My Thoughts on Predators (taken from my post):
From the experience of raising chickens a large part of my 50 years:
The bad news: I've seen dogs go straight through good chicken wire, bark and scare chickens over an 8 foot fence then kill them, get into a commercial rabbit pen (1x2 welded wire with reinforced door clipped x4 with rope snaps--looked like a bear had done it). I had 50 chickens and 50 ducks killed one morning that were locked in a horse barn very tightly, top and bottom of the doors closed and latched with a horseproof latch. Dogs dug and dug until they got in. I couldn't even believe it. The next day they came back and one of the few survivors that I'd put in a live well of a live animal trap and killed the duck without really damaging the trap. Of course I didn't catch them. I had 25 goats killed and 2 horses, all by dogs. Someone's dear pets I am sure. Animal control's response was "don't you have a gun?" Yes I replied if I could only catch them at it. Laws since then say you must "make a reasonalbe effort to drive it off". We once wounded a dog that was back after our geese the next day! That sort of law just makes it so you train the dog to return when humans are not around.
The good news: After trial, error and research, I finally found the solution and it worked 100%. Livestock Guardian dogs (Great Pyranees, Kuzav, Komondor). Not Not Not herding dogs (German Shepherds, Border Collies, etc.) Their herding is one step away from hunting. And if you have both breeds you might get in trouble with your livestock guardians resenting that behavior and even killing your herding type dog...you certainly don't want the guardian to get used to the behavior--I have kept both types and keep them away from each other
I have found it best and even cheaper usually to purchase livestock guardian pups from working animals on farms. I just can't seem to find a better animal than a Great Pyranees from all aspects (tried Anatolians, just don't have the instinct to stick with the flock that I want, loved my Komondor but the coat was way too much).
But you still have to back up your Guardaians. Mine never killed any predator (and certainly were gentle with all livestock). They just roared like lions if anything came anywhere near, most predators kept on moving. On the rare occasion that something was bold enough to get close, I came out the door like a shot with a shotgun in hand and my two German Shepherds. I tried not to have to kill neighbors dogs (but with a bad dog, I certainly would) and tried to get the Shepherds to land one good bite to discourage the dog from returning. You really probably need a perimeter fence around your place and let the dogs guard the entire property, with chicken pens within. I think with a larger farm the dogs would be fine.
Oh and when you choose your pup? Don't pick it the way you do a bird dog. Pick the one cowering in the corner that is afraid of everything. That is the one that will retreat, barking like crazy, to the flock for reassurance. That way the predator doesn't know what is there...alot of dogs? Alot of livestock? Many times they say they give up and don't push their luck.
From a follow up post when someone asked about electricity and Bernese Mountain dogs as guardians:
Electricity is amazing stuff if you can get it in the right place (the intruder must be on the ground or on wire that is grounded when it touches the hot wire...if on a board they may not feel it.) Birds can die on an electric fence. I once had a goose out in the middle of an open field die on one. He didn't seem to think of backing up. I don't know that he was electrocuted, probably stressed himself to death. Dogs at least respect it but are pretty smart, I haven't used it as a predator excluder though, more as a large livestock container.
According to the research that I read a Berner by body type (some base the behavior on that, the "puppy like" large dogs, ears down/blunt faced supposedly naturally guard--see the work by the Coppingers-- but I've never heard of a Berner being used for that. Let me know! It's a nice breed! But watch carefully! There are books and articles with info on how to identify play vs. predatory behavior in your dogs.
Some say you have to raise the dogs (guardians) to do it, some say you can put them in as adults and it is as natural to them as a farm raised dog, being pure instinct, research backs up the latter, but I always raised mine in the farmyard from an early age. Purchased pups born in the barnyard was great. I used to get a bossy short tempered old ewe with a baby to train my guardians, they had to have a retreat she couldn't get to! A broody hen might be good too!
I have read that overfeeding is a problem causing "behavioral fat". The problem is they are hyper and "play" with the livestock to death. High octain (calories, calcium, fat etc.) dog food is bad for all large breed dogs (can cause or make worse hip dysplasia--I believe this to be true). So just be cautious with the dog, especially if a pup or fed on the usual pet diet.
Some farmers say don't socialize the dogs to people, you want them to "think they are a ___" and others as I have said say you can throw them in a pasture out of a New York apartment and they go right to work. I have in the past attempted to bond them to the animal I am most concerned with (and advisors have told me KEEP the ones they are bonded to!!! they may go looking for them if you sell them!) I bonded mine to sheep and goats, but chickens were my most vulnerable animals, yet protected well simply by the presence of these dogs on the property. I kept them away from my other dogs. It really seems like magic, the way it worked.
