Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Fer Coadee is all work when outside, we still have a lot of training to go through, she is fast to learn but slow to change existing behavior. To which, when people drive up to the farm she is there to discourage them. Not good when you actually want the person to get out of the vehicle and visit. When we know people are coming, I have Coadee on the lead and try to calm her and change the behavior towards vehicles.
However, she is the master of her domain; nothing comes on the property without inspection and vetting by her. Once she has established that there is no threat to the chickens, she is fine. Her initial reaction upon contact needs tweaking because although the veterinarian said she is timid and passive, her work ethic is all business. Her bark is ferocious and to a person that does not know dogs at sixty pounds and all teeth she presents a formidable figure. We on the other hand know she would not hurt a day old chick let alone a person. Most people do not get out of the vehicle until she is on lead.
The visitors get to know her and she them and that is when the lead comes off. Coadee goes back to work protecting her charges. We have seen Coadee chase off dogs, foxes, deer although the latter is more fun for her then work, I think she gets drunk on power sometimes. We had one traumatic event with a hawk but it proved to be a positive even though we lost a layer.
Last fall Coadee was in the back of the house up on the porch were she could see all the hens. I came out of the barn and looked over to see all the birds under the trailer and in the house. That was odd because when I went into the barn they were doing their usual scratch and peck. Then I saw something move over near the tree line. It turned out to be a hawk that had just killed a hen. Why Coadee was on the porch and not over there I do not know, she had to of heard something, but then again I was closer and did not hear any commotion while in the barn.
I yelled and started to run to the hawk, thinking that charging would scare it away. It just sat there, turned its head slowly in my direction and stared me down. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I bristled with goosebumps. I looked for things to throw at it as I continued to yell, “Get out of here”. Coadee had come down to see what I was doing as I am throwing wood, sticks, rocks, anything I could find to scare the bird away. The hawk was unphazed and not about to leave its dinner behind. I finally got a branch close enough to the bird to scare it off. However, it just flew to lowest branch on the nearest tree. I went in the house and got my gun, I was not going to let this bird take one of my hens, dead or not it was still mine. Federal law prohibits the killing of hawks so I was not going to shoot it, but I could shoot near it to scare it further away.
After about five shots, the thing finally gave up and flew off. I picked the bird up and took it to the compost pile. Coadee was there the entire time, head down just following me as I went about the business of composting the hen. From that point forward when big birds fly near the farm she goes after them and barks. It is amazing to see because it took her all of one incident to know that she had another danger lurking about.
Recently, she showed her true work ethic much to the amazement of those on the farm. English Sheppards are smart dogs you need to vary the training and keep them active. If you have large herds (we do not) then the dog will keep itself occupied herding and protecting the farm animals.
One day, I was working Coadee on the lead, by having her stop, come close, move left, right, straight, sit, lay, stay while I walk away and other mental activities. As a reward I got the Frisbee out so we could play. I was throwing the Frisbee and she was fetching. One of the things she does is goes out and then I throw the Frisbee to her, other times I throw the disk and she chases after it to catch.
I had her go out and then I threw a short one to her, all of a sudden she runs toward me like she is going after the Frisbee but she passed right under it without an attempt to catch her prize. I realize she has seen a hawk and she had to go to protect her flock. My wife and I looked at each other, we had just witnessed a dog, go from playing to protector in an instant. They say that the English Sheppard is the original American farm dog and after that display, I can see the value in the breed. I joke about it, sometimes I say it is rough when you have a dog that is smarter then you are but then again, who would complain.
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Posted by Brian
@ 08:30 AM EST
Coadee is now eight months old. The dog eats stink bugs, at least we witnessed her eat four of them. The last one she regurgitated. We purchased a large kennel to keep her in during the day/night as needed. She has proven to be quite the escape artist, she is out more times then she is in, despite our efforts to reinforce incarceration of the animal. To stop her fleeing, I need to tie down every link at the bottom of the fence. She just keeps pushing at the links until she can separate them. For as big as she is, the escape whole is amazingly small.
Her training is continuing at Carol's and on the farm with us. We are at a stage, in training, where we do not have to tell her that chickens are out. She senses they are out and goes and gets them. Sometimes we see them other times we follow Coadee's gate.
The chickens have learned when she comes out it is time to start heading back to the pen or face Coadee's unwanted attention. We have not gotten the whole process down yet, but we are getting there. We would like Coadee to chase the chickens back into the pen. She has most of that process down, but we are still missing the “how to get the chickens in the pen,” part. If I am there, I take the bird, say speak to Coadee, so she barks, and toss the chicken over the fence. The chicken takes flight and I tell Coadee what a good girl she is. She has also learned however, that it is easier to pick the chicken up and bring it to the pen instead of chasing it around wildly until the chicken decides to head to the pen. This has led to some heart stopping moments.
Like the time I came around the corner of the barn to see Coadee with a chicken, head in her mouth, walking back to the pen. My heart sank, the chicken had to be dead, and it looked limp in her mouth. I yelled for her to sit which she did. I was walking to her, I told her to drop the chicken, she does not really know drop yet but she released the chicken, looking up at me with those big brown eyes. The chicken starting flapping her wings, shook her head, neck feathers bristling somewhat stunned. I expected the neck to be broken given what I saw. How she survived is beyond me.
