Does this sound like hawks or dogs?

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by MrBoZiffer, Oct 17, 2012.

  1. MrBoZiffer

    MrBoZiffer In the Brooder

    Mar 6, 2012
    Birmingham, Ala.
    We've had three hens since February, but two were killed this week, leaving us down to one. I'm not exactly sure if it was hawks or if our dogs all of sudden decided to hunt the hens. Here's the scenario...

    The hens free-range around our yard all day. The dogs (a beagle and a small mix) have access, too. Our dogs have coexisted with our hens for months, never bothering them in the least. We live in an urban area, but there are hawks all around. Mostly the hawks have investigated the hens, but never really made an attempt at them. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't. I just either haven't seen it or the hens have been lucky.

    Last Wednesday, around 5:30 PM, my wife finds our dogs outside hovering over a dead hen. They got worked up and started chasing the other hens around the yard before she could get them under control. I get home and investigate the dead hen. She was intact, her only wounds being a few deep lacerations on her back. Could the dogs have killed her even though they have never engaged the hens before? Could a hawk have gotten her? And the dogs scared off the hawk before it shredded the hen to pieces?

    The following days, I see three very large hawks hanging around our street. The remaining two hens are visibly more cautious of aerial predators, spending more time under the shelter of our deck and their coop. They spend most of the next few days looking up at the trees and clucking at the sight of hawks. The dogs, on the other hand, are mostly their normal calm selves around the hens, but once or twice show signs that they want to chase them. We make them go inside immediately whenever that is the case.

    Since that first attack, I only let the chickens free-range when I'm at home, so I can respond to them if needed.

    Then today, this morning, I leave the hens free-ranging because I'll be gone for a short amount of time and my wife is still at home. I'm coming home, and as I get out of my car I hear one of the remaining two hens making a terrible noise--it was short and faint, though. I run inside and out to the back yard, and see our dogs standing over the hen. I get them away and find our hen is wounded in the same way as the other bird--a few deep lacerations to her back--but she is struggling to stay alive. I put her down with a high-powered air rifle. Again, is it possible this was a hawk attack? Could the dogs have scared off the hawk?

    Personally, I think our dogs are to blame, but I'm not 100% sure. It seems odd that they coexisted so well for months then all of a sudden kill two birds. They hardly acknowledged the birds at all until now. The only thing that has changed recently is two of the hens have been molting, leaving feathers all over the place. Could this stir up the dogs and make them lose control?

    Also, do those wounds sound like a hawk? Would a hawk rip a hen to shreds, even in a short amount of time?
  2. LadyinRed

    LadyinRed Songster

    Sep 22, 2009
    Sorry to say it but I believe you have foods that can not be trusted with your chickens any longer. Yes hawks will leave puncture wounds but so will dogs. The fact that the hawks didn't carry your hens off and the dogs standing over the hens is a pretty clear sign also that it is the dogs.
  3. Oregon Blues

    Oregon Blues Crowing

    Apr 14, 2011
    Central Oregon
    Twice you've caught the dogs standing over wounded birds and multiple times you have seen the dogs chase or attempt to chase the hens and you still think they are innocent and hope to blame something else?

    No dog is safe around poultry unless it has been carefully trained that the birds are off limits. Without that training, it is simply a matter of time before the dog discovers that chickens are a fun toy.

    Even with my trained dogs who are very clear about the rules regarding poultry, I do not leave the dogs unsupervised with my birds.

    I have 3 suggestions for you. Choose whichever one suits you.

    Train the dogs to not touch poultry, which will be along project after they have learned to kill poultry, but it can be done if you want to invest the time and effort

    Keep the dogs completely separated from the poultry 100% of the time

    Build some confinement for the birds that the dogs can not break into and can not dig into and never allow the birds out of that pen.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2012
  4. MrBoZiffer

    MrBoZiffer In the Brooder

    Mar 6, 2012
    Birmingham, Ala.
    I don't appreciate your tone, but I suppose that is to be expected on internet forums.

    First of all, you're assuming our dogs are untrained or that we did not spend time acclimating them to the hens. We did. The first two or three months we segregated the dogs from the chickens, slowly assimilating the two groups, making sure they learned not to bother the hens. (We used electric fencing, marker training, etc.) It seemed to have worked. We have a third dog that is evidence to this training, because he pays even less attention to the birds and was not a party to their death in any way. (Ironically, he is a lab.) Regardless, the other two, as I stated, have been very well behaved until now, apparently. This is of course a bit shocking, but not unreasonable as they are dogs.

    Second, I am not looking to defer blame. I am examining possibilities so that I can respond accordingly, which my post is clear about. Dogs and hawks are not one in the same. We didn't see either hen get attacked. Therefore, I only have conjecture to decide how to proceed. As I said, it seems most apparent that the dogs are to blame. However, I can't ignore the fact that hawks are ever-present, large ones have recently shown up, and the hens were noticeably more watchful of the trees and skies after the first attack. That would lead me to believe that a hawk attack is not outside the realm of possibility, hence my posting on here seeking advice about the wounds.

    Third, the dogs and hens are rarely unsupervised. I work from home, and, even though I was gone at the time, my wife was at home during both attacks.

    Over the next few days we will have to decide if we want to get more hens (we still have access to the original flock we got ours from, which would make integration easier) and how we will deal with the dogs and the potential threat of hawks.

    I posted this not to be lectured to based on assumptions, but to get advice from the facts at hand so that we learn how to adjust and amend our management style. Keep in mind that we are upset by these events and willing to accept fault ourselves, but condescension is unhelpful.
  5. ChickensRDinos

    ChickensRDinos Songster

    Aug 19, 2012
    Los Angeles
    I have no experience with hawks but my initial thought was that a dog would have done more damage than what you described. Good luck! I hope you figured out what is going on.
  6. My aussi mix brought me a rabbit freshly dead with little damage and yesterday she brought me a big mole again fresh killed and no visible damage..except her nose and face was dirty from digging it up. So not all dogs cause a lot of damage when killing prey. Personally I think she catches and plays wtih the prey till it dies. Tossing it slapping it with her paws and generally treating it like a toy till it dies and brings it to me hoping I will make it a fun toy again one that moves and squeaks.
  7. MrBoZiffer

    MrBoZiffer In the Brooder

    Mar 6, 2012
    Birmingham, Ala.
    Mskayladog, yes, good point. I think that was the case with mine as well.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by