They Had it Good

The flock at home, early January 2011

This is our current housing arrangement for our yard birds. Set against the side of the barn, it does nothing for the aesthetics of the rustic old building. But the barn, tarp and leaning plywood offer some protection from blowing wind, rain and snow. The chain link fence–again, not pretty–makes a good barrier to predators. The house is secure except for black snakes.

It all was working so nicely.

There were two dogs–a black and yellow lab–out in the pasture when I got home yesterday around 4. I’d seen them before, a week earlier, standing at Tsuga’s pen, wagging their tails, just visiting. I stepped out the door and said shoo, and the politely walked side by side down the drive and away.

This time, they found the hens while I was gone. I discovered the deed in the dark last night when I went over to shut them up.

They had it good.

Published by fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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14 Comments

  1. Fred, I’m really irritated by this. This is, very simply, the result of dog owners not keeping their animals under control. That is grossly disrespectful to neighbors, be they live stock owners or not.
    For the edification of those that are not aware, live stock owners have the right to defend their stock from predation and/or destruction.
    One of the many attributes that I admire about you is, you are a pacific and peaceful man. That speaks volumes of your character. You are not the type to take an eye for an eye. However, farmers that have finances invested in live stock are not likely to think the same.
    Unfortunately, even if you discover who the owner of these dogs is, you may have no recourse. Having not actually seen the attack, you would be hard pressed to prove these dogs actually committed the act. Circumstantial evidence certainly suggests that they are the culprits, though.
    There are live stock owners that would neither think nor blink at defending their stock with deadly force. Animal owners need to remember that, if their dog shows up missing, it may be because some farmer caught the dog in the act of harassing his live stock. And, the farmer is not going to be the least bit concerned about trying to find the dog’s owner. He’s just going to dispose of the remains and go on about his business.
    To those that own dogs, I would remind you of this: If you own a dog and let it run free, remember, whether it’s killed by a vehicle or a charge of buckshot is irrelevant, you let the dog run free.

  2. Tracks from the two dogs that headed south down our pasture can be followed into the trail of feathers, so guilt and identity of the dogs that did this are certain. One, the yellow lab, turned when I got out of my car, came across the creek to greet me. These are dogs used to being around people. Neither was wearing a collar, much less a rabies tag. The other dog is black, maybe a lab and setter mix. They’ve been here before–last week–when Tsuga visited with them through the chain link of his pen.

    So not only are these dogs roaming free much of the time, their owners don’t even bother putting collars on them with tags so they can be contacted when the dogs wander onto another’s property–or kill their livestock.

    We’ll be making some calls around the neighborhood and have a conversation with the irresponsible owners, so that perhaps, another landowners chickens, cats, sheep or other livestock does not become an afternoon of play for unrestrained dogs.

    Next time I see them, I’ll have the .22 handy and shoot as close to them as I can without hitting them. The next time, I’ll have the bigger gun. And my aim might be a whole lot better.

  3. I’m sorry about your chickens. I hope that was an unusual event for the dogs and the owner was frantically looking for them(and is suitably chagrined and offers to obtain new birds for you), and will take better care in the future. Having owned a dog who was able to open doors and take herself and her sisters for a walk, and also occasionally remove her collar when she found it burdensome, I can only thank my lucky stars she never decided to do bad things.

  4. Years ago I had a dog that killed a few chickens. I duct taped one of the dead birds to the back of his neck and left it there for a week. He never went near a chicken again. Perhaps these dog’s owners would get the message if the dogs came home wearing the carcass necklace. And, if they complained about it, you’d get to find out who they are.

  5. Years ago my neighbors dog came over and killed alll our chickens. When I complained he laughed. I restocked, the dog came back, and killed the second bunch. I decided it really wasn’t the dog’s fault, just a bad owner. I filed a complaint with the animal control officer and stated I wanted to be paid for the lost livestock. He asked me how much I wanted (I gave him a rediculous figure) and he doubled it. Two days later I had a check for about ten times the real value of the chickens. Never saw that dog on my property again.

  6. Fred, sorry about your loss of eggs and stories. I cast my vote with Bill #2. I wouldn’t kill a dog for being a dog. It’s probably not a reason to kill the dog owner either. I wouldn’t even conclude it was the dogs you suspect. There are other predators in the neighborhood and you also take that risk unless you construct a fail safe aviary.

    You should have gathered the frozen carcasses and made some chicken stew while pondering your next step of reaction. It can be both firm and civil. Do the neighbor thing first, call the legal enforcement channel second.

    That’s my chicken scratch advice without a personal anecdote, or several, that I could add.

  7. Oh dear I can’t cast my vote with any one of your comments however I do feel bad for you losing your chick.s..perhaps take a second look at their safety..how did those dogs get in? Must be some access for them.
    Now I can’t understand shooting ..taping dead bird to a dog..all I know is some hungry animal did have a meal…not the best to go about it.. getting a meal..guess I would NOT do well living in rural areas with roaming dogs and potential of guns.Could these dogs have been abandoned by thir owners? I do feel for you in this situation. Keep them safe.

  8. Oh no, Fred, I’m sorry to hear about your poor chickens.

    My dogs were going nuts one morning last week. When I went to investigate, I caught sight of a big yellow dog running away, across T’s pasture heading in your direction. All of our chickens and ducks were out ranging in the yard so I was on edge all day for fear he would return.

    If they are friendly, I would catch them and call animal control. If they returned again and went on a killing spree, I’m afraid it would be SSS ( shoot, shovel and shut-up) though it would be very upsetting, loving dogs as I do. The everyday person has little to no understanding of the amount of work and cost that goes into raising livestock.

    All our dogs are chicken killers. That’s why they’re locked up and walked on leashes.

  9. Fred, I hate to hear this about your chickens. They were almost like family, by means of your stories and photos. This really saddens me.

    Yes, dog owners should be responsible owners, but, every day we see people who are not caring one way or another about many things in life and the sad thing is, it spills over sometimes and hurts innocent people, etc.

    Perhaps one day, you will get some more chickens, and the chicken/hen saga will continue.

    Take care
    Mark
    🙂

  10. When I was a young man, living on a small farm, people would shoot a dog for “sucking eggs,” let alone killing the chicken that laid them.

    My dog was accused of doing just that by a neighbor; they said they were eye-witnesses to the deed. My father, being a Mountain Man, accustomed to rural justice, insisted that I do the right thing and kill my dog.

    If you’ve seen the movie, “Old Yeller” you have some idea of how I felt being charged with such a solution to an alleged crime. I obeyed my father and it was a very difficult order to follow. I believe that’s why I waited until I was a retired man, able to control my pet 24/7 before I entertained the thought of getting another dog, creatures I have loved all my life.

    It just came to me; back then, some 55 years ago, we also kept a few chickens of our own. Every egg was important then and our chickens were truly “Free Range” because we didn’t have a chicken pen or house. We had to keep an eye on them constantly so we could know where they had built a nest and began laying. No one at the time ever witnessed the dog eating an egg; ever! So, with that realization I am suddenly overcome with an ancient remorse and dusty guilt. Had I been forced to slay an innocent? Oh my!

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