Clueless Dog Owners

An invisible fence keeps Lily in the backyard. She has about an acre that she knows is hers. The goats and the chickens are in her domain. I’d prefer a solid fence, but Lily can jump over just about anything. I want her to be able to patrol the entire back property, and due to the nature of the rocks, trees and wet areas, the only way to keep her in (that I could afford and wasn’t an eyesore) was to use the invisible fence (a buried wire). I trained her well. She’s never gone through it, but she has no fear of the edges of the fence line (which is a sign that it’s training, not pain and fear, that keeps her in).

In any event, the back acre is hers, but she’s well aware of what’s happening on the street. When she’s indoors, she watches from my office window. Outside, she uses her hearing to keep tabs up the street and around the bend. (Have you seen her bat-ears? She’s got amazing hearing.) There’s a bit of lawn at the end of the driveway, in her acre, where she likes to lie down, that allows her to see a patch of the road. I’ve got a decorative split rail fence there, not for Lily, but to let passer-bys know that the backyard is off-limits (amazing how people will see the coop and just come right on over as if this is a petting zoo). There’s a “beware of dog” sign hanging on the fence. Lily is not always friendly to people or other dogs.

It sounds secure. Right? But today was one of those days when I wish I’d put in a solid fence. This afternoon Good Farm Dog Lily let me know that something was wrong. I was outside, too, watering some plants. I looked up and saw two huge dogs, lumbering in a stiff-legged old dog way, directly up the drive. There was no owner in sight, but I assumed someone was there, so I yelled, “please call your dogs.” I hurried over to the driveway and said, “come, come.” I have a happy dog voice, that is usually irresistible to dogs. I was ignored. One of the dogs managed to get his bulk through the split rail fence and into the yard. Lily could see that this was not a dangerous dog, but it still wasn’t supposed to be there. She barked and sniffed, but didn’t show teeth. Meanwhile, the dog is heading straight for the coop. Thank goodness the hens weren’t out free-ranging. I don’t care how old and un-athletic a dog is, they can still kill chickens.

By this time a woman holding two rope leashes walked up the drive. She looked like she wanted to stop and chat with me, but I kept insisting, “get your dogs!” She seemed totally unperturbed. She called them, in stern voice, which is just what you shouldn’t do. If you were a dog and faced with an interesting yard of chickens, or an angry owner, where would you go? He ignored her and heads over to the goats. Goats scare easily. They’re especially wary of strange dogs. A scared goat can bolt and injure themselves. Luckily, this was an old dog (the even slower one was still making it’s way across the lawn) and so the goats stayed sane.

Finally the dogs shambled over to us, but still don’t go up to the woman. In fact, they keep evading her. One of them lifts his leg on my raspberries. The berries are few in this hot summer, and there went my dessert. I was holding a tub of water and I tossed it on him. It had no effect. He peed again. At last she got the leashes on the dogs (while I’m saying, “my raspberries, get the dogs out of my backyard!”) Instead of hurrying, or apologizing, the woman starts to chat. AGHH! And she’s STILL in my backyard. I start walking away from her, down the driveway. It works, she follows. She says, “These aren’t my dogs, but they’re usually so well-behaved. They go to work with the owner.” I say, “That’s a totally different experience that being outside and going after chickens. Even old dogs can do damage. Please keep the dogs on leash.”

Not a bit of this exchange was satisfactory. It takes longer to type it, than the actual event. I wish I’d ignored her, grabbed the dogs and hauled them off the property. (At the time, I didn’t because I didn’t want Lily to decide that this was a SITUATION that she had to take care of. I didn’t want to see mauled old dogs.) I wish I’d been able to say something clear that would have gotten through to her that this was serious. That letting dogs wander, willy-nilly up and down driveways as you’re taking a stroll is not a good idea, and that even these placid-seeming dogs could have harmed my animals.

After she left, I hosed off the berry bushes. I gave Lily a very big cookie. If she hadn’t been alert, those dogs would have had plenty of time to do damage. Right now, Lily is resting under my desk, satisfied by a job well done. I might stop fuming by tomorrow.

