counting our chickens

We have done some thinking about our poor yard birds. With Bonnie’s unexpected death, I am beginning to think that we need to contain our birds completely.

As it is now, I jump up at any guinea squawk, dog at my side, weapon in hand, to rush forth and defend the Chicken Homeland. If you know anything about guineas, they put Chicken Little to shame as far as their anxiety level. They are alarmists in the extreme. That said, when they do get to hollering, there usually is a cause. The dog who killed Bonnie has come back at least twice so we are right to worry.

For a household of three egg eaters, three to four chickens is more than enough to keep us happily in eggs all year. Chickens are highly social animals who psychologically need at least one but preferably two feathered friends living with them. Three chickens, also, won’t completely trash a garden. Three then would be our magic number for contained, non free-range hens. We have six chickens, and four guineas. I won’t be thinning out the chicken ranks, as these girls are our pets. The guineas, though, are not pets, and, if I will be locking the chickens up, the reason for having them (i.e., free-ranging chicken watchdogs) is gone. Sigh. Poor guineas. They’ve just begun to lay again their odd pointy thick-shelled eggs.

I am really sad to have to lock our girls up permanently. Poor chookies. (I keep thinking about prison jokes and parole humor here: dang, I’m sorry: I am always whistling past the graveyard. You should see me at a funeral.) The chickens will get let out often enough, I suppose, when I am outside, but…there really are too many threats out there.

In the immortal words of H.I. McDunnough, “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.”

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14 responses to “Counting our chickens

  1. Before we moved back to town, we lived on 4 acres heavily trafficked by a multitude of hawks, foxes and other people’s dogs, which is why we chose to do the tractor. Here it’s not as necessary for those reasons, but because our girls are illegal aliens.

    I sure love seeing hens free to roam, but it’s just not always practical. Poor girls. We’re about to move the tractor to a new spot and I know they’re going to be thrilled to have access to fresh ground again. The bedding is so built up from winter. Kept them quite warm these last few months, but they almost hit their heads on the roof!

  2. Ever seen Chicken Run?

    Bummer about the lock up. As we plan our chickens lives, and know that there are 2 neighbor dogs (German Shepherd and Black Lab) that roam free and already interfere with the local hunters, we will have to set up “chicken prison” here too. Legally you can kill that dog for interfering with your livestock, and because it has already killed one of your animals, you can shoot it on sight on your property. Not a pleasant thought, but there it is.

    Puts a damper on our free-range plans for sure. Still debating about the size of the run. I am considering a “secure” yard, and a larger but less secure run that still provides enough of a barrier to deter the casual opportunist while we are home.

  3. You can’t legally shoot a dog because it previously killed a chicken in all states. I have to catch the dog in the act of harassment at the time to do it legally. We participate in SSS (shoot, shovel, shut up).

  4. I don’t know what it’s like to have truly free-ranging birds… Because we live on a busy road and the pond is across the road, the ducks are always fenced in.

    I guess I believe in layers of defense: the “jail” or totally enclosed pen/house for nighttime, the fenced yard (about 9’x36′) with cedar posts and 4′ chicken wire for when we’re out for the day or in winter, and the big yard of 3′ chicken wire and step in posts for warm-season grazing.

    It’s worked thus far, but as you know, it can fail at any time… I had a good scare yesterday. Luckily my fence is secure. I try not to feel too bad about locking them in… it’s really for their own good. And mine. 🙂

    Also, luckily, we can shoot that dog if it comes back and harasses the girls. I have no problem with that (and it’s within the law, so take that, pooch!).

  5. Oh, that sucks. When we first had to lock up our girls (numerous hawk attacks + bitchy neighbor) we were terribly depressed, even though the chickens seemed to not care much. That was at the end of last summer, and now I don’t think they remember their previous life as free-rangers.

    I think Kelly’s chicken tractor idea is a good one; we’re going to do that this year. It’s not the same thing as giving them the run of the place, but at least they’ll have access to green grass and weeds once they destroy the lawn in their pen. I don’t know how many chickens you could realistically have in one chicken tractor–maybe with six birds you’d need two, so they wouldn’t feel too crowded?

  6. It is a bummer, we too had to finally pen our girls after we caught them heading into town one day. We fenced in a large area, so they are pretty happy, with plenty of places to roam, shade, dust baths, etc., and we let them out when we are about. In truth, it does keep them out of the gardens, and it does help with the pests. We have not had dog issues, but poor Marigold was killed by a cat, after she escaped from the fenced area. It sucked. Honestly, at least a hawk needs her to live, the cat just killed for fun.

