August is officially here and we are closing in on the one year mark of my arrival in Canada. My goodness, for a season that doesn’t last very long, summer sure has kept me on my toes.
The chickens have been continually running my life these days and I’ve been letting them venture out onto the property more and more since the chicken run has become a hot-and-heavy junior high school dance. Have I mentioned we have a cock problem? It’s still not solved.
Free-ranging has become a necessity at Canadian Acres due to lack of space for so many roosters and having different sized and age grouped chickens. The older bunch are closing in on being 18 weeks old whereas the littles are going to be 8 weeks old. After being scared to death that the bigger chickens would immediately kill the smaller ones if put in the same pen (thanks a lot internet), I’ve been isolating the two groups in the coop. Everything was going smoothly until I had to start isolating certain hens from the roosters as well. Then I quickly ran out of room in the brooding pen. I currently have 12 large chickens in the roosting area with access to the run (coop plans found here) and 12 littles and 2 large chickens in the brooding area with no access to the run. So, being the wonderful chicken mama that I am, I felt bad on these hot sunny days and started letting the littles and Ethel and Beatrix out to free-range during the day.
They absolutely LOVE it! And I love giving them freedom but it does worry me at the same time. Not only because we have a number of predators on our farm, we also have two large “city” dogs with little to no chicken manners.
My largest concern with introducing the dogs to the chickens is that Maynard has a pretty strong prey drive. Wyatt really only cares about food and my husband, so I knew he’d be a pretty easy sell. Maynard on the other hand is part greyhound, so he struggles with little moving things. He loves to please his mama though, so I knew I had that on my side.
When the first batch of chickens came to the farm, we had a brooder box set up in the house. This worked well because the dogs not only got to see the chickens from a safe distance, they also got used to their smell and sounds. I would sit in the room with the dogs on a leash and let them watch and smell, correcting any nervous or fixated behavior and rewarding good behavior and posture. Wyatt grew pretty bored of the whole scene quickly, and Maynard found a way to calmly sit with good posture and use his nose. It took about a month for us to get to that state.
After moving the chickens to the coop, the dogs enjoyed heading out with me in the mornings and evenings to do my chicken chores. The chickens were always in their very safe chicken run so the dogs got a chance to interact without fear of anyone getting injured. As I cleaned the coop and fed and watered, the dogs took their jobs very seriously by walking the perimeter and peeing on any and every bush that surrounded the area. Great predator proofing in my book.
The only alarming behavior is Wyatt running up to the fence quickly to get a scare out of the chickens… he really enjoys that.
Next step was to pull out my handy training collar system and try some supervised free-range time. The training collar system I own is great. It’s a remote controlled system that allows me to control two collars with either a beeping noise, a vibration or a shock. Honestly, for this exercise, the beeping noise and an occasional vibration was all I needed to accompany my verbal and touch corrections. They did so well!
After a few weeks of training with the collars, the dogs now come out with me collar free and are in charge of helping me watch the flock. Wyatt has resorted to stealing their food and treats (really Wyatt, really?) and Maynard has some moments of nervousness, but I am always there to correct and reward. It’s been so wonderful to see them go through this process and come out with shining colors.
I am not a licensed dog trainer, but by utilizing my experience with animal behavior and my dogs quirks in particular, I was able to confidently and patiently introduce them to a new experience and training. I am so pleased with their willingness to learn and do well. They never cease to amaze me.
It just goes to prove that if I give them the opportunity to succeed and set them up for that success through knowledge, patience, guidelines and a whole lot of nerve, my boys really can live in peace at the farm. We have a long ways to go (Wyatt is pretty sure the horses are his arch nemeses), but everyday is a new day and I am dedicated to the health and happiness of all my creatures. So there you have it, my two chicken guard dogs in the making.
Hope you and your critters are all healthy and happy on this first day of August 2014.