Can you train a dog not to chase chickens?

When we first got chickens, my biggest concern was whether my dog Chase would try to attack them. Chase is a Chihuahua cross Jack Russell and it was the latter that I was most concerned about.

Jack Russells are terriers that tend to have quite high prey drives. Chase has always loved chasing birds. Her eyes would glaze over, and off she’d bolt!

In the beginning it was a little tricky. We would only let the chickens out when we were there to supervise. Quite a few times her eyes did glaze over in the sheer excitement of catching bird, however when this happened we were quick to pick her up and let her know that they were off limits.

My two chickens were quite feisty, and Chimmi (bless her feisty little soul) would be quick to fight if Chase wandered too close. This was my next concern. While Chase had learnt that the chickens were off limits, if they attacked her, then she was quick to defend. I was worried that they would start a fight, and she’d bite and kill them in defence.

It has all worked out well now and the chickens free range in the yard every day. Chase ignores them, but will happily still chase any other bird that flies into the yard.

Unfortunately with her old age now (and her eyesight mostly gone), the chickens tend to pick on her a little. If she wanders too close, she’ll get a big solid peck. She doesn’t fight back though, just tucks her tail and quickly shuffles away.

They now truly rule the yard. Even our cat stays clear, having earnt herself a couple of pecks over the years.

I do think it is possible training a dog with a strong prey drive to accept chickens, however that said we’ve had Chase since she was a puppy, and she was already well trained when the chickens joined our family.

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Soft shelled egg

This morning when I collected the eggs from my coop, I noticed something wrong with one of Bertie’s eggs – the shell was soft and malleable.

She isn’t deficient in calcium (she has shell grit frequently), so I thought I’d do some investigating (aka a google search), as this is the first time I’ve found an unusual egg.

Backyard chickens have a great link that mentions a whole range of reasons for problems relating to egg quality.

She has recently finished moulting, so it may be due to that. I will certainly keep an eye on her if anymore appear.

Bertie’s walk

Bertie joined us when she was a pullet (a young chicken that has not yet started laying eggs). Shortly after her arrival, I noticed that she didn’t walk normally. She tends to place one foot right in front of the other.

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She is now almost a year older and it hasn’t gotten any worse. While at the vet clinic earlier this week, I brought it up with the vet.

Apparently for Bertie, it is likely that while she was growing (before she joined our family) she had a deficiency in important nutrients/vitamins which has affected her balance and the way she walks.

Fortunately for Bertie her balance is still quite good and she gets around okay, albeit a little awkwardly. She has never roosted though, and tends to sleep lying on the floor of the coop. The vet believes this may be because she does not have enough balance to comfortably perch all night on the roost.

Hen treats – grass you say?

I love giving Doreen and Bertie treats. Out of everything I’ve given them so far, grass is their absolute favourite. But not just any piece of grass – it’s the newest part of the stem when you peel back the blades.

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As soon as I start collecting bits of grass to peel back, they’ll be at my feet, eyes never leaving my handful of greenery. Normally I’ll sit on the lawn as I peel each blade back and feed them the glorious new shoots.

They seriously love it and will practically climb all over me to get to it first.

Plus, it’s free.

 

“The coop”

Earlier this year, after six long weeks (plus a four week break inbetween when we were on our honeymoon), we finally finished our new chicken coop. When I say ‘finished’, I actually mean almost finished, because there are a couple of minor things I need to do when I have the time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I never actually drafted proper plans for the coop. I did a couple of 3d sketches of what I wanted, worked out in my head how the main parts would come together, and then went from there.

I needed the coop to be manoeuvrable, so I decided to build it in three separate parts (that would remain separate).

Below, you can see parts 1 and 2. Part 1 is an outdoor section that can be closed up if need be and part 2 is the base of the ‘house’. There is an outdoor roost in part 2.

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The timber is quite thick – from memory, I think it is about 32 or 40mm thick. It is definitely heavy than our previous triangular coop, however I wanted it to be thicker and stronger.

Part three, ‘the house’ was the more challenging section of the three. I think this is mainly because I knew in my head what I wanted, and was happy to adapt new changes along the way, whereas my husband was over all the changes I was making and getting more and more frustrated as we progressed.

