Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A tough day for chickens

As I pulled up this blog today, I couldn't believe it has been over a year since I have last posted. But then again, yes, I can believe it. Raising chickens has been incredibly rewarding for our family, but also VERY time-consuming.   I've decided to expand this blog a bit to include more of the changes the chickens have brought to our lives, our awareness of food, and our attempts to homestead.  Or be urban farmers...

But today, we had yet another chicken tragedy that I think deserves mention.  We've had so many challenges in keeping these poor, sweet creatures alive.  We've given them a safe coop, build an expanded run (because free-ranging was quickly ending our chicken experiment), and tried so hard to keep our pets safe.  We even got two dogs to help protect the chickens which is another reason why finding time to write a blog has become a challenge.  Here are Moxie and Max:

After our last tragedy with a raccoon, I researched guardian dogs who can protect flocks.  While building an outer run protected the chickens from certain predators, it left them vulnerable to others- like raccoons.  Apparently there are only two breeds of dogs who are good at protecting livestock- the Great Pyrenees and the Rhodesian Ridgeback.  Fortunately, Atlanta has a wonderful Great Pyrenees Rescue group and these two delightful creatures came to live with us last February and March after being rescued from shelters in Alabama.  I didn't realize that much training is needed to help them learn not to attack the chickens, but we didn't have any fatalities and all seem to coexist.

Today, the dogs were inside my studio when I heard great commotion and clucking from the coop.  I looked out the window and saw Blobby, our lone rooster, walking back and forth inside the run.  I wrongly concluded all was well.  Here is a photo of Blobby, a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte:

Our nine year old often goes and checks on the chickens when he gets home from school.  He came running inside in a panic telling me about the hawk sitting on the run.  We rushed outside to see the hawk on a low branch above the coop.  And Moxie's guardian instinct kicked in.  She immediately sensed the danger and ran to the hawk, barking her deep, echoing bark.  Of course, Max, our non-instinct driven dog, thought she was barking at the neighbor's dogs and proceeded to bark at them.  Moxie was different, though.  She was trying to jump up a tree at the hawk who had moved to a higher branch.  My heart sunk as I noticed his crop (if that's what hawks have) looked full.  Moxie kept barking and the hawk flew off.  Our son was in tears though as he said, "Georgina's hurt".  Nope, Georgina's head was gone.  Here is what he found:

After comforting my son, we took a look around to see what had happened.  The windstorm had blown down part of the soft wire fence.  The hawk climbed in and chased down a chicken, tore it to shreds, and terrified all the other birds.  The boldness of the hawk was astounding.  Most often (at least in my experience with hawks -see previous post), hawks dive-bomb their victims.  To just hop into the run is incredibly fearless and bold.  But it triggered an amazing reaction in Moxie.  Instantly, she realized what she was supposed to do as a guardian dog.  And it isn't to gently pin a chicken down with her paw and pull a feather out...

We moved the dead chicken into the garage to wait for burial (it was too cold outside).  Moxie sat beside the dead chicken and wouldn't leave her side.  Chickens and dogs have been such an amazing learning experience for us and for our children.  Sad, oftentimes, but when is life ever perfect and happy? Actually, life is pretty happy when chickens follow you around a garden and big, fluffy dogs lick you and think you're great :)