Last year we got a grant from Food Animal Concerns Trust to help us put a fence around our property. We got the grant, and the fence went in before the ground froze this winter.
This fence lets our beautiful livestock guardian dogs run all around our property to protect all of our flocks of chickens from predators. Before a fence went around the whole property, we had to rely on the fences that surround our chicken yards to keep our dogs safe and at home.
This didn’t do the trick because during the summer we had more chicken yards than dogs, and the pressure from predators was intense. Owls, hawks, and even eagles and turkey buzzards want to help themselves to free chicken dinners at our place. Last summer, a bold hawk became a regular at our place. It would go up to the side of our mobile chicken coop, slip under a tarp, and then try to reach through the chicken wire to catch young meat birds. It would sit in the trees by our hen coop in mid-morning, waiting for me to open up the hens’ doors so they could go outside and provide it with a meal.
We rotated the dogs between the chicken yards, which helped, but there were more chicken yards than dogs, and the hawk was determined.
The dogs, dear ones that they are, were agreeable to helping and would patiently walk to the chicken yards that I assigned them to each morning. These two dogs have been together since the younger one was a puppy, so we didn’t like to keep them separate for long. They went to separate yards in the day, and then were reunited at night when we could rely on the coops to keep our birds safe.
Now, because of the fence, our dogs have free range of our property. It is an absolute delight to me. I had secretly hoped that the fence would mean that I would be petting eager dogs every time I went outside, and to a degree this is true. I delight in seeing those floppy ears and dark noses as they bark to announce my arrival when I pull up in the truck. Just as we had hoped though, our dogs are working dogs. They love me, and they adore being petted, but their life does not revolve around me. Instead, it revolves around my farm. They greet me with wagging tails, but my arrival is not the big event that some dogs might make it out to be.
I hear our dogs barking all night, and I listen to the direction of the sound, noting that they sound like they’re far away to the west, or that they are close and to the south. In my half sleep, I am tracking magnificent animals through the darkness. Those are working hard, and they love their job.
Over the winter, we only have one building full of chickens — our laying hens. Come the end of March though, the meat birds will start to arrive, and then we’ll really get to see the benefits of letting our dogs have free range to do the job they were born and bred to do.
The chickens, who will reap the most benefits from this probably won’t give a rip. They are lovely animals, but they are not strategists that appreciate the wonderful ways we’re providing for their safety. Besides, they are not great fans of the dogs. They put up with them, but our canines bark loudly and sometimes go charging suddenly towards the direction of an unseen threat. It can be a bit much from the perspective of a chicken. As a farmer I have to be a strategist though, and I love this strategy. I hear that barking and see that charging and feel so grateful that my magnificent dogs have what they need to really do their job now.