Friday, September 27, 2013

Eating into our Profits

We have had a few tragedies at the ranch over the first 5 months of full-time farming. With 7 dogs, 60+ chickens and other animals running around, something was bound to happen sooner or later. Let me start off by saying that we are very big on humanely treating all of our animals. Our dogs have every available vaccine and parasite treatment scheduled to the day, all of them are fixed and taken in for any injuries or illnesses and receive top shelf rations. Our goats, ducks and chickens are fed the best quality food we can give them and are provided with over-the-top living facilities. The peacocks and guinea fowl have free range of the entire ranch and have a wild game feeder that goes off twice a day to make sure they have plenty to forage. 

As for the poor polish hens in this story, we didn't just throw them in with a bunch of untrained dogs to see what would happen. For some reason, they were picked on mercilessly by the rest of our birds and had to be separated. We moved them out of the main coop and into a smaller portable one. During the days we would let them out to forage, playing close attention to their interactions with the dogs and other animals. Problems seldom happen under watched eyes and it was at least a month before the first occurrence. When a dog made a mistake, he/she learned what was not allowed and didn't repeat. We just keep having new dogs making their own mistake which has resulted in a handful of lost birds. We can't just completely isolate the chickens from the dogs, that's why the dogs are here in the first place.
Our farm dogs include 3 Anatolian Shepherds, a border collie and a sheltie. The Anatolians are livestock protection dogs. They were put in with our goats when they were 8 weeks old and lived with and bonded to them. When they are adults they will live in the fields with the goats and protect them from coyotes, mountain lions, eagles and wandering dogs. One of them will probably stay around the ranch house to protect us and the smaller animals. That is all they do. The problem is that the chickens were babies then too so they had to wait a couple of months to be introduced and regarded as part of "the flock". So mistakes happen but we figure it out. The border collie and sheltie are herding dogs. Their job is to move the goats, sheep, ducks, chickens where we want them moved to. They have a strong instinct to chase and we have to teach them that chasing is ok in most circumstances but catching is not.

We believe that part of humane treatment is having well-behaved and controllable dogs. A dog that has no rules is a dog that runs into traffic or bites a non-threat stranger or destroys your house when you are gone to market. New technology allows for more precise and better-timed corrections than ever before and I use that technology. When used properly and sparingly, I find this training both humane and effective.
Back to the tragedies. The first incident was way back in January, when we had only 3 little harmless house dogs. Lucky, our momma yak, died mysteriously at the bottom of the canyon below the house. We are not sure what caused it but suspect illness rather than accident. That story can be found here: lost luck

Things were good for the next 6 months until our baby chicks were old enough to leave the lamps and live outside. The first chicken incident was when I left a few of our "picked on" chickens in the safe sanctuary of the goat pen with the puppies... only to have Christy drive up 2 hours later to see Ruckus and Rizzo playing catch with a headless polish.

Next was Maude, a black and white Polish, who's body was found in the yard one morning with Ruckus looking suspiciously guilty. I'd seen him chasing chickens in an innocently playful way a few days prior so I put the snake training collar on him and waited for a mistake. It wasn't long before i saw this big loping fur-ball scampering up the driveway in pursuit of another polish. I lit him up on medium high for a good 3 seconds and that was all it took. He has never so much as looked at a chicken since. One problem solved.

A few weeks later, Indian Jones ran past with window with a white fluff ball in his mouth which turned out to be a third Polish (see a pattern here? Polish chickens are apparently delicious). I scolded him and gave Ruckus a dirty look but since I didn't actually see anything happen I couldn't really do any useful training.

A week later we lost 2 of our 5 young guinea keets. They were just laying there dead in the peacock cage where they were spending a month to establish home base. There was no evidence of anything getting into the cage but there was head trauma on one of the birds so my only guess is that something scared them and they flew into the side of the cage during the night and died in a panic, maybe breaking their necks in the grid. Can't blame the dogs for that one.
Last week, Indiana Jones was caught literally red-handed over one of our extra Americana roosters. He's just a kid and I don't want to hamper his herding instinct so I hesitate to give him any collar corrections at this point. He got snatched up by the scruff and spent a night in the box. He seemed very apologetic the next morning but I am not convinced he is fully cured just yet.

The sad face of a low-down chicken killer. 
Yesterday, Nella got in the act and instead of involving one of our expendables, she got one of Christy's favorite laying hens. I was working on the fence just down the hill and saw her wolfing down something outside the chicken coop. I yelled and by the time I caught up to her she was halfway across the yard slinking with her tail tucked. I don't believe in beating dogs as an effective training method but I do exercise my alpha status immediately any time i see an aggression or obedience problem. I grabbed her by the scruff and dragged her back to the dead hen and scolded her over it, holding her down and staring at her and showing my teeth until she looked away. I made her show her belly and laid on her for about 5 minutes staring her down and scolding her. When she was totally submissive I got her up and hand-led her to the kennel where she sat until this morning watching the other dogs frolic around in front of her. She was very appreciative and submissive when I let her out this morning but the collar went on her immediately and I will keep the remote handy for the next time I see her show the least little bit of interest in one of our feathery friends.

I have been planning on doing a blog post on my training techniques for these and other problems for some time. As this post is getting a bit long, I'll write up a new blog in the next few days that will go into those techniques. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the update. I think it's a learning experience for both master and critters.


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