Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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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.
Posted by Brian
@ 11:39 AM EDT
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.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:47 PM EDT
Coadee is thirteen months old. She is still nipping at people’s hands and legs. Se we keep her in an outside pen so that she is secure when not supervised. At least we tried to keep her in the pen. I was so proud of myself when I was able to put the dog pen together straight out of the box. I first started assembling the pen in the garage. As I went from one-step, to the next, I had a nagging feeling. As the bottom square started to take shape, I realized, if I had finished the pen, it would not fit through garage door.
As much as I hate making a mistake, I relish the times when I catch myself. I took everything outside and restarted the assembly. True to the direction’s (yes I did read them) it was easy to assemble. The bottom of the fence itself is held in place by metal ties spaced every two feet to the cross bar. I put the whole cage on a pair of skids so I could drag it from place to place as the chickens moved. Along with the pen, we added an igloo doghouse so Coadee can get out of the elements, keep her food dry and get warm on very cold days.
We purchased the pen because we needed a bigger area for the dog to roam but remain close to the chickens and the house. When we first put her in the new encampment, we left the farm to go to the store, total time away two hours. Coming up the driveway, we see Coadee bounding down the hill towards us, tail up and waging, tongue lolling on the right side of her mouth, this little twinkle in her eye, as if to say, “FREEDOM ain’t it grand”. Okay, I may be anthropomorphizing a little.
I looked at my wife and our minds came to the same conclusion. Coadee had jumped on top of the doghouse and jumped out. Then we started looking, the house was right in the middle of the pen, our first instinct was proving to be wrong. I thought okay, I would place her in the pen, go back to the house and watch what she does. Problem was, by the time I got to the house, she was already out and standing by the door, tail waging, mouth agape, and those big brown eyes looking through the windowpane.
I took her back to the pen put her in and turned to walk away. I might have gotten five paces when I hear the fence rattle, I turned around to look at her and there she is going underneath the fence. Ahhh ha, let the games begin I said to myself. This would be a piece of cake, I knew her future attempts to escape would prove futile.
I went to the barn got more metal ties and tied down the side where she was getting out. “Beat that”, I had taken the ends of the metal strands and twisted it around the pole and the fence. “Finnie,” I declared when entering the house. Later, she was still in the pen and I was victorious. We could see she was inspecting and pushing where she had gotten out prior but it was not budging.
Satisfied with my fix we went about the day doing chores and other work. Time passed; I was behind the barn when I heard the distinctive jingle of Coadee's collar. I turned and there she is coming at me tail high waging, with what could pass for a smile on her face and proud as she could be. Upon inspection, she had pushed the fence and the metal ties out and off the frame. Not to be outsmarted by a dog, zip-ties were next. Long story short, the zip-ties failed so I tripled up on them. Yes, she broke the zip-ties by pushing the fence out. However, since I tripled up on the ties it worked out pretty well, but there were three other sides of the pen left. I placed double zip-ties around the rest.
I think it was a couple of days before she broke out again, this time it was the east facing fence not the north side she started with. We had bailing twine from our straw bales; I use it to tie most things down and it lasts pretty long out doors. I took some strands and started to mend the fence where Coadee had escaped.
She beat that perimeter defense by chewing on the available twine until it snapped and then simply pushed her way under the fence. Once again, we are driving up to the house and here comes this dog running towards us, tail up and wagging, mouth open, eyes sparkling ready to greet the people that give her food. This is really starting to get old and I am starting to wonder if I should just turn the keys over to the dog. I still have an ace in the whole I think to myself; we have metal cable and fasteners that I can use. “I am breaking out the big guns now,” I explained to my wife. She did look skeptical but I brushed it off. “This is the last time we will visit this,” I went on to say.
Time lines are starting to blur in my mind but this whole saga began in late November 2011. I got the one side triple zip tide; the other side is wrapped with ¼-inch metal twisted cable. I thought for sure I had Coadee on two of the four sides. She got out on the CABLED side of the pen. In the fence each strand of wire is woven with the next wire to make a diamond pattern, at the bottom of the fence one strand of wire is hooked to the other strand. Both strands are tied together at the bottom forming a closed diamond shape or an open half diamond shape. Coadee pushed the fence out, such that those links, at the bottom of the fence, bent straight and she was able to push them through the cable that was holding them down.
One day there was freezing rain; we thought okay, she would stay in her doghouse out of the weather. However, when we returned, we found her inside the heated hen house. The chickens were a little ruffled at her taking up residence but they were with her in the house too. Coadee was dry and warm; tail waging, mouth open, ears up checking out the car coming by her. She has this smug look on her face like; she is already plotting her next escape.
