Sunday, April 01, 2007

Chicken and dog problem - advice please

Right from the beginning I have had a clear vision of what our garden will become - what looks like sticks in a field to everyone else are, to me, stately hornbeam hedges flanking paths, what is a bit of a dip in a swampy copse is, to me, an amphitheatre seating area surrounded by coloured dogwoods. And so on . . .come back in ten years.

An important part of this vision is free ranging chickens. On a visit to Sarah Raven's garden at Perch Hill Farm in East Sussex I saw a clutch of bantam eggs amongst the cabbages - and that is what I want.

But we have made a grave mistake in the plan.

We used to have free ranging chickens. Our first flock lived in houses at the top of the field. They had the run of the place and were blissfully happy, following me round and rooting for worms. Blissfully happy, that is until all but one were eaten by a rampaging pack of young foxes which struck just before dusk.

So, fearful for the safety of the one remaining and intent on getting more chickens, we built a chicken run near to the house and this is where they have been living. They are happy enough I suppose but it isn't the same life at all and though the run is large - about 4m x 6m - they quickly turn it into mud.

During the year that the chickens have been in the run we bought a dog. Jasmine, scruffy unclipped miniature schnauzer, is wonderful, affectionate, an indispensable part of the family. And a chicken chaser. She doesn't bite them - if they stop running she'd not quite sure why the game has stopped - but they don't know that she won't snap their heads off and I don't know that they won't have heart attacks.

As the chickens are in the run it is only when they fly over the netting that they meet Jasmine. But ideally I would like to give them back their freedom, let them pootle about the garden on their own.

Does anyone have any suggestions - do you think it is too late to try and train our mutt?

Today we are Scotland on Sunday newspaper's "Healthy Planet Tip of the Week".


BeachysCapeCodCupboard said...

I have a suggestion... pose this question to my dear friend Amy at (link is on my blog). She has a yellow lab AND chickens! Yes, Amy has a hen that lays the blue egg her blog is named after! We are slated to have chickens once we move within the next several years, but we have no dog (just a horrible coyote problem however).

carolyn said...

It's never too late to train a dog but I think you need to take advice from a dog behaviourist You could start by reading The Dog Listener by Jan Fennel, don't think it actually deals with chickens but will give some basics. Our ex battery hens haven't been out of their pen yet but our previous lot of bantams used to come out under supervision when the dogs were away.( We did have wolfhounds at the time and they are notorious chasers.)We'll be doing the same sort of thng with the girls.

Anonymous said...

Have just discovered, and am greatly enjoying, your blog. I have an 8 month old lakeland terrier who relentlessly chases our cats just for fun when she sees them! I cannot imagine the day when this does not happen! I live in West Sussex and have been to several open days at Perch Hill and to a course last year called The Bold and Brilliant Garden. Sarah Raven is quite an inspiration isnt she? Fantastic place to live with stunning views. Your business sounds great and seems to be the type of thing many of us dream of doing but not many carry it out. Good luck with the chickens!

a pink-bee said...

Good luck with the chicken chasing problem ,my dog likes to eat bees !
The problem with that is I am a beekeeper :) I haven't been able to get her to stop yet ! (she has even been stung while doing it ) So she is just not allowed near the hives.

Heather said...

Hello to this question!! We have a short haired german pointer -and he has spent this whole weekend in a complete lather.

The people at the end of the drive free range their hens in their garden and he can see them but ignores them largely, he knows their garden is off limits - but ours this weekend - he has spent his time hopping from dining room window to lounge window for a better view - outside he has stalked around the run - pointing like mad - and drooling for heavens sake!!!

Its obviously in his blood and at this rate I don't see ours setting foot outside the run - so today we have had to inherit their spare and large run from said neighbours who also have their garden sectioned off and their dogs(jack russells) never ever meet the chooks.

So much for all my careful planning!!

one`blue egg said...

Oh I forgot to say Jane my Lucy is quite good with the hen girls...but she did go through obedience training, we just yell her name and she backs away from them... I know peggy of hiddenhavenhomestead may have more advice she has lots more chickens then I do...I sent an email jane...your girls are cute I hope the problems will iron out! I will be back:)

CJ said...

