On Dogs, Chickens, and Property Lines: How to Avoid Tragedy

chickens inside fence

I read about this kind of issue all the time in chicken forums online. Chickens and dogs do not understand property boundaries, which makes for some stressful situations for both chicken and dog owners.

Newspapers around the country are reporting today that a man in Massachusetts shot a young Golden Retriever five times after the dog reportedly killed one of his chickens. The owners of the dog were letting their dogs run on their nine acre property when one of their dogs made his way to the neighbors and apparently killed a chicken.

chickens inside fence
Good fences make good neighbors, or so said Frost, especially when dogs and chickens are involved. Photo credit: Rowan S., Unsplash.

Dogs, especially younger dogs, and chickens often do not mix well. We have two Livestock Guardian dogs, and both of them had to be taught very carefully and thoroughly not to chase and hurt the chickens. Our dogs now understand and guard our hens, but, when they were puppies, our chickens running and flapping from them was just too tempting. We had to stay on the dogs every minute for several months, so it’s easy for me to see how a young dog could so easily get caught up in the moment and kill a chicken.

Gus
This is our Great Pyrenees, Gus. It took many months and lots of attention before he could be trusted with our chickens. Young dogs are just drawn to the quick movements of our backyard flock.

It’s no doubt a tragedy of epic proportions for the family who lost their beloved pet, but as a chicken mama, I’ve seen how hard it can be on people when they lose their chickens, especially when they lose them violently. A criminal investigation is under way in the case of the Massachusetts man, but this story has me thinking a lot about what I would do if a young dog were attacking my chickens. Honestly, I can’t imagine killing a dog for killing my chickens, though I love my chickens so much. I would be very angry at the dog owners, but there are so many things I think I would try before I resorted to killing.

But this story also has me thinking about we can all do, as both chicken and dog owners, to help avoid these kinds of tragedies.

As owners of both chickens and dogs, it seems the most obvious answer is for all of us to work so hard to make sure our animals stay on our property.

Of course, I do realize things happen. Chickens get creative and can suddenly fly. Dogs take off. One time, a neighbor little boy left our back door open, and I didn’t see it. Within minutes, our hound was roaming the neighborhood, so I understand things happen. But that’s my first tip. We have to make this our number one goal! If your dog gets out, there is a real possibility it could hurt someone or someone’s chickens. You have to stay on top of your animals, first and foremost!

If you have chickens and free range them, you have to know the risks.

I think most chicken owners do. If it’s not the neighbor’s dog, it could be a fox, a raccoon, a large cat. There are so many potential predators out there. It really is best to keep them inside a fence if you can. Before my husband built our fence, we let our chickens free range, and I knew it was risky. We were outside counting those chickens about 15 times a day!

If a dog does come after your chickens, consider all safe possibilities before resorting to a gun.

Can you safely intervene? Can you get help getting your chickens put away? Can you do something to distract the dog? If you are faced with a pack of dogs, this is something very different. You should never put yourself at risk, even for your chickens you love so much. Call 911 to get some help.

If your dog is responsible for harming chickens on someone else’s property, in addition to offering your apologies and condolences, you should offer to pay for the damages and the chickens.

Chickens are a valuable resource and mean food for families.

If a dog harms or kills your chickens, before you resort to “tit for tat,” try talking to the owners.

See if they are willing to do something about the problem. If that doesn’t work, getting the authorities involved is your best bet.

It’s never easy to deal with something like this. Our animals do not understand our property boundaries unless we put up fences. If you’re unable to put up fencing for your dogs or your chickens, it’s so important to be diligent and make sure your animals stay on your property. It’s the best way to avoid a terrible tragedy like the one in Massachusetts.

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On My Favorite Things About Living in Maine

If you’ve never been to rural, wooded Maine during black fly season, you can’t understand just how bad it is. When I first moved to Maine and people told me about “black flies,” I was like, “All flies are black.” But these are flies of a different sort.

They are small. They are mean. And they are legion.

Right now, as we work in our yard, garden, or take care of the animals, we are followed by a cloud of biting black flies. They go up your nose, down your throat, in your eyes, and I have to comb my hair several times a day to rid my long hair of the pesky little carcasses.

It’s been a tough week in the insect department here in Maine.

But my husband says that this is just what keeps the cost of real estate down in what, otherwise, has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. So this week, to keep my Zen and remember why I love Maine so much, I am devoting my post to some of the things I love about living in Maine. Keep in mind, I am from “away,” which I will have to explain to some of my readers in another post at a later date.

1. Mainers dress for practical purposes.

I’ve never been one for wearing fancy clothing. In fact, there’s evidence of an epic battle my poor mother endured throughout my childhood in a picture of my first day of school when I was five years old. She put me in a pretty dress. It was itchy. I hated it. I let her know about it.

All of my life, I have preferred comfort over style, which was not the most popular approach to fashion when I lived in the Dallas area. And, since I’ve been working from home the last few years, my focus on comfort has become even more pronounced. I wear my pajamas and house slippers just as long as I can every day. In fact, I used to walk my oldest son to the bus stop on our road in my robe.

