It was normal Wednesday for us. Big Onion and I were away from the farm working our "real jobs" when we got a call from the neighbors. They had found a dog, a big white female "chow mix," running along the fence outside the first pasture. She had a small, bloody scratch on her nose, but otherwise seemed normal. The dog was friendly, came over to them when called so they put her in their backyard and called animal control to come and get her. We were a little concerned that there was a dog loose on the property. Big Onion even offered to leave work to make the hour drive home to check on everything then drive back to get me and back home again. I told him not to worry. We'd be heading home in a few hours anyway, and the dog was found outside our fencing. I was sure everything was fine.
In the meantime, the neighbors went out to lunch. When they came home, they found a second dog, a male, IN the pasture with the poultry. He was "playing with the goats" when they saw him. Again, he was a nice dog who came right to them when they called. They phoned again to let us know what was happening. We finished work and headed home with a little more concern, but the neighbors assured us that there was no blood on the dog and everything seemed fine.
We arrived home and immediately went out to the pasture to make sure everything was ok. Our dogs, who had been out in the backyard all day, seemed agitated. Looking out over the pasture, we knew right away that everything was not fine. We opened the gate to the pasture and called Rialey to come out with us. She immediately ran to a white mound of feathers about 20 feet from the fence. It was a dead chicken, a white rock hen, just lying there in a pile of feathers. What followed was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever had living here on the farm. We walked around and found body after body of dead and severely injured poultry. Around every turn and in almost every pen there was evidence of the attack that had taken place. We found 7 of our chicken hens dead with varying levels of injury. Not one had had any part of them consumed. We found one of the guineas dead in her pen with her pretty black and white polka dotted feathers just thrown everywhere. Another guinea was altogether missing along with two of our bourbon red turkey hens.
After we had gathered the bodies of the dead, we started gathering all the injured birds. The neighbors had found our little gosling, who was just barely old enough to be out with the adult birds, huddled in a corner near their fence. When we retrieved her from them, she had a very bad limp and blood on her feathers from a small puncture on her side. There was a little white pekin duck girl who could barely walk. We found 4 more chicken hens who had severe puncture wounds, two of which looked like they had almost been plucked bald. It was then that we realized that Frankie, one of our two wonderful, beloved roosters, wasn't around. We finally found him crouching behind a rabbit pen in the all too familiar pose of an injured bird, wings down, head drooping. We gathered all our injured and placed them gently into a pen.
Next we checked all our goat ladies from head to toe. Thankfully they seemed to be unharmed. We were so grateful for their spunky attitudes and horned skulls that seemed to have saved them from injury.
Finally we called the sheep up from the back pastures. They seemed spooked, not as happy to see us and rush us for food as normal. Big Onion noticed that Marcie had some injuries on her backside. We did a head count and came up one short. It was Marcie's daughter, a 5 month old lamb that we name Patty after her beloved and now departed grandmother, Peppermint Patty. Fearing the worst, we headed out to the back pasture to search for the missing lamb. We walked up and down the pasture all the while encouraging Rialey to find the lamb.
After we'd walked the whole pasture down and back again, Big Onion called out to me from a corner behind the ponds. She was laying there. Long dead and bloated. Probably the victim of that first dog, the female. Rialey ran over and started licking the dead lamb's nose and mouth. She sniffed her from head to two, stopping to point out her various injuries. For me, this was the last straw. I finally broke down. Sitting on the trunk of a small downed tree I bawled for this poor little lamb and her injured mother, for all those dead and dying birds. I cried because I'd left the gate open between the pasture that let that dog get in and kill our birds. I cried because it was all so senseless.
We've had predation problems before. Foxes and possums and raccoons and hawks have all made meals of our animals over the years. Recently we've lost several birds and have been taking steps to rid our area of these predators who found our pastures a convenient hunting ground, but that's just it. All those animals were just hunting for food. Trying to feed themselves and their young on an easily available, abundant, and slow moving food source. When a predator makes a meal of your animal, you kick yourself for not protecting them better. This. This was different. Not one of our animals had been fed on. Those dogs played with our birds, our sheep. They had a grand old time chasing and catching, shaking and tossing those animals around until they died then moved on to the next.
It's almost as sad to realize that our dogs had to watch this all happen. With all the chaos and stress of trying to assess the damage, we didn't realize that all three dogs that had been outside that day had had front row seats to the carnage. All three were limping when we finally came back to the house to gather the medical supplies needed to treat the injured. The neighbors still had the male dog in their backyard. They had found him too late for animal control to come out and retrieve. The dog slipped out of their gate and Big Onion watched Barley throw himself at the fence at that dog teeth bared and hackles up in a way that we have never seen that sweet goofus of dog act. No doubt those dogs spent the afternoon doing the same. Trying to protect and defend the animals they think of as their charges. Rialey was shaken and on edge afterward. I took her to work with me the next day and my boss (my vet) confirmed that she had damaged her wrists and elbows the day before trying to get at that dog in her pasture killing her animals.
We did our best to treat the injured. We cleaned and flushed out deep puncture wounds. We gave penicillin shots and applied ointments and hoped for the best. In the days that followed we were able to put the duck hen back with the group. One of the chickens needed to put down the day after the attack, she was obviously suffering and would not recover. A few days later we found that Frankie's injuries were deeper than we could tell at first. Despite the antibiotics and topical treatments, his wound were infected and not healing. We made the decision to put him down, and I cried for the second time. I knew he had probably sustained those terrible injuries trying to protect his girls just like a good rooster should. He had been our rooster for the past 3 years. He was born here on the farm the son of Fernando, our very first rooster. He was kind and gentle with the ladies and respectful of us and the farm dogs. Those are rare and valued qualities in a rooster, and he will be missed greatly.
The impacts of that day are still effecting us. All of the birds were off their feed, leaving feed behind in the pens where before they would scarf down every pellet and seed. The ducks and chickens are laying egg with thinner than normal shells. I had many crack while I washed them that first week or two.
I'm sure things will get back to normal around here eventually. We have a lot of poultry to replace. We've started putting up more fencing to make the property as secure as we possibly can. We are still nervous about letting out the birds when we are not here. The dogs have calmed down and stopped limping. Marcie the sheep has recovered from her injuries. We still have three chickens with wounds and feather loss too great to join the general population. Their recovery will take a long time, and they may never start laying eggs again. Our little gosling still has a limp, but she is holding her own out there with the big birds.
I've made album of the pictures I took that night and the following days. Be warned that these are photos of dead and injured animals, but if you want to know what a dog attack looks like on poultry and sheep feel free to take a look....Dog Attack Album.
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