Sunday, January 20, 2013

Preparing your chickens for a dog adoption: It doesn't work

by Rachel Hurd Anger

My husband and I have always been a dog-free family, until I began thinking of adopting a running buddy. The dog seed germinated randomly like my chicken seed did. It was first an idea that became a regular thought, and then an undeniable obsession. The desire for Woman's Best Friend further mixed with visions of children frolicking in slow motion through fields of wildflowers (slight exaggeration), and of course, potential human predators fleeing from me in public places.

We adopted our new friend on December 22nd. She became our family Christmas present, so we named her Holly.

Holly, supervising.
Even with research and preparation, I knew what I was up against in adopting a large dog. I grew up with German Shepherds in my parents' home, so the breed is what I know and love. I only wish I was able to prepare my chickens for the responsibility of a dog as I was able to prepare my children.

We knew that once we found the right dog--a dog we adopted who was saved from a high kill shelter--that it would be impossible to predict her prey drive before bringing her home. That's true of every dog breed, even yipping versions meant for accessorizing in spendy handbags.

Our chickens live in a mobile ark coop that my husband built from plans we purchased online, and in his compassion for the birds' occasional lockdown, he added an additional run with roost that's both lightweight and easily portable. As a rule, the hens have free-ranged in our small yard for the last 2 years+, and our attempts to lock them up and let them out for R&R never felt right to us. Our goal of the dog happily herding our chickens is long off--right now, they are juicy playthings. (Everybody loves chicken!)

We've experimented with taking Holly outside on her leash when the chickens are locked up, and when they're ranging. This process is improving. In her first week with us, her reactions to the chickens were of mouthwatering desperation. Now, while she's still highly interested, she's most well behaved when her humans are present and judging her behavior.

I've walked Holly near the chickens while they are ranging. The girls no longer run away hollering, and Holly no longer jumps and whines. Although, if I let her off the leash, someone would become lunch.

Sadly for our 5 hens, they are now always in the run with the attachment. We've put the entire contraption (12' long and 4' wide) on our back patio where the concrete is easy to clean and won't destroy the lawn or the soil underneath it. This way, we can see the girls all the time, and can determine the behavior of the dog near the coop while she's out.

I've wondered if we will need to choose between the dog and the chickens. Choosing the dog would mean a return of pests to our Kentucky yard so thick that we won't be able to use our yard for most of the summer. Will their pest control efforts be as good when they're locked up so often? Free ranging has been the key to their success! Holly has been an undeniably necessary addition to our family. Since we adopted her a month ago, our house feels like the home we've always wanted, and our family feels complete.

The goal is for all the species we're harboring to live in harmony. That's precisely the trouble for all who domesticate carnivorous animals. We must be crazy!

Contact the writer at rachel@hurdanger.com, or visit her website.

Photo: Rachel Hurd Anger

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