Hi Jane, this may be one for the canine psychiatrist. Years ago, we had free-range Bantams but the dog (Bull Terrier) was already trained and studiously ignored them as lesser beings, So glad you stopped by my blog...we are in Otter Ferry on the Cowal Peninsula (just up the road). The kettle's always on if you're in the neighbourhood :)

Jane said...

Our thoughts at the moment are that we will divide the land and dog proof the fence and gate between the cutting garden proper and the slopy field that is to become orchard, dogwood and willow copice / water garden (Euan will laught reading this).
Jasmine can rule in the cutting garden and the chickens stay or at least escape to, the field. We shall also make a run in the field so that we can contain them if Jasmine want to join us for our sundown drink in the field.

I suspect that, even if I managed to train Jasmine to leave the chickens alone when I am there, she would chase them when I was out of sight.

I think it would be easier to try and train the chickens not to squawk and run than to train Jasmine not to chase such ridiculous birds.

So I think that a seperation policy is the only one that will work.

I shall try to get the book you recommend Carolyn - it could be useful in a lot of ways.

Hi to pink-bee. My Dad used to keep bees, it is something I have thought about doing myself if we ever get more land. I can't put hives near the flowers as I don't want flowers pollinated as they then start to die.

Heather - I am SO glad to find that I am not the only one who didn't think this all through in advance. Jasmine is a mild mannered soul except with the chickens whom she sees as squeaky toys.

Amy - thanks for your advice and referral.

CJ good to see you - you are close aren't you?

El said...

Hi Jane
One thing you could do is let the chickens out for an hour or two in the early evening, and leave the pooch inside for that duration. They'd get their scratching in and would be the happier for it. As for the pup, she needs to learn that listening to you is much more important than heeding the urge to chase. I've got an Australian cattle dog who'd easily kill all my girls if she wasn't trained. As it is, I kind of forced her to get along with them and now she thinks she's their guard dog.

Kate said...

It sounds as if you have come up with a good plan for the dog and the chickens.

Congratulations on being included in the paper's Healthy Planet Tips!

Alice said...

I have a Cocker spaniel who used to chase my parents' chickens. She stopped very quickly when they got a beautiful but aggressive cockerel who explained to her about good manners when visiting - now she pretends they don't exist. If this is not an option I would make the following observations - your little dog may have discovered that chasing the chickens is the prelude to everyone chasing her and so chasing chickens is only an excuse for some attention. Secondly, an eminent and very expensive pet psychologist gave me a useful tool for expressing extreme displeasure - a drinks can with gravel inside which you shake when they are doing something bad. This means they associate bad behaviour with an unpleasant experience. I really believe that you can train a dog at any stage of their life but you have to think about the problem from their perspective. Good luck!

Jane said...

Thank you for everyone's suggestions here and also in the many e-mails.
Alice- I think that you may be spot on with the attention thing - or at least I think that she is encouraged by both the reaction she gets from the chickens and the attention she gets from me.
I shall try the gravel in the can noise.
It is a funny thing, she is generally a biddible wee thing - we've managed to train her to stop going off with every walker that passes the gate and she knows her place in the car and in the house. It is just the chickens. I suspect if they had always been free range she would be fine.

CJ said...

Hi Jane, We were invited out to lunch on Tuesday just up the road. This area is a shooting estate and all of us who live here have to strictly control our pets. Our hostess has a young Springer Spaniel (arrived fully grown in November)that began chasing Pheasant in January. Rather than have the dog put to sleep, she fitted her with a "shock
collar" after first testing it on herself. The collar has a two-fold system of adversion therapy emitting a shrill noise as a warning and if it's ignored can then give a shock that can be varied in intensity depending on the dog's response. The drawback is that you have to operate the device when the dog starts chasing the bird but the upside is that this particular dog has only needed two shocks and now comes when called and stays close to home. I think your other plan sound very good but if you need another option, this is the first time I have heard of a successful 'cure'. All the best