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Finding a way to bring chickens to our farm!

 
Robyn Morton
Posts: 12
Location: Indiana
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Hi everyone,

I'm new to these forums, and have already found them wildly useful.  I am the associate director of a sustainable farm ministry in Indiana, and currently I'm working on a proposal to bring chickens onto our farm.  We have 300+ acres of certified organic row crops/hay/alfalfa, a 2.5 acre organic market garden, orchards, and a herd of 60 alpacas.  It should be easy enough to get chickens involved here, but I am running into problems.

The director, Sisters, everyone else, are all quite in favor of chickens, so that's not the problem.  It's logistics.  My original proposal was to do the paddocking method, since we already have four separate pastures for the alpacas, each of those broken into numerous paddocks.  It seems like a natural choice, it would improve the pasture, help control parasites, etc.  The problem all comes down to predator control. I first suggested that we get a LGD (as Paul Wheaton suggests); however, apparently everyone who works here (other than me) is such a huge dog lover that they would never be able to treat it appropriately for herd care.  I don't know much about this, but according to them, the dog must be carefully trained, and never really treated like a pet, but only as a working dog.  They claim (and I can't really gainsay them here) that they just couldn't cope with this. 

The next obvious option would be to keep the chickens in a closed coop each night.  But since we're a ministry, rather than a more normal working farm, we keep fairly normal working hours and no one actually lives here.  No one will want to come all the way back out to work every night just to put the chickens up!  (Although we might be able to get some of the Sisters who live on campus here to do it, but .... I'm dubious). 

The next option after this would be a more traditional chicken tractor, but.... I don't know.  I just don't feel good about that, and frankly it would be a LOT more work moving that thing around all the time than just switching paddocks every week.  I think the livestock folks would balk at the sudden increase in work, and I don't have the time to take it on, either.

The last option would be a more traditional set coop, maybe even in the apple orchard, with a roof.  I'm not opposed to this, but it seems like such a shame to lose out on all of the benefits that the chickens could bring to the alpaca pastures, and how much more expensive the chicken food would be, etc.

So.... there's my dilemma.  Does anyone have any suggestions for how to proceed?  I would love to pursue paddocking, or at least *some* kind of variant on that theme that would integrate the chickens into the alpaca pasture.  Thoughts?  I've heard about attack llamas....

Best,
Robyn
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Yes I do, go with the dog - the training/people-loving won't be an issue IMO.

I know of several farm/homestead with LCD that are housed with the animals they protect, but the family loves on the dog, kids throw sticks, petting and praise are all part of the dogs life, without any adverse affects to the dogs performance.

The key is to have the dog living/sleeping with it's attended charge in order to form a bond.  The people may come and go but the dog remains, and the one's it protects are it's main companions.

I know of one family that even spoils their LCD with treats for sitting and other commands (I do not believe in treats for training) however, this dog still does his job wonderfully.

Your people keep business hours on the property - perfect!  Get the dog 

Oh, one more thing - these dogs don't work well with strangers/farm visitors.  So keep the tour groups away from the paddock with the dog!

 
gary gregory
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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I agree with Jami and I would add one more dog as they work together as a team much better than alone.     If you have packs of coyotes or mountain lions you wouldn't want a single dog to have to face them.   If the dogs have been raised as guardians from puppyhood, they will know their job and we have found that they love their job way more than living as someone's pet.   Lots of past discussions on these forums about LGD's.   cheers 

  edit: Also, llamas will likely sleep at night while LGD's are on duty then.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Hm...should the doghouse be built into the coop?
 
Emil Spoerri
pollinator
Posts: 420
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The dog would also be useful for guarding alpacas no?
 
Robyn Morton
Posts: 12
Location: Indiana
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Well, it's not so much that anyone doubts the utility of a dog--a LGD would be great for security & protecting all of our animals.  The problem is that the staff feels that they would not treat the dog appropriately (they'd be too "lovey" for it).  I could try and persuade them otherwise, but given that I've never raised a LGD myself, I don't really have any background to speak from.  And the primary alpaca manager is fairly convinced on this point.  Apparently this is something they went in circles on long before I came on, so I don't think I'll have much luck changing them here. 

So, while I actually agree with everything that's been suggested so far, I don't think it'll get any traction with my co-workers.  Consequently, I'm looking for a non-LGD option (and still hoping to convince them on the LGD front, but not being optimistic).

Edit:  Oh, and also, as an educational facility, we have numerous troups of tours, workshops, elementary school field trips, and more coming through all the time.  That alone might create too much of a problem with a LGD...
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Maybe you can use movable electric bird netting then.
 
Emil Spoerri
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Also, what kind of predators do you have?

I have ducks that sleep outside at night and this place is teeming with coons. Not really sure why they don't bother em, but perhaps it's cause the coons aren't very big around here usually, just a little bigger than a cat.
 
Robyn Morton
Posts: 12
Location: Indiana
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Our main predators here are coyotes and wild dogs, and also raccoons & such.  We've been hearing about some big cats in our neighborhood, but it's only just crossed over from the DNR guys saying "no, that's just a rumor" to the DNR guys saying "well, we do have one confirmed sighting." 

I've also found out (much to my surprise) that the only protection the alpacas have right now is fencing -- not even electrified.  I think part of their concern is that they know their defenses really are low, but they've been getting away with it.  If we bring in chickens, this could actually *invite* predators that they had otherwise been avoiding somehow.  This is pure conjecture on my part.

R.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Get two LGDs.

People can love on them all they want.  The dogs will eat it up and still do good work.  Just don't be letting the dogs inside - they cannot do their job from inside.

