Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Predators

 

English Sheppard’s are known as America's farm dog.  English and Scottish herdsman brought them here.  The first known history of the work dog is from Caesar’s time.  As Caesar’s army traveled, they had dogs, what is now known as the English Sheppard, keep the food moving with them.  The food being, sheep, goats etc, as the heard dwindled; the dogs were left behind in the conquered areas.  They were prized for their ability to heard, hunt and protect.  Those instincts are still part of the breed today.

We got Fer Coadee (Scottish for protector) earlier then we wanted but we had suffered a devastating loss to our flock and we had no choice.  After spending thousands of dollars on fencing and housing for protection nothing, we did short of keeping them cooped up all day kept them safe during the daylight hours.  Yes, we had hawk attacks but at least with the hawks you knew the chicken was brought back to the nest and eaten.  Neighborhood dog attacks, on the other hand, just kill, maim, and leave the chicken for dead all for the sport of the dog.

Therefore, we got a working dog to help protect our flock and our growing egg business.  The dog attacks have abated although we have had twin chocolate labs on the property.  Coadee chased them off and it was amazing how she did it.  She took off after them barking they split up and Coadee went after the one closest to her.  I could see her gaining on the dog and my heart started to jump.  I did not want her to catch the lab and get into a fight.  Much to my amazement, I could tell once she closed the distance between them she slowed some but kept up the ferocious barking until the dog past Coadee's area of protection.  The next time the dogs were on the property I did not see them but Coadee did.  She ran about a tenth of mile down to where the dogs were and gave chase.  Again, I could see here gaining on the dogs but not overtaking.  When the dogs got to the edge of the field of our property line Coadee gave up the chase.  After that, I went to inform my neighbor that the law allowed me to protect my livestock to the point of the detriment of their beloved animals.  That and any loses I suffered they were going to be libel for our expenses and future revenue.  Leash laws are in place for multiple of reasons, safety being the high profile aspect, the safety for humans and livestock.

When Coadee came back limping from her last run-off  I inspected her, we found her right paw bleeding between her toes.  We called the dogcatcher who came out a couple of hours later.  They asked about the dogs and after we described them, told us they knew who the owner was.  Apparently, we were not the first to complain about these dogs roaming.  I asked that we get the owners information in case we could not stop the dog’s paw from bleeding and had to take Coadee to the veterinarian.  I was not about to pay for a vet bill I did not cause.

We got nothing from the dogcatcher.  Two days later, I see the same two labs close to our meat birds, three times within the span of seven days.  I got on the ATV and took after them.  This time I chased them back to their owner.  I admit I was angry and I tried to calm down but I have lost too many chickens to dog attacks.  I saw the dogs run up to the person so I got off my ATV and went over to him.  I knew but I asked anyway, “Are these your dogs?”.”  Yes,” he replied.  I went on to explain that Maryland law allows me to protect my livestock with deadly force.  I begged him to keep his dogs on his property and not force me into killing his dogs.  To say I was angry does not convey the total emotions that I was feeling.  I just wanted him to control his dogs and follow the leash law,

Having buried over thirty chickens from dog attacks takes its toll, especially when you come home one day and find fifteen dead.  As I have said before you spend a lot of time with organic chickens in order to keep them healthy until their immune system kicks in.  Then you spend the next couple of years, feeding, watering and caring for them.  At the end of four years, we process our layers and take them to the soup kitchen.  This act helps us process because the last thing the layer does is help feed the poor and less fortunate among us.  We have not been able to do this in over two years because of dog attacks. 

We know they are dog attacks because any other predator takes the bird.  With dogs, they just play with the chicken to death and do not feed on them.  I knew a farmer that looked at predator attacks this way; if a snake gets an egg; well the snake has to eat.  If a hawk gets a bird well the hawk has to eat and so on.  However, dog attacks, they do not eat the birds they just kill and maim them for their entertainment.  .

Thankfully, since that day we have not seen the dogs.  I do not know what the dogcatchers did, the first couple of times they visited, but it did not scare the man enough to keep his dogs on his property.  The dog catchers turned out to be useless, they knew the person, they talked to him before (which means his dogs were roaming off leash) and he continued to let them run.  Then when we called the dogcatchers, they supposedly went over to talk to him.  Yet, the dogs still roamed off leash.  It is sad, to me, how the thought of having your animal killed finally makes one pay greater attention to the animals’ location.  Nevertheless, that point seems to be what was needed in order to motivate the owner into keeping his dogs constrained.

Growing food has never been easy and you do your best to mitigate losses.  However, I have learned that some things are out of my control especially when other humans are involved and responsible. 

Buy Local: It is a value choice made with the future in mind.

 

 
 

The transition is complete

It has been over a month now that we placed the new flock of layers in with the older women.  The transition has gone surprisingly smooth.  Yes, there were some territorial disputes at first and Coadee and I ran a lot of interference but the flock is meshing.

I still think that the derecho that came through Western Maryland, brought them all together.  Ever since that stormy night there have been no skirmishes, do not get me wrong, there still is a pecking order.  If a little one impedes an older layer in any way, the older layer is quick to point or peck it out.  Last night, I went to close the door to the trailer and saw then completely mixed with no pecking.  That was a welcome sign and an indication that both groups have accepted each other as part of one flock.

The new layers are starting to produce eggs.  They are these tiny little eggs a little bigger then golf balls.  The shells however are as strong as any adults.  They have even learned from the older ladies’ that the nesting boxes are where to lay their eggs.  We are still finding one or two on the ground, as if the chicken was just walking along and out popped the egg.  For the most part, we are finding more in the nests.  The most surprising part is that the other chickens are not eating the eggs on the ground and we get to harvest them.

I did read about introducing old and new layers and most of what I read was cautionary.  We did take extra steps to make sure the transition was not hard on either of the groups.  Of course, when you have a sixty-pound English Sheppard in your yard your attention is more on the dog then the other different looking layer next to you.  The older ones especially are attune to Coadee.  The older birds know they are okay when inside the electric fence but they are still leery of the dog. 

I did not teach her but. Coadee will instinctively run towards two chickens that are squaring off, just to break up the ruckus.  When I first saw that I thought it a fluke, but when a saw it a second and third time I was amazed.  I am learning more about the dog then the dog is learning from me.

Well it looks like there is cohesion.  I am still trying to keep the older ladies inside the fence, but when I till, the turned soil is just too much of an attraction.  Coadee for her part hides when the tractor is in use or at least is not anywhere in the vicinity.  I have to stop what I am doing, whistle for Coadee and then she comes and herds them back to the pen.  I still have not been able to get Coadee to make the chickens get into the pen, but at least she gets them close.

This has been a good year from a growing perspective and a year that we really needed for our own psyche.  If it were not for the support and generosity of our customers, friends, colleagues and family we would not be doing this.  With that in mind I am please to say, for the birds, the transition is complete.

Buy Local: Your money stays local.

 

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