Our week started out with a jolt. Pulling out of the driveway on my way to work, I spotted a crime scene. A hen had been attacked, partially eaten and dumped in the yard, where I had just been, a half hour prior. The condition of the carcass and time of day, lead us to suspect a hawk attack.
We steeled ourselves to this new development as it strikes us in a vulnerable area. We love that our hens have been able to free range on our property for the past couple of years without incident. We have taken precautions, the area is completely fenced and there are lots of places to take cover. The dogs patrol the whole yard and we have been happily living this existence, practically worry-free. I call it Chicken Bliss.
But, with chickens, it's never smooth sailing for long. If chickens aren't actually at the bottom of the food chain, I'd be interested in knowing what was. It seems that EVERYONE and EVERYTHING wants to eat chicken. Our job, and we take it very seriously, is to make sure that doesn't happen. Well, at least, to make sure it doesn't happen prematurely. Because, in full disclosure here, we eat our own chickens. But that's another story.
So, to recap, we lost a hen. Then, out of nowhere, our dogs decide to attack a chicken. The very same dogs assigned to protect them. They targeted a young cockeral, who suffered feather and skin loss, before being discovered by our diligent neighbors, as we were away at the time. We rushed home to evaluate the situation. The dogs were quarantined until futher time where we could address their behavior. I took the young chicken inside, provided basic medical care to make him comfortable, and settled him in to die. We could have dispatched him ourselves, but knowing he had suffered a tramatic and cruel assault, I felt obligated to make his last moments calm, quiet and warm. I was by his side, as he faded and the last shallow breath left his body. I am saddened. Horrified. And angry. ANGRY! How dare they?!
Farmer Tom and I discussed it last night. It's a roller coaster life. High highs, and low lows. Do we win more battles than we lose? I think so. Does that make it easier to suffer the losses? Probably not. Do we quit trying? No. NO!
Today we head out to bring home a new livestock guard dog. This was planned ahead of recent events and even though the timing might seem poor, it actually is perfect. We all need to regroup. We, and the dogs, need to refresh our boundaries and relearn our jobs. The dogs are here to serve a purpose. They need to protect the livestock. Our job is to teach the dogs their job. I can admit to failing the dogs on this level. I am not as diligent as I should be when it comes to disciplining behavior that falls into the gray areas. We assumed they "knew" what they were supposed to do. We know now, that zero tolerance is key to keeping the whole thing balanced. Teaching a new puppy how to be a good chicken guardian is a great opportunity to freshen up the skills for all of our dogs and to re-up our own committment to keeping our flock safe.
Even though we hate it, we accept that losses will happen. We don't have a positive outcome every time. Not every animal can be saved. We try, but they don't all make it. Today we will say goodbye to our little chicken, hello to our new addition and work another day chipping away at the projects at hand. That's life on the farm and we are blessed to experience it.
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