The dogs won't need any training, but they will need to understand that their primary responsibility is to stay with the chickens. 

If you go with the dogs, your life will be easy.  If you go with anything else, your life will be much harder.



 
                                      
Posts: 12
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You already have guard animals....the camelids.  They are very curious and defensive of
their space.
If you design your chicken shelters with high roosts that they learn to fly to, the chickens
should be safe enough.  I gradually raise the roosting height by removing the lower
roosts.  Most of my hens can get up on an 8 foot roost, from the ground.

When my dogs are outside, without me, they stay on cables (we have a county leash law and a major highway).
I have a rescued feral dog, a pyrenees/border collie mix that will watch calmly as chickens eat her food and let them take dust baths, or naps, within two feet of her, BUT, every once in a while she decides to "play" with one. ??  So far, no blood.....or..... she totally ate the evidence.
 
                              
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I am not sure if this info might help your situation.

I had pet chickens on a large acreage ranch east of San Diego for many years. I would enjoy their company but also eat their organic eggs. I had a cage set up in my design studio that each hen would come one by one if she needed privacy to lay her egg. After she was done, I would exchange her egg for a grape! Then she would go back outside for her gardening....eating bugs worms, etc while free ranging...

I always had a very safe place to keep them at night: built with a thick 18 pt gage metal (thick enough to keep Bobcats and Mountain lions out) gage on the floor as well...so coyotes could not dig under it..but also with two walls made of solid wood backing so none would have to sit too close to the gage at night.  They all preferred to be on a perch which had the solid wall behind their back. Think of Feng Shui basics. Chickens don't appreciate being watched by predators either even if they cant get into the enclosure. Like all of us they want to feel safe to be able to sleep. I had a aviary designer create them and they were hexagonal shapes..very elegant designs.

I mainly got each as baby chicks (all at the same age) so they were all very tame and compatible with each other. You never want to mix young chicks with chickens of different ages as they can be very mean to the younger ones and even cannibalize.... Since I could easily pick them up...if they ever had any injuries or needed treatment it was super easy. Or if you need to evacuate your ranch you could catch them.

Every morning from when i adopted them as baby chicks I would take the whole flock on a hike for everyone's enjoyment. They would just follow me...and then after that they would free range with me right there with them as I worked in the garden. As they got older I could leave them on their own for longer and longer periods.

I had a large Newfoundland Chow who just showed up one day as he had just decided he was to be my ranch dog....he chased my favorite chicken around the house six times before I caught him before Chamomile had a nervous breakdown...then I directed him to leave....the next day he showed up at my gate but I would not allow him to come in but after a half day of him looking so sad ...I let him back in and he never chased or tried to harm them ever again.  So during the day Bear the newfoundland/chow just sat outside enjoying watching them...it was like his self assigned job! From my experience, Dogs on farms and ranches just love to be productive and help! They love if you give them assignments..and they take their jobs very seriously as ranch work dogs...but I could still pamper the dogs and treat them as pets, too!! Bear did ground protection during the day even while he napped but more importantly at night..and I actually made him the ranch manager he was so wise!!  if Bear was directing me to do something..I generally paid attention to him and did it. He was very tuned in to the wilderness.. just by his mere size no predator came near the flock of birds. Then Bear showed up one day with a two year old male Carin Terrior who also decided to adopt us. He loved to chase the chickens and the turkeys just to hear them scream, run frantically and to see the huge wild turkeys take flight...it took longer to teach the Carin terrorist!! ...after a month of teaching him that the chickens and turkeys were also my pets ....he would even separate the roosters from the chickens if he felt the chicken did not like something the rooster was doing. 

The chickens can be herded or guided, is a better term, into their pen as they are very smart. I only allowed them to be outside free ranging when I was home. If I left the property, I would put them all in their enclosure. I would just give them a voice command and use my hands in the air and walk behind them to signal or guide them and let them know it was time to go into their pen.  So I think it could work even if you are just out there during the day. Someone could just guide them into their enclosure before leaving the property. I would just make sure to build a non penetratable enclosure or barn...very secure especially to prevent Bobcats and Raccoons. As once you have prey in an enclosure, the word spreads fast and you will find that every predator in your region will soon show up.  In my enclosure I also had dog/pet carriers on the ground that they could go into for laying their eggs or if they felt unsafe and needed to hide from any predator lurking. However, if they were in their enclosure during the day they enjoyed being able to look outside through the open panels with just the gage and the sunlight also came in parts of the enclosure which they love to bask in. Bear being outside at night usually kept the predators well away from the enclosure. if you don't have a dog on the property outside at night maybe a full closed in enclosure might be better.

 
                              
Posts: 32
Location: Zone 6a/b - London Ontario
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Instead of a "chicken tractor" which is just a dragable cage... why not a chicken trailer?

Imagine a hen house on wheels.
They have shelter when they need it and you just move it when you move the chickens. Everyone's happy.
 
Roger Merry
Posts: 109
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Hi
have you thought of multiple micro flocks (3 - 5 birds) housed the African way ?

Traditional East African chicken houses are on a pole like a dovecote. This keeps them out of reach of predators at night and with a basic baffle plate added to the pole even really good climbers are kept at bay.

they put themselves to bed at night so no need to lock em up.

the only video I've been able to find show silly expensive houses, but you get the idea.
it takes a couple of days for the birds to get used to the idea so a temporary wire netting corral would help.

Oh and the African ones dont have ladders either - well not that reach the ground !!

Roger )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80qR7SiEPSw&feature=autoplay&list=UL9iDgPLNZgmU&index=2&playnext=2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvtYwkzkE0I&feature=player_embedded
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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