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I wanted the house to be raised up off the ground so the chickens had the space underneath to use, and so it would not kill the grass (we rent). I also needed to make it as easy as possible to clean.

The pitch of the roof is quite high for two reasons. The first reason was so that when I cleaned it I could actually stand and lean my upper body inside the house without stooping. The second was to dissuade Bertie from flying up on top of it.

There are vents running along the top of both sides, which are always open. The eaves extend down far enough to protect these from the rain (sometimes a little gets in, but only when the wind is blowing it sideways!). There is also a vent with a door above the nesting box that can be opened or closed depending on weather (for extra ventilation and light).

The whole back wall is a door, and there’s also a door on the opposite side of the nesting box.

The nesting box was created so we could easily access the eggs. The creation of this caused quite a few arguments. My husband thought we didn’t need it, and I thought we did. Not only would it look cool, but it would also serve a purpose.

In all honesty, if I were to build this coop again I’d probably leave it off. Neither Bertie nor Doreen use it. They both have a favourite spot in the back corner of the coop where they choose to lay their eggs. So it serves no other purpose than looking pretty.

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A large tray forms the base of the coop, which slides out from the rear. It’s a little difficult to get in and out at this point, as I haven’t added any handles (that’s one thing that’s on the to-do list).

There are two roosts inside. They’ve been made so that they can be taken out if need be. I based them off the size of the roost in the original coop, and routed the edges. From my research I found that the size of the roost is important, and having sharp edges is not particularly comfortable for hens, hench the routing.

The pic above (and below) is the finished product. I used two different coloured paints, because I thought it would look better. Initially I wanted to retain the timber appearance with some sort of stain, however I could not find a suitable product that would be safe for the girls. I didn’t want to paint it, but in the end found it was going to be the best protection against the weather. I made sure to choose a paint that would be as safe as possible with little to no VOCs, and only painted the outside elements (including the inside of the doors).

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While it’s certainly pretty to look at, the coop isn’t predator proof, at least not to the extent it would need to be if I lived in a rural area.

Here, the main problems would be dogs, foxes, snakes or possibly hawks. It’s unlikely that other dogs would end up in our yard, and I am yet to see any foxes around here. Plenty of kangaroos, but no foxes. We’re basically in suburbia, so there are rarely any hawks or snakes.

When we eventually end up on our own piece of land, I would need to make some changes to make it safer (especially against foxes), however a few adjustments will sort that out.

While it took 6 weeks to build, I am so happy with the end result. Doreen and Bertie have a nicer home to live in that doesn’t leak when it rains. Plus, it’s big enough for us to add some more chickies to this little flock. Now I just have to convince my husband!

Watermelon for the chickies

My hens looooove watermelon. I can leave a huge wedge outside and by the end of the day, it’ll be eaten right down to the green rind. Between the two of them, they devour it pretty quickly.

I feed it to them throughout the year, but it’s especially good in summer. Given chickens don’t handle the heat well, it’s a great way to help keep them hydrated.

They’re a little wind swept this morning – it’s crazy windy outside right now.

A fine day to moult

When I first got chickens, I did a lot of googling and read a lot of different blogs about looking after hens (I still do this). One thing I learnt but didn’t really understand until I experienced it first hand, was the moulting of feathers.

For some reason, it never occured to me that there’d be feathers everywhere. When I say everywhere, I really mean literally everywhere! I have found feathers in my bed, in my lunch, in my car… they end up in the most random places because there are just so many of them. It looks like a hen has been devoured and all that is left are the feathers – there are that many.

It’s currently the middle of winter here, and Bertie is experiencing her first ever moult. It’s not a harsh moult (ie she doesn’t have huge bald patches), however she is somewhat scraggy looking.

You can see the pin feathers around her face and wattle in the above photo. I find it really cool, and love seeing all the pin feathers when there are a lot.

Doreen will have her third moult later this year. She tends to moult sometime in summer.

I am yet to see them experience what is considered to be a bad moult. I imagine that will be a site to see!