Our chickens completely free range – that is they are free to go where ever they like – they could even, if they so chose, hop on a bus and head into the local town, if the bus service hadn’t been cut a few years ago. So people frequently ask us if we have a problem with foxes. We don’t. We have seen foxes on our site and small holding, but to date we haven’t had any significant fox issues. We lock our hens up safely at night (generally); we don’t clip their wings so if a fox did come around they could hopefully fly away; we now have our special llama pajama army (aka the alpacas); and the site is usually busy with people which deters foxes.
However, we do have a problem with untrained dogs and irresponsible dog owners. Every year a number of our chickens get attacked by dogs. Some of these dogs are staying on the campsite. We ask that all dogs are kept on leads while on the site, not only to protect our livestock, but also to protect campers. Of course accidents do happen and we realise this, but we aren’t particularly happy when our animals get injured or killed because of thoughtlessness. Most owners vociferously proclaim that their dog would never attack a chicken only to find that ten minutes later it has snuck out of the tent, broken its flimsy chain, or escaped from the small child holding it to pursue and kill our chickens.
We also have problems with local village dogs killing our chickens. Yesterday this happened again. At least the owner had the decency to tell me her dog had attacked one of our chickens – many people just walk away and pretend it hasn’t happened, often leaving an injured animal in distress. Our property is not 100% secure, not least because campers and villagers come and go all the time, gates get left open, and we haven’t as yet managed to repair all the fences. Thus, occasionally some of our chickens wander into a small empty half-acre plot of land between our site and the church – unfortunately so do dogs chasing after rabbits and deer. It was here that the dog got our chicken. Of course as it didn’t happen on our land I could not really be cross. If chickens wander off the site, they do so at their own risk – one of the dangers of free-ranging. However, I am worried that now the dog has had the excitement of the chase and kill, and because it is essentially untrained with no effective recall, it will do it again and that it may come onto our land in order to find chickens.
Anyway, I went and found the chicken and it was still alive. I picked it up and held it safe in my arms where after a minute or so it died. We don’t like to waste things round here, so I thought as it wasn’t a diseased hen and it was now dead, that I would feed it to my dogs for their dinner. I don’t like to feed them feathered poultry as I don’t want them to directly associate our hens with dinner. So I scalded and very roughly plucked the hen.
I then decided to quickly eviscerate it. I have never disemboweled a laying hen before – we have only killed and eaten cockerels and male turkeys. As I am so new to all of this I was totally surprised to find lots of eggs in various stages of production inside the hen. Of course this seems obvious now I have seen it, but I had never really thought it through before. The little round orange things are the eggs. Inside there were lots more.
Anyway, the dogs had a few as a treat and then ate the chicken for dinner and breakfast. Daisy gobbled hers up very quickly – she is a hungry dog, but Kainaat was a little more cautious (even though he eats chicken carcass everyday from the butchers) – perhaps he recognized it as one of our hens, or perhaps he just doesn’t like feathers on his dinner!