When I encounter a mishap, I try to learn from it. Most of you who read this blog know that our dear Sweetpea, a barred rock, was attacked by a dog last month. The dog was thankfully not one of our own labradoodles. That would have been even more difficult to endure. The dog that got into our yard, chased the hens, caught Sweetpea, and successfully pulled off feathers and flesh, was a neighbor’s female bull terrier.
Years ago, when I was a young mother and had a milk goat, chickens, ducks, a pony, and baked our own bread, we lost hens due to raccoons breaking and digging into the coup at night. I’ll never forget the sound as a hen was having her head ripped off by a predator. I vowed that if I ever had hens again, I would have a coop that nothing could break into. So dear husband built a cement floored henhouse (where hens are contained at night) and buried hardware wire around the perimeter of the outdoor coop. We used 2″ welded wire for the top and sides of the coup to prevent hawks and foxes, patrolling our area during the day, from helping themselves to fresh chicken breast. This has worked as we haven’t lost a hen to a predator yet.
Then in the spring, I began letting the hens out of the run for a few hours a day while I gardened. I’d put the 2-year-old labradoodles in the house for their late morning nap. Our half-acre is fenced so I felt fairly sure that a fox wouldn’t get in, grab a hen, and escape over a six-foot fence, nor would a hawk bother the girls with people around. What I didn’t anticipate is a neighbor, with her dog off leash, walking by, seeing an open gate (contractors were unloading materials for our garden-room addition) and, doing what dogs do, go hunting in our back yard.
It all happened in a few seconds. The dog saw the chickens, ran full speed, with husband and contractors, in hot pursuit. The dog first grabbed Daisy (the Buff Orpington) and spit her out (guess she was too fluffy). Then she grabbed Sweetpea and ran about 100 feet, put her down on the ground and began ripping and tearing. Shouts and screams did not deter the dog. My husband pried her jaws apart to get the dog to release the hen.
Sweetpea’s wing was broken and pieces of her flesh on her back and under her wing were missing. In the beginning of my “hen project” I made an agreement with my husband that I would not run up vet bills for hens. So far, I’ve been able to treat them at home. I felt I could bind her wing and treat her wounds myself. She probably would have benefited from stitches but I just couldn’t bring myself to sew flesh.We gave Sweetpea antibiotics for a week, changed her dressings daily and kept her wing bound with “vet tape”. With only one wing, her balance was off. The first time she tried to jump up on a bale of hay, she fell on her side and “couldn’t get up”.
I put her in the run for an hour each day so that the girls would stay friendly, and within two weeks, she was back with her pals full time and was able to get up on her four-foot roost at night. We removed her bandage after three weeks and she was able to take a dust bath and lie in the sun. Ahhhhhh……….
What I learned? The hens are never really safe. The reality is that as long as there are predators, there is a danger of a chicken being hurt or killed. You can do all the things you can to safeguard your chickens but mistakes will happen, like a gate being opened as you pass through and a negligent neighbor walking with a dog off leash.
Did I do anything about the incident? Yes, I reported it to our San Luis Obispo County Animal Control. They took a report and recorded it in case of future problems. What I found out is, the owner of the dog is responsible for damage costs (if there are any). On a third incidence, the dog will be classified as vicious. What good will that do? And as far as paying me for the loss of one these pets, what would be adequate payment?
I’ll be as careful with the girls as I can, but, they are old and deserve to have a pleasant life. I want them to follow me around, scratch in the dirt, lie in the sun and just be chickens so I’ll continue letting them our under supervision. That is the best I can do for them.