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Will free ranging chickens put my children at risk?

 
Em Kellner
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We live in a predator-heavy area - we've seen black bears on our road, a family of foxes live under our only neighbors' driveway, frequently see hawks, and I know the previous owners lost chickens to a mountain lion, just for starters.

I've been brainstorming ways to protect a flock of chickens and ducks without sacrificing the qualities we're going for in our venture (utilizing a movable run or something would fully defeat the purpose of raising poultry for us) and I'm accepting of the idea that we will likely lose birds from time to time regardless - but I find myself wondering whether a free range flock will be an irresistible advertisement to predators that might put my young children (who are rather "free range" themselves) in danger if they were caught nearby an attack.

What are your thoughts on this? Would an LGD be the a reliable solution here? Other good methods for keeping both flock and family safe together?
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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I don't know about bears, we don't deal with them in my little piece of heaven, but have some experience with lions, IMO you'd be better served with 3 or more rat terriers, they're easy to train to leave the livestock alone, will bond with your children and are very territorial. Mountain lions and most other predators tend to avoid hunting where noisy things are that draw attention to them. Rat terriers will definitely draw attention to anything and everything that moves in their territory.
 
Em Kellner
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Interesting thought on the rat terriers! I'm not sure they would be particularly suited to our climate for that purpose though - we have cold snowy winters and my understanding is that one of the traits of bred LGDs is weather hardiness to be able to protect the stock 24/7?

Luckily the bears are at the bottom of my concern list as black bears are notoriously non-confrontational. I'd only really worry about them showing up in broad daylight maybe at the end of a long winter if they were desperate for a meal. Mountain lions definitely concern me the most!
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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My reasoning is that lgd by nature is good for watching out for his "herd" but can be somewhat removed from, say your children, while the rat terrier will bond with your family and is very quick to defend his territory, which is wherever he goes with you or your family. There are a lot of other dogs that will do this also, but they don't have the bark capacity of several small dogs, keep in mind the purpose is make plenty of noise that draws attention to any passing predator to make it want to avoid the area.
 
elle sagenev
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I think a properly trained LGD would be a good idea. I happen to know my great pyrenees is responsible for what is in that picture. So, an improperly trained LGD just gives you another predator to worry about.

That said, my dogs, even fenced, keep almost everything away. We have only had issues with great horned owls and those gigantic birds looked at our dogs as nothing to worry about at all. They'd just pluck the chickens from high up.

One thing you didn't mention but a more real risk to your children is rooster attack. I've trained my kids pretty well. They don't chase or bother the chickens. However, we've still killed 3 roosters for being aggressive. We currently have 3 roosters that are perfectly content to ignore us. They can live so long as they continue to behave well.
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Em Kellner
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Wow! Yes, I suppose LGDs can go both ways, good point! I have definitely thought about the rooster issue, and since we will be raising poultry for both eggs and meat I have no qualms with quickly culling aggressive roos. We have a big enough property that I'm hoping the children and any roosters will stay out of each other's way for the most part, but I imagine all we can do without knowing the birds' temperaments is to keep a close watch in the beginning and teach the little ones to give the animals a wide berth. Do you think an LGD who is bonded to both flock and family would ever come between an attacking roo and a child? That would be fascinating to know.
 
elle sagenev
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Em Kellner wrote:Wow! Yes, I suppose LGDs can go both ways, good point! I have definitely thought about the rooster issue, and since we will be raising poultry for both eggs and meat I have no qualms with quickly culling aggressive roos. We have a big enough property that I'm hoping the children and any roosters will stay out of each other's way for the most part, but I imagine all we can do without knowing the birds' temperaments is to keep a close watch in the beginning and teach the little ones to give the animals a wide berth. Do you think an LGD who is bonded to both flock and family would ever come between an attacking roo and a child? That would be fascinating to know.


I have no experience with an LGD coming between flock and family as our only LGD who is good with both is rather young and has never faced that issue. I will say that I've had the dogs go after each other when they thought one of them harmed me. I pulled a muscle getting out of bed once. The great pyr was sleeping on the floor by me. Our ancient viszla sprinted through the house when he heard me yelp and attacked our great pyr. Considering our vis was never a fighter I would assume that once a dog bonds with you it will do pretty much anything for you. He lost horribly. Gave him lots of steak!


I'm not sure how old your kids are but mine are 2 and 4. I was pregnant with our oldest when we got our first chickens. Our 4 year old can tell the difference between male and female chickens now. He is wary of the males, as he has been attacked before. He gives them a wide berth.

