Almost 2 years to the day, we had a red tailed hawk kill one of our free ranging chickens. Obviously perturbed at me for ruining its meal, it watched from overhead on the telephone wires as I cleaned up the carnage, with tears running down my face. After that, I became more cautious about when I let my chickens out and for how long. With supervision, I do let them enjoy at least an hour or two most days for a little foraging. Although I know there will always be the possibility of another hawk attack when we free range the chickens, they are happiest when given some access to the outdoors.
I have always figured that the one place my chickens were really safe was inside their coop, within our secure backyard. When I built the coop 3 years ago, I used 1/2″ welded wire on the run doors and added two latches to each door, one at the top and one at bottom, just in case an urban raccoon is lucky enough to figure out one latch. It was supposed to be chicken fort knox. Well, it is, but only if it is actually latched up tight on both latches. I found this out the hard way recently.
My dog, George, went to a neighbor’s house to play with their dog, a Brittany. The two dogs are good friends and love to play together. Back at my house, I had the gate open to bring our giant “Big Mac” pumpkin through the gate in the wagon, and I neglected to immediately close it behind me. Bad move on my part! About the same time, the neighbor decided it was time for George to go home, and the two dogs got so excited about the prospect of going out that they bolted out the door and down to this end of the street, with my neighbor, C, following far behind. The two dogs happily bounded up to the house and through the open gate. George paused to greet my folks and I as we worked on the pumpkin transport project, but the Brittany kept running past, straight to where she had learned the chicken coop was on a previous visit! She crashed full on, with all her force, into one of the doors of the run, causing the top of the door to pop open. (The top latch must not have been locked.) Immediately, it created a narrow 12 inch gap at the top, and out flew a spooked 12 week old pullet. Instinctively, the Brittany went into predator mode in hot pursuit of that chicken. I quickly grabbed the nearest long handled thing I saw, to smack the dog and try to snap her out of it. No good; it didn’t even phase the dog. No matter what I said (actually more like yelled) or did, made any difference. A brief but insane chase ensued with me, the crazy chicken lady, berating and trying to grab hold of the dog, and the dog pursuing the panicked chicken throughout the fruit trees, backyard shrubs, and eventually into the open garage. We must have looked like something out of a cartoon. My neighbor heard my yelling and came running as fast as she could. It ended abruptly with my neighbor forcefully dragging the dog out of the back of the garage by the collar where it had trapped the terrified chicken, just out of its reach. Even as the Brittany was being forcefully dragged out, it was still focused only on the chicken. I am positive if my neighbor let go of her tight grip, the dog would have been back on the chicken in an instant. There were feathers everywhere, but other than stress and a few bald spots, the pullet is okay. Needless to say, that chicken didn’t want to come out to free range with the rest of the flock for a few days after that.
My neighbor felt absolutely terrible about what her dog did, but it really wasn’t her fault. I knew previously from reading at www.backyardchickens.com that pet dogs are one of the top predators of backyard chickens. Brittanys are a high energy breed of dog, originally bred to specifically hunt birds. I can’t blame a dog for instinct and if they haven’t been trained to leave chickens alone, they are very likely to go after them either as toys or food. Lesson learned: keep the gate closed and the coop latched tight. The whole situation made me appreciate what a well behaved dog George is with my chickens, and I feel that the time I spent training him was well worth it.