Tag Archives: chickens

Tucker – English Shepherd – Chicken class #1

I must apologize to my readers, as I had honestly thought that I had posted how I was going to work on training my English Shepherd, Tucker, how to guard the chickens. But after I had posted Chicken class #2, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything yet. So, I’ll take a minute now to explain the reasoning behind the Chicken classes.

Tucker face 2-13-2011

Tucker at about 14 weeks old 2-13-11

I bought Tucker a little over a year ago, mostly as a guard to my little flock of chickens, ducks and geese, and for a bit of herding the cows when needed. While he seems to have the herding down pretty well, and took great care of a little bull calf that didn’t have a mamma last year, he didn’t seem to get the idea that he was supposed to be watching over my poultry. Now to be fair to him, I had no clue how to train him. He watched over the little calf with no guidance from me, and I’ve read how this wonderful breed seems to naturally want to take care of all the critters on the place, that it didn’t really occur to me that I had to figure out a way to train him. Looking back, it’s like a “well, duh!” moment, but he’s such a great dog, I just assumed he’d just kinda fall into it all by himself.

All was well actually with the chickens until the fall of 2011. My husband had bought a little heeler pup in September to replace the one that died earlier, and both dogs had the run of the place. I came home from work and found a small bunch of feathers from one of my Aracuana/Leghorn crosses, but no bird. Never did find her. Than my Khaki Campbell drake disappeared. Then over the next day or two, I came home to some headless chickens. Needless to say, I kinda got a bit freaked, as I couldn’t figure out what was happening to the birds. I’m still not sure, but I reinforced the chickens courtyard and locked them up. The dogs were sent to doggie prison, a large kennel by the house.

Tucker watching the chickens

Tucker watching the chickens

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out how to train Tucker that the birds were his responsibility. A few suggestions had been to take him with me when I feed, collect eggs, etc. Well, I have been since I got him, and although he sniffed at the birds, and was curious, he didn’t seem overly impressed with them. I don’t really spend much time with my birds, although I would talk to them mostly at night, and when the Aracauna/Leghorns were younger, I’d pick them up and pet them and talk with them. But none of my birds are specifically pets, so time is not spent on them much. My son was the chicken whisperer. I didn’t seem to inherit that gene!

Then I got to thinking. Tucker probably doesn’t relate to the birds  because he doesn’t see me doing much with them, and because we don’t spend time with them. Other four footed animals are easier to relate to for a dog. Poultry, I have discovered, not so much. So on the mornings that I can, I have been taking him into the courtyard when I let them out of the coop, and we just hang out with the birds. I can see him paying more attention to them each time I take him in. Here’s the link to the video I took of his first time: Tucker and Chicken class #1.

Hence the Chicken Class for Tucker. I’m hoping that by spring, when I want to let the chickens out to range on the pasture, Tucker will be ready and willing to watch over them and keep them safe.


Tucker and chicken class – #2

Tucker checking out the chickens at the pond

Tucker checking out the chickens at the pond

Tucker seems to be getting the hang of the chicken thing. Here’s a video I took on his fourth day in with the poultry: Tucker: Lesson 2 with chickens.

He’s curious about the chickens that go on the other side of the wall to get a drink from the little pond in their coop, and seems to think they should all be together. I like the way that he’s watching them, and is going up and sniffing them and checking them out. He’s also very low key the whole time. He’s thinking about it, and perhaps what Mom wants him to do.

Tucker at my feet

Tucker at my feet

One thing he does that I have to work with is that when I’m in the coop with him, he comes and sits/leans on my feet and legs. He still watches the birds while there, but I would like him to stay off of me, and focus a bit more on the chickens. I need to start putting myself out of the picture so to speak, and not always be in the coop with him, so he starts understanding that I want him to watch over the birds for me. I’ll stay close by so I can watch him and run interference if necessary until I feel he has the idea firmly in his mind.

When the weather gets a bit better, I’ll be letting them loose in the pasture, and will continue to work with him then. I’m looking forward to them being outside and able to free range again.

Tucker checking out the chickens

Tucker checking out the chickens

Musings on Raising Chickens

I had to have a good talk with my hens the other day, as they’re just not laying enough eggs for me and Chris to eat, and to have some to sell to our neighbor. They clucked and purred at me, but I’m not sure they got the message that if they didn’t straighten out, they were going to end up in the stew pot.

A little mutt hen...no idea of her parentage!

