This post is a little different because it is about our dogs, who have come to hold great value to us as farm dogs and unofficial livestock guardians. The dogs are Tequila (left), a cattle dog mix and Sammie, a Black Lab/Border Collie mix.
Since we had poultry before dogs, it was important that they be poultry safe, so we adopted from a rescue organization – one that allowed a home trial first, to allow us to assess their behavior around the poultry.
Sammie was first, and, had we known then that Lab/Border Collie mixes will “never” be good around poultry, we probably would not have agreed to try her. Fortunately we didn’t know that then, and asked her foster parents to bring her for a visit. As she wandered the yard, on leash, she sniffed with interest at all the new smells. A few minutes later, a free-range hen wandered around the corner. Sammie froze and “pointed” towards it, while the hen spied the threat and ran away cackling and flapping her wings, giving Sammie the perfect excuse to take chase. However she decided it was of no interest to her, and resumed smelling the far more interesting scent on the ground. And THAT is as much interest as she has ever taken in poultry.
Tequila came a few months later. Not only did she show no interest in the birds, she actually tucked her head down and gave them a wide berth when passing, indicating submissiveness and possibly even a little fear of them.
I mentioned here that only three weeks after moving to our homestead, a fox did major damage to the flock. At that time, the dogs lived up at the house, and were oblivious to the attack. However following the attack, we moved their dog house into the chicken yard. In the years since then, we’ve lost only a handful of birds to predators – and none of those losses occurred in the coop or chicken yard. Our theory is that while the dogs are only there at night, that is the time many predators visit, plus their scent is there even when they are not, deterring those same predators from attempting a break-in by day.
I am asked sometimes “How did you train your dogs not to kill your chickens?” Sadly, I have no answer. While training may be possible, I’m not sure a dog that requires training will ever be completely poultry safe. I think the key is to select a dog for whom birds hold no interest in the first place. It is not that they have no prey drive at all. Both dogs will chase rabbits, squirrels and deer every chance they get. But, whether it is because the poultry live here and are part of their pack, or because birds in general hold no interest for them, I have never had to chastise them for undue interest. Ever.
By day they are pets, accompanying us when we go out, and enjoying a lengthy session of ball-fetching almost every day. By night they stay on alert, keeping our livestock safe and, occasionally, getting skunked in the line of duty. These two dogs, cast away by their original owners, are therefore priceless additions to our homestead.