Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Poultry Predators: The Dog Attack of 2013

Over the six years we have kept poultry we have lost birds to hawks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and possibly owls. Predation is a fact of life for poultry owners. Humans are not the only animals that think chickens are delicious. Thursday was the first time we had ever lost a chicken to dogs. 

It started when I went down the street to pick up the kids at the bus stop. I saw a large, furry black dog and a brown pit bull wandering in the street. I am really cautious about dogs I don't know. Mr. Chanclas has been bitten twice by large dogs as the owners told him "he doesn't bite"!  This doesn't exactly inspire my confidence in dogs or their owners.

Thirty minutes later I looked out the living room window and said, "What is that lying in the driveway?" It turned out to be one of my young laying hens, dead, and the two loose dogs were busy rampaging the rest of the birds in my coop. Our chicken run is four feet of chicken wire on posts with deer netting above to keep the hawks and owls out. (See photos and details in this post.) The black dog had jumped up on the chicken wire, torn a hole in the netting, and jumped inside the run. Thankfully, most of the chickens had escaped through the back of the nesting boxes, which the dogs had already torn open. The black dog was going crazy inside of the run, climbing up on top of a small coop and collapsing one end of it in the process. 

Torn netting where the dog jumped in
While the black dog chased the chickens inside the pit bull ran circles around the outside. I grabbed a mop hanging on the fence and started screaming at the dogs, which scared the pit bull off a dozen yards or so, but I was not about to go and get in the middle of things. All three of my kids were inside and I didn't want them coming out and getting hurt and I sure didn't want to get attacked or bitten either. I went inside to secure the kids and when I stepped back out the black dog had managed to get out of the run and both dogs had just run off. I was so, so angry.

I called my neighbors down the street who have chickens and ducks to give them advance warning. Then I went outside and found three of my young hens dead in the yard. I called Animal Control and they totally blew me off. Then I called and texted my neighbors to see if they would pester Animal Control along with me. (The old squeaky wheel getting oil.) My elderly neighbor, Ms. Bobbi, told me I should call the sheriff.

The sheriff? What exactly is a sheriff anyway? Do I actually live somewhere that has a sheriff? This was somewhat amusing. It seemed weird to call the cops on some dogs but she told me that if I mentioned a rampaging pit bull in a neighborhood full of children they'd pay attention. She was right. Then Ms. Bobbi called the sheriff, too, and after being transferred three times, gave him a piece of her mind. Ms. Bobbi might be 72 years old and wear giant granny classes but I would *not* have wanted to be on the receiving end of that particular phone call.

Before I could even get off the phone with Ms. Bobbi the sheriff's deputy was cruising down my street. The deputy was really nice and he pulled out a little notebook and wrote down a description of the dogs, the number of chickens killed, and my name. I couldn't believe he even cared. When I lived in the city and my car was broken into the cops didn't even come out. Then he took photos of the crime scene and my dead hens, which I thought was hilarious but nice because the dogs' owner owes me a hundred bucks.

While I was talking to the deputy the neighbor girl from down the street ran over to tell us the dogs were near her house. So the deputy headed down there for a little round up. Later he returned to my house with a dog collar in his hand. There were no tags on the collar. Crap. He had caught the pit bull but when he started to lead it by the collar the dog backed right out and ran off, leaving him holding an empty collar.

The chickens had scattered farther than usual out of fear and at nightfall I was still missing two, which I found dead in another part of the yard the following day. It's a shame because all five chickens that were killed were my young hens that were about to start laying. They were five of the ten chicks I had slipped under my broody mama hen back in May. A young layer is worth $20 so I lost $100 in chickens plus the time spent repairing the coop and run.

I found out later that the dogs were the same ones that had destroyed my neighbor's coop last fall and killed several of her chickens. That neighbor, who we call Granny D, came over to apologize for not warning us when she saw the dogs running loose. And she offered us some replacement chickens from her own coop. Of course, none of this was her fault at all, but we were touched that she came over and made us such a generous offer. And really, I am not typing up this whole account just to tell a story about chicken-killing dogs but to tell a story about community. About what it is like to be part of a neighborhood in which everybody knows each other and relies on each other in moments of crisis, both small and large. (This one small, but there have been large ones.)

Now I am wondering what I can do to prevent future dog predation. I have considered all options. Fencing my whole property (expensive and unappealing), keeping a livestock guardian dog (expensive and would require the previously mentioned fence), shooting the dogs with a bb gun, or shooting the dogs with a real gun. I have no desire to shoot dogs and I don't think I could bring myself to shoot one with a real gun under these circumstances. The sheriff's deputy mentioned that I do have the right to shoot a dog rampaging on my property. My cousins, who live in the country and know far more about these things than I do, said that a roaming, chicken-killing dog will always come back for more and that really you just have to shoot them.

I'm not ready to build a fence, buy a Great Pyrenees, or buy a gun, so for now I have just reinforced the coop. I'm thinking about that bb gun, though. Maybe the neighbors would like to join me for target practice.


  1. Wow. What a bummer about the chickens. Have they ever found the owners of the dogs? I'm so glad you have a community there.

    1. No, we didn't find the owners. I doubt we ever will, even if the dogs come back and get caught. They didn't have tags on their collars and I'm betting they aren't microchipped, either.

  2. Well this post just broke my damn heart.
    We put so much thought, time, energy and feeling into raising healthy productive livestock and to have it wrecked is just so discouraging.
    I'm so so sorry for the 5 lost ladies. I do hope the end was quick for them. I know everything's gotta eat, but for cryin' out loud. Those dogs didn't even eat them - just murdered them.
    I have a BB rifle that kills small animals and wounds without pity the big ones. I keep it loaded and ready hanging way up high on the wall (out of reach of the little one's hands, to be sure) and have felled my fair share of feral cats, mad opossums and one ornery raccoon. All were going after either my chickens or my rabbits or my quail.
    Here is what I tell my neighbors: Keep your animals in your yard and we don't have a problem. Let your crazy outdoor cat shit in my garden beds and go after my animals and there's a problem. Because my aim is good. And I don't play.
    Sounds harsh, but I invest tons of money, time and energy into my lifestyle and can't wait around for other people to be as responsible a pet owner as I am.
    However - my new neighbors are totally on board with this. They agree with me and I've never had a problem with their animals. Community is very important. It sounds like your neighbors are pretty awesome people.
    When I am 72 I'm gonna be just like that neighbor who called the sheriff. I will wear a mumu and be downright cantankerous.
    Stay well, friend. *hugs*

    1. If the dogs had eaten them out of hunger I would have understood. (I still would have been angry, though.) They just killed them out of sport and we weren't able to eat their meat, which feels so wasteful. I did take the carcasses out in the woods and leave them for the vultures and other carrion eaters.

      I need to hear more about this BB rifle of yours. I'll email you. And you would *adore* Ms. Bobbi. She never wears anything *but* mumus and she is cantankerous as hell. She used to ride motorcycles and she spoils my children.

  3. Yeah, that whole thing just sucks. I marvel at your ability to focus on the bright side -- the community -- and I feel glad that you went through the channels and reported it. If the owner of the dogs are ever tracked down, there will be a big paper trail to follow. And hopefully that will attract some attention. Sigh, if everyone could just act responsibly....

    1. I know the chances of finding the owner are very slim to none, but I'm glad I've got the paper trail, too. It just doesn't seem "fair", you know? Which is maybe a silly and childish way to feel, but..... Sigh.

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