Hot Chickens

It’s 10 degrees cooler today than yesterday, but it’s still humid and in the high 80’s, which means that my hens remain in danger of getting heat stroke. The girls in the big barn have a shady spot with loose, cool dirt that they laze in during the day. Here’s Agnes, heading in. Mazie is in the back. Agnes looks fine. Her beak is closed, and her wings are held naturally at her side.

On the other hand, Tina Turner and Siouxsie are being drama queens. They’re panting with open beaks. Their wings are held out from their sides and down. And just look at Siouxsie, leaning in to her best friend. Oh! How miserable!

I’d be more concerned, except these girls are active and often in the sun. They’re behavior in the heat shows how true to type they are!

I’ve been worried about the persistently broody hens, Coco and Lulu. Even with the fan rattling on high, the henhouse is hot and stuffy. The nesting boxes are metal. But, here’s Coco, mouth closed and calm. She’s fine, albeit useless. Oh, well.

Dangerous Heat

I was in Brooklyn, NY yesterday, dropping my son off at a summer program. The forecast was for 100 degree temperatures. It was slow going, moving him into a dorm. The air had a physical presence – like an unseen character in a sci-fi movie. I had parked in the sun near a grassy common. After lunch, I said my goodbyes and turned on the car. It’s outside thermometer (which is always accurate) read 108 degrees. I had to pour water on the steering wheel to make it cool enough to touch. I headed out of the city, watching the temperature gauge, thinking it’d go down now that the car wasn’t baking on pavement. I got on the Bronx-Queens Expressway. Overheated vehicles were in the breakdown lane, their owners squinting in the sun, waiting for help. My car’s outside thermometer read 109 (Fahrenheit, that’s 42.7 C.) I did not want to be in one of those stalled cars. It’s never relaxing driving out of NYC, but this time it was scary. Far out of the city, in Connecticut, the thermometer remained in the triple digits. I knew things were bad when I saw ten tractor trailers, pulled off and parked in shade on the side of I-84. I kept going. I texted my husband from the rest stops. How are the animals? Steve was home and doing all the right things. Everyone was fine- but it required effort and attention.

People often ask me about how chickens handle the cold here in New England. I always respond, it’s not freezing temps you have to worry about, but the heat. Chickens don’t die from snow, but they do die of heat stroke. However, they can handle high heat if you manage their housing right.

The HenCam coop doesn’t have cross-ventilation, so I’ve put in a box fan, facing the nesting boxes. Here’s Lulu, cooling her bottom in the fan’s breeze.

Coops should be sited so that some of the run is in the shade. Chickens will scratch out a depression in the dirt to lie in to stay cool. Of course, they need water. If the chickens are hunkered down in the shade, they won’t want to cross a hot, sunny dirt patch to get to water.  So, have a source of cool water nearby. One trick is to fill half the waterer, freeze it, and then top off with water before setting out. Or, simply fill with ice cubes and water.

If your coop is in the sun, you might want to hose it off. I know poultry people in Texas who keep a mister in the run during the hottest days of the summer. Evaporation lowers the air temperature, and the water keeps the dirt damp and cool.

Give your chickens plenty of leafy greens. Reduce the amount of scratch corn – which raises body temperature (good in the winter, bad in the heat.)

Heat-stressed chickens pant, and I think they have panicked looks in their eyes. If your hen goes limp, quickly get it somewhere cool. Immerse her in a tub of cool water. She might just survive. But, your best bet is preventative, by making sure there’s drinking water and damp dirt in the shade.

Rabbits suffer heat stroke, too. They’ll die suddenly, before you have a chance to help. When I saw the forecast for humid weather in the high-90’s, I set up a rabbit hutch indoors, and brought her in on Monday morning. Candy misses hopping around outside, but I think she’s enjoying the change of scenery. Candy will be back outside when this dangerous heatwave is over, which should be by Friday.

Meanwhile, the air conditioner in my son’s dorm room broke, but he’ll have to deal with that on his own.