Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dogs gone wild

Bocephus Boomhauer stopped by in his truck last week. Two of his dogs followed him up the long drive leading to my house. The dogs have followed him up here before and I always keep one eye on them because they always seem to keep one eye on the freely wandering chickens. Up until now, the dogs had never bothered the birds and would semi-obey Bocephus when he called them.

But Wednesday, as Bo and I were talking in the front yard, one of the dogs started chasing a hen. The second dog joined in the chase. The hen became increasingly frantic which only excited the dogs more. No amount of Bo's yelling was going to stop the dogs.

I took off running after them. As I passed through the remains of the tomato patch, I snatched a 3-foot wooden stake out of the ground. The dogs chased the poor bird about 50 yards before finally pinning her, leaving a trail of white feathers in their wake. I charged like a sword-wielding warrior.

The dogs ran off and I gingerly picked the hen up out of the grass. She was still alive. She had some bad puncture wounds on her back but, before I could check for other injuries, I saw the dogs running towards Frankencoop where 17 other chickens were congregated. So, with the injured hen tucked under my left arm and a tomato stake in my right hand, I charged down the hill.

The dogs ran into the flock, snapping and barking. The chickens scattered like a billiard break. Chaos ensued. I put the injured hen down on the ground near the coop. She was heavy - about eight pounds. Felt even heavier after two consecutive 50-yard dashes. For the next few minutes I sprinted to and fro, swinging my tomato stake, trying to keep the dogs away from the birds.

Sometime while this was going on, Bo drove his truck from the house down to Frankencoop. He yelled at the dogs but they paid him no mind. He asked if I had a gun but I told him it was up at the house.

The dogs chased another hen towards the road. I rushed after them but, before I could reach them, they pinned her to the ground and started to bite her. Once again, the dogs ran off when I got close. This time they ran to the road and headed up the hill to Bo's house. Bo said he was going to go home and make sure the dogs stayed away from my place.

I turned back to face the coop and there wasn't a chicken in sight. Not even the hen that had just been attacked or the injured hen I put on the ground. I walked inside the coop and found Corny the rooster hiding out in the back room. I was exhausted. My legs were rubber, I could barely stand. My tomato stake sword was now a cane. But there were still 17 hens to account for.

I returned to the house and checked on the three remaining chickens that were still in the front yard where this whole fracas began. I threw the rifle in the truck and drove back to the coop. With a bucket of feed in my hand, I set out to find my birds.

Most of them had taken cover in the thick brush between the coop and the woods. I trekked through the kudzu and briars, trying to coax them out with the feed. A few slowly followed me but most weren't ready to come back into the open. A few had hidden in the brush between the coop and goat pasture, including the one the dogs had attacked near the road. She was dead when I found her. Her belly had been ripped open and her intestines shredded. I'm surprised she was able to manage the 30-foot distance between the attack and where I found her. I put her in the back of the pickup.

More of the birds were making their way back to the coop. After about an hour, I had rounded them all up except for the first hen that had been attacked - the one I'd set on the ground. It took about another 20 minutes to find her cowering in the kudzu. She was still alive. I took her up to the front yard and started fixing up a cage in the house. I still didn't know the extent of her injuries but it was obvious she couldn't sleep under my porch like she usually does - especially since it was supposed to be below freezing that night.

I set her up in a large cage with food and water. Her appetite seemed good and she was able to walk, albiet with a limp. There didn't seem to be any internal injures. As long as her wounds didn't get infected, maybe she'd be able to pull through.

She didn't. She died after a little more than 24 hours.

They were both big white factory farm refugees. Chicken house chickens just can't fly like my other birds. Makes them an easier mark for predators. Neither of these two birds had names. I can't even tell most of the white hens apart from eachother.

I guess that's what made it easier to salvage the meat from these two hens. There are some of the chickens that I could never bear to eat. But neither of these two hens had been standouts - just good, solid egg layers that looked damned cute running around the yard. And I'm too poor right now to even think about not eating them.

Bo came back later and apologized. Gave me a couple bucks for the dead birds. Said he'd shoot the dogs himself if they ever killed another chicken.

Since the attack, the Frankencoop chickens have been locked up most of the time. Once a day, I let them out for a couple hours while I work nearby where I can watch over them. Of course, the gun is never far from my side during these supervised visits. The three remaining chickens sleeping under my front porch still get all-day access to the outdoors.

Eventually, all the chickens will have their outdoor privileges reinstated. But, for now, I am being an overprotective mother hen.

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