Many new chicken keepers worry whether their birds will mix happily with other pets and livestock. Andy Cawthray gives his take on this one
A question I’m frequently asked is ‘Will chickens mix with other pets?’ My stock response tends to be: “It depends; what other animals do you keep that might come into contact with the chickens?”
Chickens tend to mix quite happily with other farmyard livestock such as horses, sheep, goats and alpacas. When it comes to other poultry, in my experience ducks and turkeys show no interest in chickens although geese can be aggressive towards them (but then geese can be aggressive towards most things, hence the reason I have a couple known as The Mitchell Brothers who operate Smallholding Security for me!)
Other feathered fellows such as game breeds like pheasants, quail and partridge will live alongside chickens. I can safely say that pet birds of prey do not, given that a neighbour’s Harris Hawk once moved into the copse by the field one Christmas Eve and picked off a number of my Rhode Island Reds before I worked out what it was that was taking the birds!
The main area of concern, though, tends to be the pet cat or dog that the potential chicken keeper already owns. I’ve never encountered a problem with domestic or even feral cats attacking my chickens, and I have a number of both that frequent the holding. This is not to say that they wouldn’t take and kill a small bantam or juvenile bird, just that in my time as a poultry keeper I’ve never witnessed it. Dogs, on the other hand, can be a problem.
I am of the view that small working breeds such as terriers can be trained to leave the chickens alone but should never be trusted. At the other end of the scale, my view has always been that larger working breeds such as collies or labradors may express an interest but invariably aren’t an issue. The truth is, though, that it’s down to the individual dog and the circumstances under which any encounters between dog and chicken occur.
Here’s a case in point: if you have ever been to visit me, then aside from seeing the various flocks of chickens I keep, you will no doubt have met my faithful hound, Mick. He has been around for almost 12 years now, in fact he’s knocking on a bit himself having arrived as a rescue dog when he was only two years old. His history is unknown; he was found as a stray in Cardiff and, when he arrived from the Dogs Trust all those years ago, he was ‘tested’ to see if he would settle around the poultry. Much to my delight, he paid them no attention whatsoever.
I trust him completely around the livestock and have never had need for concern. He works rounding up the stock when asked but wanders nonchalantly amongst them the rest of the time. However, I found out that this doesn’t mean he tolerates them in any circumstances.
I was doing a spot of gardening and, as usual, that results in the assistance of the nearest flock of chickens and, of course, the presence of Mick. This is not normally an issue, but having been for a walk earlier in the day Mick had grass seeds in his hair which attracted the attention of this particular Sussex pullet. Mick had allowed her to ‘pick over’ his coat, and I thought a photo of this odd grooming activity might be interesting… but she foolishly decided the grass seed on his chin needed pecking just as I focused the camera for a second time.
Do dogs and chickens mix? Yes they can, but even the most trusted of dogs can react, or the most confident of chickens come unstuck – so be careful. (Incidentally, the Sussex pullet was not injured, though she and Mick do tend to keep a respectful distance these days.)