About socializing to humans...whatever you do (socialize or bond to livestock) if the animal is in your house or barn or a small enclosure, they can't really do their job. I err on the side of caution and bond them as best I can to a few livestock animals. They are patted during feeding times, that is it. I don't make housepets out of them. They really aren't good for that, they are independent and headstrong. This is what you want! A guardian has to think for himself and make judgement calls. If he is worrying about what you think, he may hesitate!
I suggest anyone getting livestock guardians READ UP on it, the Coppingers of Hampshire college collected alot of data on breeds and how they actually accomplish their jobs, the behavior of the dogs, bonding to animals, etc. Their theory of body type is interesting, and the way to select a puppy is in there somewhere too.
I am 50 years old, I love animals without being overly sentimental, love nature, and live alone in the country on a five acre beautifully wooded hillside. I have a small flock of chickens, a 3 dogs, grow an organic garden (which would grow much better with a few trees cut down, can't seem to do that!) and I eat healthy. I am a nurse by profession yet describe my soul as a poet (I was once an English major) and an artist (I have a Bachelors in Fine Arts.) I am a painter but have little time for it. My first career was raising four beautiful daughters (and homeschooled them!), now all adults. Two are now nurses, one is in nursing school and one is a poet aspiring to be an English professor! Two are married and each has a baby, one a girl and one a boy (I know nothing about boys!!! I hope he likes chickens!). The one with a boy bought the farm she grew up on and I live around the corner. Life is good!
Because of having been paid for these things I am also a professional animal trainer, artist and juggler but just because you get paid does not mean you are good at it! I enjoy riding but do not own horses (the only thing better than owning a horse is when your adult daughter owns some!) I am a maternity nurse...it is very rewarding to be a part of such a critical point in three (or more!) lives. Being able to help with the bonding process is such a privilege, so important to the rest of life and I enjoy letting new parents know that they will be great! I was an athlete as a teenager and I still value being in shape, and have lots of energy and desire a workout partner or just someone to walk and hike with. I value authenticity in myself and others above all.
I have had an unusual life, I grew up in a middleclass neighborhood, was educated at a private school where I went to school with children the richest people in the world as well as children of regular white collar workers like myself. I am comfortable in both worlds, with a mother who is "blue-blood" Charleston and a father who was from the country but educated himself and yet he was the one to teach me to love classical music and Broadway. There are times I have felt pulled between the city and the country...you can see where I ended up!
I have some old pics of me feeding my chickens back when I was in my early twenties. I have no pics of me with my chickens now but a few of the birds.
(I think I have somewhere around 30? I really don't want to know!): I love RIR and have a few of those, a few black sex links (I just love how they look!) a pair of Barred Rocks--and the rooster is the meanest creature on the face of the earth. I have had mean Barred Rocks before and my girls asked me "Mom! You know how they are! Why did you get one???" (they spent their childhoods fending one nasty rooster off!) I am sure, since I raised him myself, that to him, I am a really big rooster after his hens. He doesn't mind the dogs or anything else but me or another rooster. I locked him in his own pen with his own hen now and he is not a problem. The RIR roosters are docile and don't attack me thank goodness! Last year at a feed store they had an assortment of breeds and one that I got was a Rhode Islannd White. Never heard of it before then, but they seem like nice hens so far. I have one white Leghorn (gotta have white eggs for Easter and the grandkids!) a few Ameraucanas that lay green eggs (I'd like to get a blue laying one!). I recently bought a Ameraucauna rooster to go with them. In my quest to have some eggs hatched, I bought some silkies but don't know as yet what sex (will I ever?) they are adorable. Also I bought a game hen with biddies under her, in my quest for a broody hen. In the brooder is a small batch of Australorps (they seem so big for their age!) and I plan to order some Buff Orpingtons, again hoping for broodiness, plus I've had them before and loved them.
here is a picture of the meanest chicken on the planet:
And then there's the incubator. I bought a Little Giant styrofoam incubator and they sold me a hova bator egg turner (I didn't realize this til it was put together and I was too stubborn to take it back.) Great. Not sure if that mismatch causes some problems closing it well but today (5/10/08) I have had so far four chicks hatch! I thought for sure NONE would, the temperatures have fluctuated so much! I got a camera store thermometer near the end of the incubation period and it shows that my main thermometer is probably off so my incubator was cooler than I thought. BUT the eggs are hatching pretty much on time! So maybe it wasn't so bad? I'm attempting next batch to install a computer case fan as I've read about in the forums of BYC. More on how that goes later!
I'd love to hear from you in a message! Below is a picture of me in my 20's (the 1980's) feeding my birds...I have about the same breeds now as then!