When you're looking into LGD's I'm a personal fan of our Akbash. He's really rather dumb but he's just the nicest thing ever. Every great pyr we've had has just been far more in touch with their guard instincts. Our Akbash is all love. Of course, if you're just getting 1 dog a great pyr might be better. He's absolutely fantastic with us. I feel very safe in our home with him. He's repelled an intruder before. He just has to be dominant over our other dogs which causes friction between he and I. We have 3 dogs and we let them all into the house whenever we are home. More house pets than guard dogs to be honest. We did get the great pyr before we had any livestock, so he's lacking that training. Our Akbash received that training from the minute we got him and he's perfectly poultry safe. So yeah, training. All about that training!
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LGD's are AWESOME with kids!
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He looks tormented doesn't he. lol
 
Em Kellner
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Beautiful dogs! Can I ask about the maintenance your Great Pyr requires with his coat? A dog in our winters would need a longer coat, but I'm curious how much time I'm looking at to maintain it.
 
elle sagenev
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Em Kellner wrote:Beautiful dogs! Can I ask about the maintenance your Great Pyr requires with his coat? A dog in our winters would need a longer coat, but I'm curious how much time I'm looking at to maintain it.


Ah well don't look away from our akbash. His coat is a bit shorter but it is THICK. Very Very thick. They are cousins, the akbash and great pyr.

Anyway, We do major coat clean ups in the spring and fall. I cut matts from the great pyr and brush him out. Otherwise I do nothing. We do not touch their hair in winter. He keeps himself that clean by rolling in snow. I bathe them only during the summer. I do check the pyr fairly regularly during the fall for grass seeds. He has had grass seeds get stuck and grow into his skin before. I try to stay on top of that.

The year I had my daughter I did shave him. That was entertaining!
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Em Kellner
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That's great to hear! I imagined it was much more labor intensive - and thanks for the heads up about shorter but thicker fur on some of the other breeds. Will definitely keep that in mind.
 
John Weiland
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We don't trim either of these guys but they have free access to the basement on hot days in mid summer.....and they use either that or holes that they dig (and the nearby river) for staying cool. Do a good job....almost too good....of keeping the chickens and geese safe. The lighter one has taken out chickies in his younger days, but he may have outgrown that for this year. He likes the house....and the kitchen....whereas the other loves the outdoors rain or shine, winter or summer. But the real protection here comes from the "guard pigs"....those three keep an eye on everything. Especially the feed bin....
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Em Kellner
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Heehee! What breed are yours there, John? I like the idea of giving them access to the basement on hot days, we have a walkout so that would be very easy for us to arrange!
 
John Weiland
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Em, Those are Anatolian Shepherds. My wife got them and preferred the longer coat versions for the cold winters. They aren't happy with the summer heat and humidity but have several ways on the property to escape those conditions.
 
Em Kellner
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Here is another question about LGDs, for anyone who has experience with this (humor me if it's a dumb one ) - if feeding an LGD a raw diet, is it a poor idea to use the animals they are supposed to be guarding as part of their feed? For instance butchering an older hen and using it in the dog's food? Would that tempt them to go after the chickens?
 
elle sagenev
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Probably not if you train them right Em. We give ours eggs but they don't just take them from the nests, they take them from our hands. And with my tiny kids the dogs could take any food they wanted from them but I've trained them that they can only take it on command. So even if my kids are holding bacon out for them the dogs won't take it until I give them permission.

Our akbash killed and ate a chicken when he was younger. He only did it the once and the chicken he killed was injured. So who knows. Looked like he enjoyed eating her though.
 
Em Kellner
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Elle, do you have any recommended resources for LGD training? I would definitely want to be diligent about that from the start.
 
John Weiland
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Yeah, pretty much what Elle said. We butcher the roosters and give the heads and wings to the dogs, which they love. When too many eggs are around, we will give a few to the dogs but they rarely steal directly from the nests since they been instructed not to do so. And they distinguish very well: We've let them take all the goose eggs they want since we aren't increasing their number and only care to eat goose eggs rarely. Also to corroborate another thing that Elle said--they seem to know injured or "off" animals. They've never killed one to our knowledge, but they will corral one or two geese that are clearly infirm or crippled. Can't tell if it's concern or just wanting to get rid of an injured/straggling member of the flock. This other one (below) minds the other two and is additionally great for sniffing out injured birds on the property. He's clearly not an Anatolian....just a "junk yawd dawg".....living the good life as a rescue.
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elle sagenev
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Wish I did. I'm not great at it myself. I've done a fair amount of online research and spoken to a rescue, but that's it. If someone gives you advice I'd like to hear it. Mine are pretty great house pets but they have a long way to go to be livestock dogs.
 
elle sagenev
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John Weiland wrote:We don't trim either of these guys but they have free access to the basement on hot days in mid summer.....and they use either that or holes that they dig (and the nearby river) for staying cool. Do a good job....almost too good....of keeping the chickens and geese safe. The lighter one has taken out chickies in his younger days, but he may have outgrown that for this year. He likes the house....and the kitchen....whereas the other loves the outdoors rain or shine, winter or summer. But the real protection here comes from the "guard pigs"....those three keep an eye on everything. Especially the feed bin....