The main reason for the pen now is to keep her near and allow whoever is leaving the farm, to leave without the dog-giving chase. I had to compromise; I figured that if I tied a bow to keep the door closed, she could tug on the line to untie the bow. The door would open and she could go free. By that time, the car was gone. Besides, we got her because we lost chickens during the day. We need her out to protect and heard them back to the pen. Given all her past escapes, Coadee had proven that she stays on the farm. After some discussion, I went about setting up the tie.
It did not take long before she learned how to untie the bow and let herself out. I took a short video of her doing that. Besides, I do not think my poor ego could have taken another escape anyway.
Buy Local: It is a way to future proof your food supply.
Posted by Brian
@ 06:13 PM EDT
Fer coadee (Scottish for "protector") is sixteen weeks old. We have her three days and four nights out of the week and Carol (the breeder/trainer) keeps her four days and three nights. She is still a pup but shows great promise.
We have been working her with the chickens and she slowly understands that the chickens should stay in the pen. One night we were putting the chickens in the trailer for the night and Coadee, seeing what we were doing, decided she could help. She ended up herding the chickens into the house with nary an effort. That part was effortless. No training, no nothing she saw we were putting them in the house and she went with it.
She helps weed too. At least I am learning what dog weeding is verses human weeding. While weeding the strawberries, I will pull chickweed and Coadee goes for the green. She has bitten me on occasion while weeding but I get into a rhythm of pulling and throwing. Coadee will chase after the clump of weeds bite them and come charging back. I hope that I have gotten the next handful thrown before she does indeed get back. If not, I ball my fingers up as she comes plowing mouth first into the greenery where my hand resides. With a jerk of her head, she rips green out of the ground by the mouth full. If strawberries happened to be part of the green patch, they go as well. This is part of her instinct; she wants to help her master. The veterinarian told us to make sure we take care of her because her breed will literally work them self to death trying to please their owner.
The English Sheppard is a protector, herder and hunter by instinct. They came to the new world with Scottish and English sheepherders. The dog’s ability and intuition made them a valuable asset to animal farmers. They instinctively want to be part of the action, so she watches what you are doing and tries to help. If I get a stick and throw it, she sits and watches the wood take flight and land. She does not chase it, but if I go get it, she grabs it from me and follows along as I walk. Coadee trots along stick between her jaws teaching me how things work. I was getting water hoses out of the barn, I felt a tug so I turned to see what I was hung up on and there is Coadee, hose dangling out of her mouth going in the opposite direction. I apparently was taking them to the wrong place for her.
This past weekend the chickens started to show signs of respect. As soon as Coadee comes out of the barn, the chickens that see her start to head back to the pen. Some layers just jump back in when they see Coadee. They are in the minority but it is a start. She is still nipping at them and we yell “don’t bite or no bite”. Then at other times, she just lays her big paw on the back of a chicken until we get there to pick it up and put it back in the pen.
She gets excited still when meeting new people so we try to introduce her to people while she is outside. I took her with me, over to Nick’s when I picked up chicken feed. I knew Dave (the farm manager) would like to see the dog. I did not get her out of the truck fast enough before Dave walked over to the passenger side. True to form, she got excited and I saw that the cloth seat was now soaked. I am learning.
Coadee is in that oral stage of development as well. Everything goes in the mouth at least once. Stink bugs she learned and leaves them alone much to my dismay. Wood, rocks, bark, bottles, hoses, chickens anything that you hold, anything that you wear, anything that you use or sit on, pretty much everything is something for her to sink her teeth into. Nevertheless, she is also an asset. I will be in the barn feeding the flock of broilers, if Coadee were not standing guard at the gate, they would leave and be all over the barn. I bring her in the barn and have her sit by the gate. I then go in to feed and water the group. She has taught me that her patience is very short, especially when a group of birds approaches.
She still does not bite them but she does make the feathers fly. By the time, I get her stopped, you can hardly see due to the dust-up from frantic escapes and chases. So, I learn once more. I shake my head and think who the teacher here is? I was sitting with her in the morning watching the chickens. When a chicken approached the fence I would get up and bring Coadee over, the chicken would turn around heading in the opposite direction. This went on all morning. The ones that actually got out Coadee chased down and I tried to teach her how to herd a chicken back into the pen. This went on all morning; lunchtime I went in made a sandwich, wrapped it in a paper towel, filled a bottle of water and went outside.