    Good luck, and if you find the dog on your property, lock him up and call the dogcatcher. Or sss. There is noo need of a dog roaming onto your property. We keep our to home with an Invisible Fence, it works great.

  7. El, once a dog develops a taste for killing chickens there’s no turning back. I’d keep an eye out because that dog will come around again. My father swears by a load of buckshot to break them of it.

  8. Did you get to speak with the dog’s owner so that they could learn of their animal’s destructive actions? Decent neighbors would try to do the right thing & confine their dog to their own property, & possibly try to make amends.

    I don’t favor the idea of killing the dog. The poor animal is just following its own nature. Rather, the owners need to exert some control here. I’ve lost many a chicken, but mostly to wild animals. Still, it’s a painful thing.

    If they just happen to be reading here… For heaven’s sake, do the right thing!

  9. Thanks, all, for the comments. The girls typically are locked up during the winter in a smaller fenced yard mainly because there is no cover for them in the winter, so the hawks can easily see them. It’s during the spring/summer/leaves-still-on the-trees fall that they get carte blanche to the property, and then I simply fence in the gardens I don’t wish to be bothered.

    I don’t like the idea of shooting anything, let’s just get that straight. I think it’s a slippery slope, which is why we’re fencing the girls in. I would have no problem knocking on a neighbor’s door and telling them their dog has escaped–believe me, I have done it–but this dog as far as I could tell was an outdoor dog, no collar, really thick coat, and, other than that two week period it’s been around, I had never seen it before. (I can count on one hand, actually, the number of loose dogs I have seen in the 3.5 years we’ve lived here.)

    What really bothered me about this whole incident is I was outside at the time, in the shed, getting chicken feed. I had left the gate open. The dog came into their fenced yard and dragged or chased poor Bonnie up onto our back deck. I came charging out of the shed, with our own dog in tow, waving the nearest thing I had available, which was my garden fork. Yes: shades of Mr. McGregor, Stop Thief! Why I didn’t grab my machete or my sickle is a mystery. I did scare the holy hell out of the dog, and, when it came back, we did fire a couple of rounds at it. We haven’t seen it since.

    We had to go out of town this weekend, so I was enormously apprehensive about returning to a yard filled with dead chickens (and probably 4 squawking guineas, such would be my luck). They were fine.

    I will be doing the electrified fence around the tractored meat birds. We get them in about a week. I didn’t add any egg birds to this order, though, and that kind of makes me sad. Poor chookies.

  10. Hi El
    So sorry about your chicken troubles. I check your blog regularly and have left a note or two before. Am just about to move from the suburbs to an old farmstead and begin the strange world of simple (!) living myself. You inspire and comfort. Thanks.
    By the way, that quote is originally from the wonderfully odd fairy tale of a movie ” Night of the Hunter” (1955). It’s the one where Robert Mitchum has “love” tattooed across the knuckles of one hand and “hate” tattooed across the other. A fine story of good and evil- and quite touching for those of us (I’m including you here) who feel great sympathy for the small things.

  11. Come to think of it El – “Night of the Hunter” may be worth your watching since its about a bad dog (Mitchum) trying to catch two little chicks (a brother and sister) and the woman (Lillian Gish) who won’t let it happen. There are themes of running loose, jailing and sheltering that may offer a bit of cinematherapy.

  12. FinA: I know that movie well; thanks for the background! My mother remembers it with fondness (if such a thing is possible) as a movie that scared the bejeebers out of her as a kid. I remembered it vaguely from childhood, especially the underwater scene. So we watched it with my mom about a year or two ago and it was so hokey as far as modern movie sensibilities go, so much so that it is now THE joke movie to tease my mother about. Not that it isn’t a good movie, because it is, it’s just that Nana had completely made it sound like it was much scarier than it was.

    That said, I am glad you enjoy the blog. Our lives ARE much simpler than before, but now they involve firearms and lots of mud and sore muscles. So I hope you start blogging too about your journey. We could all do with a bit more simplicity, and mud, in our lives.

  13. When I was young, we had a neighborhood dog that “visited” frequently. My Dad caught him and spray painted a bullseye on his side with spray paint. Well the owner got the message and managed to keep him locked up after that.

  14. Michelle, I would love to meet your dad. He sounds like a scream.

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