Don't you just love it when your dogs are so big they sit and rest their heads on your counters. I swear... lol

I'd heard Anatolians were harder to train than pyrs because they were more instinct driven. Have you found yours difficult?
 
John Weiland
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@Elle: "I'd heard Anatolians were harder to train than pyrs because they were more instinct driven. Have you found yours difficult?"

Honestly, my wife deals with 95% of the training and she too mostly perused the internet and read some books. She leans towards the "clicker training" method and has taken this approach mostly. Success is a mixed bag. They are good about guarding the property and leaving alone what should be left alone. She has not been so successful at "recall" when they start after something--The property is fenced, but occasional walks are taken where a vehicle or deer or what-have-you is seen in the distance and if they get a bee in their bonnet about it they are off and almost impossible to call back until "they" are satisfied. [It's a worry because "shoot, shove, and silence" is the "3S code" around here, but fair enough -- they should be under control.] But when they hear coyotes they bark and howl and just stay put. As they get older, they seem more resigned to do their job and not get into trouble. They've been great when the occasional visitor/delivery man arrives and we don't worry about any aggression.

And Yes, it's .....um....."funny"(?) to have him look *down* at your plate on the table. He's pretty good about not taking things from there....but not 100% angel.

The whiter one when younger, "frolicking" with his porcine pal:
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Em Kellner
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Love the pictures! Can I get thoughts on LGDs who weren't necessarily born around livestock, or whose parentage is unknown, such as LGD breeds from a rescue? Do you think that breed instincts and training could prevail there or is it a pretty big gamble?
 
elle sagenev
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John Weiland wrote:@Elle: "I'd heard Anatolians were harder to train than pyrs because they were more instinct driven. Have you found yours difficult?"

Honestly, my wife deals with 95% of the training and she too mostly perused the internet and read some books. She leans towards the "clicker training" method and has taken this approach mostly. Success is a mixed bag. They are good about guarding the property and leaving alone what should be left alone. She has not been so successful at "recall" when they start after something--The property is fenced, but occasional walks are taken where a vehicle or deer or what-have-you is seen in the distance and if they get a bee in their bonnet about it they are off and almost impossible to call back until "they" are satisfied. [It's a worry because "shoot, shove, and silence" is the "3S code" around here, but fair enough -- they should be under control.] But when they hear coyotes they bark and howl and just stay put. As they get older, they seem more resigned to do their job and not get into trouble. They've been great when the occasional visitor/delivery man arrives and we don't worry about any aggression.

And Yes, it's .....um....."funny"(?) to have him look *down* at your plate on the table. He's pretty good about not taking things from there....but not 100% angel.

The whiter one when younger, "frolicking" with his porcine pal:


Haha. I'm opposite. THey aren't great guards but they've got excellent recall! Just means they have to be supervised all the time. I used treats and pets. They get a foot from me, recall and praise like they walked on water. Always worked. Plus I have this tone of voice that can scare a grown man. So if they try to ignore I use "The Voice" and everyone stops to look to see who is about to be dead.
 
elle sagenev
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Em Kellner wrote:Love the pictures! Can I get thoughts on LGDs who weren't necessarily born around livestock, or whose parentage is unknown, such as LGD breeds from a rescue? Do you think that breed instincts and training could prevail there or is it a pretty big gamble?


We are sponsors of a local LGD rescue, mostly great pyr. I've called them for advice before. When mine was poultry killing she gave me advice on how to stop it. Gave me a few examples of dogs they'd had adopted who had been trained to poultry. It's absolutely possible I think. Just takes time and the right training. I'm short on time is my biggest problem. Plus I've made them house pets. /sigh
 
elle sagenev
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Look at this dog though. lol He's like.............cookie. Let me take cookie. Can't take cookie. Give me cookie!

I think they are highly trainable. Just do some research on their instincts because they've got them! No use trying to break them of them imo.
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elle sagenev
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And so patient! LOL
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John Weiland
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@Em: "Do you think that breed instincts and training could prevail there or is it a pretty big gamble?"

I'm going to weigh in on the side of caution here. That darker guy in the photos above came from a rough background. Although he's a sweetheart underneath, he's pretty skittish....we got him when he was already 5-6 years old. Fortunately, he's already following the lead of the younger, but more confidant guy around the property. Without that lead, I think it would be a pretty acute exercise in frustration. I would certainly caution against getting a "rescue with baggage" as your only dog ..... not saying it can't be done, but there is often the idea that "(s)he will receive so much love that all those bad habits will just disappear...". Just in our experience and that from many others that it doesn't generally work this way.

@Elle: "No use trying to break them of them imo."

Agreed. Sounds like you also use the positive reinforcement found in 'operant conditioning'.

"Plus I've made them house pets. /sigh"

Well there was your first mistake. Good thing we never let THAT happen!..
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Highly trained and compensated LGDs....
 
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