In that short period a jailbreak took place with the birds heading for the grapevines. As the layers saw Coadee, they ran into the open barn. I put my sandwich down on the chair, covered it with reading material and took Coadee with me to the barn. We go in and Coadee starts after one, chasing her out of the barn and towards the pen and trailer. A couple of seconds later I am chasing one out of the barn front to the pen. I look to my left and there is Coadee sitting in the shade eating my sandwich. She is in the shade eating a freshly made sandwich and I am standing in the blazing sun chasing a chicken.
Then there was the time I was working with her and it started raining. I had my rain-gear on and kept working pulling weeds. I soon notice that I was alone, I saw Coadee heading towards the barn so I knew she was there. I thought okay, she is going in to check things out, get some water or food and she will be back. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes go by; I am still out side weeding in the rain. I stopped and walked into the barn, over on the side in a pile of straw is Coadee, sleeping.
I sighed, looking at her stretch out frame and that beautiful face of hers and thought who was the smarter of the two of us, the one working in the rain or the one sleeping inside nice and dry.
Buy Local: Local farmers toil for their families, for your family and the environment. Who would not want to support that?
Posted by Brian
@ 09:05 PM EDT
Part of our plan all along was to get a working dog when we went to farming full-time. My wife, being a dog person, did the research to find the right breed and personality for chickens. The reason for waiting is that dogs, especially working dogs, need training and attention during their first year of apprenticeship. This is the critical time in development when the dog learns what is and is not acceptable behavior, where its boundaries are and what its jobs are.
If we got a dog now, our fear was that we would end up with a wild animal because we were not able to spend enough time with it upfront. Working dogs are a special breed unto themselves. Because of the decline of small farms, some working class dogs are almost near extinction. The English Sheppard is one of those rare breeds and is known as America's farm dog. Given that all of our losses have come during the day, it made sense to have a working dog to protect and keep the chickens in their individual pens. Locked away at night, the chickens are protected and do not need tending.
We found two breeders in our state. The one breeder is three miles from our farm. Small world or not, it is just another one of those links in a chain of events that you had know idea you were even forging.
We went to the breeder’s house and looked at what was left of the litter. You know how things just fall into place and you find yourself making a decision that (up until that instant) you believed otherwise? A decision already made but with the exception of a series of events; one after another then another until you realize one link follows the next. At times, I believe it is created by divine intervention. We were walking the farm with Carol (the breeder) and I conveyed my concern for the dog and not having the time really needed to train due to my work demands.
We continued to walk the property and watch the mother and father work the farm animals and teach the pups. They were very impressive working dogs, quite intuitive, aware and communicative. The parents would frolic with the pups, but kept an eye on the farm animals. I explained to Carol that I could take two weeks off to train the pup but after that, I would have to go back to work. I explained that I would spend two hours a day (at night) with her during the week and all day on weekends.
However, I still did not think that was sufficient time for a working dog, so young. Telling her I really wanted her approval or better to be wrong and her tell me that. I know what it takes to train a working dog, especially a young one and I was concerned. At one point, I stated directly, “So, you do not think we should buy a dog?” Her answer was what I had expected. She said “No”.
The tour continued. Watching the parents was amazing. We have been to dog trials before so we know what working dogs are capable of, given proper training. This was not our first time around working dogs. At one point in time, she said, “You know, because you are so close, why not drop the dog off during the week for a few days and come back and pick it up for the weekend”. She went on to say we should spend the first two weeks with the dog bonding. After the two weeks, she was willing to take the dog back and continue to train her during the week. We would then pick her up on Friday and work with her over the weekend.
We finished the tour, which in and of it self, was impressive. Carol is strongly entrenched in bringing back nearly extinct heritage breeds. You name the animal type she had a heritage breed she is raising. Her farm and animal husbandry was just amazing to us. We thanked her and went home to think about the decision; we still had some apprehension about being able to meet the dog's needs. Then this past Saturday I twisted a knee trying to catch an arrant chicken.
See what I mean about things taking place in the right sequence and at the right time, linked one after the other? Before you know it you have a complete chain and the last link is whether you decide to accept these signs or you stick with the original plan. A friend reminded me of a saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. Well, we decided to purchase a female English Sheppard and we named her fer Coadee. This is her stretching before morning workout.
fer Coadee is Scottish for protector, which is fitting because her main job will be just that. English and Scottish sheppards brought these dogs to the new world. An animal as noble and hardworking as an English Sheppard deserves a dignified name.
She will end up being called Coadee but she will always be introduced as fer coadee "the protector".
Buy Local: The more you source your food the healthier you will eat.
p.s. today we found one of the 15 lost layers, from two weeks ago, a live. Coadee has paid her first dividend.
Posted by Brian
@ 07:25 PM EDT
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