But in all fairness, it is late fall, and it’s much colder, and darker, so I should expect fewer eggs. It’s just so frustrating when you know they can do better. The last winter Colby was here, we were averaging about a dozen eggs a day! Maybe Colby was the key. He has a special touch with his chickens. Ah well, he’s stationed in Hawaii, and I don’t think he can come home just to talk to the chickens. And all of those birds are no longer with us, as a few critters got to them while they were free ranging or staying out late at night and missing curfew.

Fluff, a Polish Lace hen, who is Colby's last remaining chicken. She's about 6 years old now.

I do have a light on for about two hours in the morning. That gives them the impression that it’s daylight longer. They are supposed to have about 14 hours of daylight, if I remember correctly, to consistently lay eggs. Well, right now, we may be getting about 12 hours of daylight. I was also out of lay mash, which helps provide the right nutrients for them to be able to lay eggs regularly.  And they are growing in some new feathers, so that depletes their nutritional stores too. I’m hoping that once they have all prepared for winter, they can return to the egg laying business. So between the lights and the lay mash, they have started to lay a few more eggs consistently. I tell them they are very good girls when I put them to bed at night. They reply with coos, purrs and quiet clucks.

Light Brahma hen

One major difference from a few years ago, is that I have no idea what breed most of these hens are. I do have two Buff Orpingtons, a Light Brahma, some colored Leghorns and my most recent addition of Aracuana/Leghorn cross pullets, but the rest, hmm, that would be about half of them, are total mutts of who knows what parentage behind them. I would like to clean out the non-egg layers, and replace them with maybe more Buff Orpingtons, Red Stars, or Buckeyes. I’m seriously considering replacing most of my flock over time and just focusing on a few breeds of chickens that are considered endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy ( http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/wtchlist.html). Some of the breeds that I’m most interested in are the Buckeyes, as mentioned before, the Maran, or maybe the Lakenvelder, Chantecler, Favorelles, Delaware or Dominique.

Chickens in the courtyard.

I like the Buckeye especially, as it is a 100% American breed, created by a lady in Ohio in the late 1800s/early 1900s. They are supposed to have a really good, people-friendly temperament too, which would be cool. I like the Maran too, as they supposedly lay chocolate colored eggs, and are also rare, although I don’t see them on the ALBC list. The Chantecler was developed in Canada specifically for the harsh, cold weather in Quebec, and is known for being very hardy and an excellent layer of brown eggs, even in winter. The Lakenvelder is a really striking bird, with a dark breast and head area, and dark rear, with either white or a pretty golden red color in the middle. Favorelles are an old breed from France, while the Delaware and the Dominique are American creations.

A nice mix of naturally colored chicken eggs.

Before I decide what breed(s) I’m going to focus on, I need to figure out what I’d be raising them for. Do I want a dual purpose breed for eggs and meat, or do I want a prolific egg layer? Do I want a fast maturing meat bird? Do I want colored eggs or white? So much to think about! I know I want a good tempered bird, something that is known to be more friendly and not too flighty. And a bird that does well with free ranging, although I do feed them in the morning. And definitely something that is not fragile, and will handle the freezing temperatures we have in the winter. It’s not too bad usually in the summer, but winters are always cold.

I’m seriously considering breeding the Aracauna also, or maybe continuing with the Aracuana/Leghorn cross I have now, as I do have a gorgeous rooster that was supposed to be a hen in the group that we bought this spring. I’ll have to build a separate coop for them, so that I can make sure it’s only this rooster breeding the hens, and I can collect their eggs for hatching next spring.

These are the Aracuana/Leghorn cross chicks this last spring. I really love their colors!

I did lose one yesterday. When I was out feeding the bulls, I noticed a little bunch of feathers from a reddish colored chicken, but no body. When I did a head count last night, one of my little Aracuana/Leghorn cinnamon colored hens was gone. I think she might have been taken by a hawk or something, as there are no feathers, no bones, no carcass, so it wasn’t a dog. I really hate losing my hens. I never, ever seem to lose a rooster! Sigh…I noticed today that the other chickens that normally fly out of the coop didn’t leave it, so I really do think something got them, and now they’re hesitant to come out of the coop. Tucker is suppose to guard or watch over them but there are so many buildings, he can’t really see all that is going on where they roam.

This summer, we lost another one of my ducks. It’s not surprising, as Chris would tell me that he saw them about a half mile or so away from the coop, out in the field. Something got one of the girls, and since then, the few remaining ducks don’t go very far away! I’m thinking I might replace her next year, but I haven’t really decided yet.

Since I’m not going to be getting anymore chicks until spring, I have some time to decide where I want this chicken thing to go. But it’s so challenging when there are so many fascinating breeds! And I really want to be able to sell more eggs, now!