Coadee gently holds things between her jaws, but at the same time, I have had to repair the corner of a wooden step that she chewed away. She still nips rather hard, but that is her herding instinct coming out, something that my wife has felt. When she is at Carol's there are plenty of young ducks, chickens, geese, rabbits, kittens, turkey’s her farm is a menagerie of heritage breeds, so Coadee has learned to control her jaws. She has learned to come when called, fetch, sit, lay, almost knows left versus right paw, drop things from her mouth, stays, speaks, hush (sometimes), help move the chickens, heard or corral them, protect, warn and generally tries to help with what you are doing.
I could be pulling on the chicken pen and she will come put her mouth on the rope and try to pull. Usually it is opposite of how I am pulling but it is a learning process. If I happen to be brining in an extension cord, or water hose she has the thing in her mouth going in the opposite direction. Weeding is one of those helping things too. She has at least stopped biting my hand when pulling weeds, now she just nestles in next to me and starts digging the dirt with as much gusto as she can muster. She has the basic concept just not the subtly of what we are doing. Sometimes she actually gets weeds, more often it is the plant. We still have work to do on identifying plants from weeds.
It is getting harder and harder to drop her off at Carol’s but it is the best for her. She is turning into the asset my wife said she would. She also brings a certain amount of joy, surprise, frustration, amazement and education to the farm. We are learning as she is, sometimes she is smarter other times we are. For ego reasons I am not going to give the percentage breakdown on that last statement.
Coadee is at least working in the rain now, something she was not doing before. I think she likes being toweled off and has figured out getting wet leads to being dried. This is a game in itself. I cover her with a towel and she tries to get the towel to lie on and chew. She is bigger and stronger so the process takes on the look of a wrestling match more then a drying session.
However, it is an exercise that both of us seem to relish. She tries to get the towel while I dry her paws, legs, tail, head and body. Her tail wags, the whole time, as she competes for towel space. This is her at three months
Coadee has become one of the good things about farming. It is just another one of those links in a long chain forged by events, time, people and stubborn determination.
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Posted by Brian
@ 04:00 PM EST
A DOG’S PERSPECTIVE. Hi, my name is Coadee, actually, it is Fer Coadee, but my pompous owners mercifully just call me Coadee. My new owners recently pilfered me from my parents. Okay maybe pilfered is a little harsh, but no one asked me if I wanted to go. My new home is interesting and the humans seem nice. However, they say “NO” all the time. I do not know what they mean but they say that word constantly. "Coadee NO biting, Coadee NO chewing on the furniture. Coadee NO biting the chickens, Coadee NO eating shoes,” It just goes on and on with the NO’s. If I got a treat for every time I heard "No" or "Coadee" I would never work a day in my life. The humans do shower me with love and praise but one of them keeps kissing me on my head. What is that about?
There is plenty of room for me to run and tons of smells. There is so much to see and explore but I get too tired and end up sleeping a little. The naps are refreshing but I keep getting disturbed because the humans have feathery things that do not stay where they should. My humans wake me up and show me where these feathers are, they point and say “chickens” and I guess I am suppose to give chase. I know they want me to chase them but I am at a loss as to what they want me to do once I catch them. Therefore, I nibble on them to see what they feel like.
They are some dumb feathers let me tell you. I will be chasing one and it runs right into the fence getting caught up and tangled. I just lay down put a paw on the feathers and get a mouth full. That is all I am doing, okay I might be checking out other body parts of the feathers but I do not hurt them. Honestly, the feathers tickle the top of my mouth and I like that.
While this is happening though the human keeps yelling NO biting; when the human finally gets to me, they take the feathers and put it in the pen. I am learning that these feathers or chickens as the humans say are not the brightest when it comes to running and hiding. The other irritating aspect of my new home is that the humans are forever calling my name. I am starting to think that they have a limited vocabulary. NO COADEE, I hear those words in my sleep. Then the one with a deep voice keeps saying, "You are just killing me", go figure what that means. He is always shaking his head as he says it too.
How many times do they think they have to call my name? I will come back but when I am on the trail of a great scent the last thing I need is to keep hearing my name. It is irritating, especially when I need to find the source of that wonderful smell. I have a lot of work before I get the humans totally trained but they are showing signs of progress.
I saw tiny humans too. Some were smaller than I am and cannot stand up especially when I go over to smell them. One small human let out this loud noise. That hurt my ears so I turned away and saw other little humans running so I went to go run with them. Okay, I was chasing them. For some strange reason I thought they seemed to be getting to far away from all of us and I did not want that to happen. I do not know what that was about but I thought they needed to come back to the group. Well I went to go get them.
The little humans fall over easy too but, I can lick there face when they are on the ground so that works for me. There is something to the little humans they just smell great and they really like petting me. Who can argue with that?
Well I hear one of my humans calling so I will need to go. Probably some stupid chicken is out of the pen. Man, those animals are not going to be winning the Nobel Prize anytime soon. I like them but hey, I keep it real.
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p.s. I just wonder sometimes what goes through her mind as we work and I am not explaining how to do things correctly. She stares at me and twists her head from one side to the other, as if she hears me is trying to understand but we are just not there yet.
Posted by Brian
@ 06:55 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".
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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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