My sweet neighbor knitted me some mittens to match my robe for the chilly mornings at the bus stop. Yes, Maine is awesome like that.

But this is always how I know for sure I found my people. I sometimes have to travel for work and make presentations at conferences. It’s then that I become very much aware of my struggling fashion sense. I see suits, heels, manicured nails, and perfect lipstick at the conferences, in the restaurants, at the airports. I am out of sorts for sure.

But, when I am headed home and get on my last connecting flight to Bangor, I see LL Bean boots and bags, jeans and sweaters, and all kinds of reasonable-to-me clothing, I am thankful to be with my people again.

Bean Boots
These are my Bean Boots, and I love them. They are pretty hard to come by, as they are really popular. Apparently, Mainer style has spread to the rest of the country, but my son worked at the LL Bean call center last Christmas and helped me get on the list! These practical and comfortable boots are symbolic of Maine comfort to me.

2. Your neighbors will truly help you in times of need.

I’ve never seen anything like the neighborhood support I have seen in Maine. I think we might be particularly fortunate in the neighbor department, but I have heard others say the same things about how kind and helpful their neighbors here are.

I first realized this when, shortly after we moved here, I had to have surgery. On the second day after my surgery, our next-door neighbor arrived with enough stew for two dinners and a large batch of homemade rolls. It was touching and so kind and so needed.

But that was when we had first moved in and didn’t know many of our neighbors yet (we are a family of introverts). Last summer, my husband was injured in a chemical burn incident involving some super-caustic concrete. For real, it takes two of us to run this house and care for the boys and our animals. Having my husband injured so badly was both scary because I was worried about him and exhausting because it meant I had to run the house alone, but we would soon get help.

It wasn’t long before our dinners were arriving at the door, neighbors were pulling the weeds in our vegetable garden, and one neighbor helped my husband finish the critical chicken pen. It was like a little rally of support, and it touched my heart.

Still, these are just a couple of many stories of kindness and support we get from our neighbors. Even growing up in rural Texas in the 1980s, I didn’t see anything like this, and Texas is a really friendly place.

Writing about this kindness in Maine totally makes the black flies more tolerable.

I was recently having a conversation with a family member who was telling me that people just don’t care about each other enough anymore. I told him I had seen evidence to the contrary in Maine. I think he might want to move here.

3. The ocean.

There’s not too much I need to say about this one. We live about 40 minutes from the coast, and we can visit any time of year. The ocean speaks to me, as I know it must to so many others. We have a lot of ocean in Maine. The ocean is good for my soul and always a treat. I grew up in the middle of Texas and saw the ocean only a few times in my young life. Yeah, I’m thankful to live near the ocean.

Schoodic Point
This is Schoodic Point overlooking the Atlantic in Acadia National Park. It is breath taking!

4. Even though the winters are long and can be tough, they are beautiful.

My former department chair told me that you just have to find the beauty in the winter. It’s true, but it’s not hard for me. I do like the cold anyway. Every time I visit my home state of Texas in the summer, I am convinced I will die walking between the house and the car and the car and the house. So the cold is fine with me.

But the winters here are long, and, sometimes, especially in February, the negative temperatures feel brutal to this southern girl.

Yet the beauty of these long, brutal winters gets me through it. The snow on the pine trees. The ice on the rocks. The serenity of freshly-fallen snow. These experiences are amazing and wonderful to me. Maine is a beautiful place in the late summer and early fall, the most beautiful place on Earth, I am convinced. But the winters are spectacular to me as well, and even though they are long and tough, there’s something really empowering about coming through one.

Just don’t forget to take your Vitamin D.

yard in Maine in winter
This is a picture of winter in our front yard. Love!

5. Halloween.

Just wait until Halloween. I can’t wait to blog about Halloween in Maine. For now, I’ll just say this: Halloween is my favorite holiday, and Mainers “do it up” right!

When I first moved to Maine, I lived in Bangor, and I couldn’t believe the decorations, the costumes, and even the fortune teller at one person’s house. Now, even though we live in the country, I am impressed with the way Halloween is handled. The treats are big, meaningful, and full of love. Even though our oldest son is 19, some of our neighbors still make up treats to send home for him with our youngest, who is way into trick-or-treating.

I love Halloween in Maine. It’s like the Halloween I imagined from my childhood, and I am thankful to live here.

Just writing about all of these lovely things about living in Maine is helping me get my Maine Zen back. Of course, it helps that I am inside writing. My poor husband is outside working in the garden getting eaten alive I’m sure. But we’ll get through this, and, as soon as this is posted, I will go outside to help my husband. I will not be defeated by those flies!

Even though I’m from “away” and can never be a real Mainer, I’ve learned to be tougher from living in Maine. I’m still a little wimpy though, so I’ll probably be complaining about the black flies all the way to Father’s Day. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum though.