Friday, February 26, 2010

When the dog gives you a chicken make chicken soup

I love keeping chickens. I love their zany little personalities, the eggs they give us and that they are a great entry-level livestock for the boys to help care for. So all of that is great and I have no interest in ever having a homestead that isn't home to a flock of chickens, but it's not always easy.

The hardest part of raising chickens is losing them to predators, and the hardest predator to lose one to is your own beloved dog. Our sweet, quirky, chocolate lab, Charlie, has killed more of our flock than I care to think about. Two years ago when we got our first batch of chicks we quickly learned that he couldn't be trusted anywhere near them. We made great attempts to keep him away from them but he's an escape artist and we continued to suffer occasional casualties, culminating in the loss of our favorite young rooster.

That is a story in itself and I think I will spare you the details today.

The good news was that after that incident he seemed cured. For a whole year chickens and dog lived in astounding harmony. I even saw Charlie stand back to let a hen eat out of his food bowl on more than one occasion. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. After a year of abstaining he suddenly started killing again and it was devastating. We attempted to place him with friends or family but there was no good fit and I was dead set against taking him to the pound.

So we made some adjustments to our schedule and to his. We now keep him inside as much as possible, outside as long as we can keep an eye on him and on a long tether for the short periods that one of us can't be with him. In the evenings while the chickens are safely closed up in their barn he is free to roam. It has worked wonderfully and he has thrived on his increased time with us.

All was going well until last weekend when he left us in the front yard to go to the back yard and kill one of our hens. It was our last Black Austrolorp and one of the oldest members in our flock. It didn't take long for me to notice he wasn't around and to find her. My guess is that no more than ten or fifteen minutes passed. She was a good, healthy hen, she had no wounds just a broken neck, and her body was still warm, so Shelby skinned her and put her in the stock pot. She was not the first one we ate under similar circumstances but it was the first time I felt peace about it.

We wouldn't have a chicken killing dog if I was willing to get rid of him, but I am not. It is not any more his fault than mine and I am okay with both of those things.

She was a good hen who gave us countless dozens of eggs she was happy (up until those last few minutes...she probably didn't like those any, but my guess is nobody does). The soup we made from her was delicious, nutritious, and enough to feed our family of five twice.

I continue to work to keep my chickens safe. I do not want Charlie to ever kill another and I wish that he hadn't killed her, but I also feel a lot better having made the best of a crummy situation.


  1. I didn't know you'd considered placing Charlie in another home. Poor Chuck. The peace you've come to seems nice though.

    I don't want him to kill any more chickens either, but I was thinking the other day, as I ate my chicken thigh chili, that maybe I would like real chicken meat instead of the crumbly stuff sold most places. I just saw an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer that has me freshly freaked out about commercial meat.

  2. I can not describe how much better our chickens taste than store bought. It's about like the difference between free range eggs and commercial.

  3. I can remember those fresh laid eggs shared by a friend of mine. We have been having more eggs lately for some reason, and know that yours are sooooo much better!

  4. Mack and Seltz also got a very up close lesson on chicken anatomy and gutting technique. These boys will be excellent farm hands in no time!

  5. The way I see it Charlie is a postive, funtioning, and necessary member of the family.

  6. I love the way you see it, Sarah!