There was a young lady who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll…. Turn into a crazy homesteader and collect a bunch of animals!!!!
Oh MY it’s been busy over here!!
When we first looked at our property in 2004, Zach was a toddler and I was pregnant with Scarlet. I fell in love the moment I saw it. Driving over the river and through the woods. Up a long and winding road. We reached the barn first and then drove down to the house. The first thing I saw was this little door built into the hillside which is straight out of Little House on the Prairie, and I was SOLD!
I had big dreams of living off the land and homesteading. Chickens, vegetables, wild boar hunting, canning. I wanted it all. Put me in a (homemade) apron and sign me up. I’m in! So we bought the house and enjoyed a little gardening. Roses, corn, lettuce etc. But life just always happens. We did a lot of remodeling, had a lot of babies and got very busy with our business which kept us in town a lot. Still I dreamed of a little farm to feed our family and teach our children. I watched Joel Salatin and his mobile chicken rotation trailers. I learned about hydroponic gardening. Just my luck when my friend gave me three ducks and a coop last summer. How could I say no? It was just the push I needed. And as long as we had the ducks why not add chickens? So I bought eight chicks.
My dream was to have them free range together and rotate around the yard using Joel Salatin’s electrified poultry netting. All we would need is a mobile nighttime coop for roosting and nest boxes for laying the prized eggs I so desired.
Well an owl took care of that dream when it decapitated two of the ducks (they were promptly replaced by new ducklings). So a large coop and covered run were built but the flock would be out when we were home. How I LOVED to watch them waddle and scurry about the garden.
Well a bobcat took care of that when it killed a duck and took off with a chicken… So the flock was in lockdown in the coop. We were all depressed (the flock and I). Everybody warns you about predators with poultry but these are things that sometimes need to be experienced to be learned. We came up with a system of having an automated chicken door (opens at dawn, closes at dusk) leading to a yard enclosed by the electric poultry netting which worked pretty well but limited the mobile operation and flock size.
I set out to find a good livestock guardian dog (LGD) and hired our contractor to build a big fence and another large nighttime coop. This was the only way we could raise a big flock safely and I was determined to raise meat birds, laying birds and ducks. We were getting eggs by now and we were HOOKED!
My neighbor’s Pyrenees and Sheppard dogs had just had puppies so we got a female and named her Delilah.
SO cute but not exactly intimidating yet and needed training to be a guardian which takes 18 to 24 months. She moved into an enclosed yard with a little coop for shelter next to the big chicken coop. We put a crate and lots of blankets in the coop and she was a happy camper. Meanwhile our 50 red broiler chicks (meat birds), 14 laying chicks and 12 ducklings showed up so the clock was ticking!
Guardian dogs like to work in pairs and adults help teach the pups to guard so I started asking around for a grown guardian dog that was already comfortable around poultry. That’s not easy to find!! They are prized possessions. At last I heard about a four year old Pyrenees Antolian Sheppard cross available from a retiring goat and chicken farmer. She had sold her goats and was looking to re-home the dog since these dogs like to have jobs. I jumped in my car and drove (3 hours each way) to see him. The minute I looked into his eyes I was in love. Deep and soulful but gentle and loving. And ENORMOUS! Chickens running all around him without any care. Perfect! We will take him!! His name was Botha which we abbreviated to Bo and then added on Duke of course. So now he’s now Bo Duke. The drive home was INTERESTING. Thank god Zach was home sick and came with me because this approx 130 lb dog wasn’t used to the car, didn’t want to stay in the back and decided he was a lap dog!!
He was trying to climb on me so Zach would have to keep pulling him to his side. Then he would climb on Zach’s lap! Finally he choose to lay down between our seats but kept knocking the car out of gear with his big head. The fence was a day from being done so I stopped at Tractor Supply for a large covered kennel and a cable. Meanwhile it starts to rain. When we first got home we put him in a harness on a cable so the kids could meet him and he would stay close while we built the kennel.
We stopped for a dinner break. When we came back to check on Bo Duke, all we saw was a cable and harness. He had wriggled out of it and was up on the patio just looking around. By now it’s dark and really starting to rain so although he is an outside farm dog, we didn’t have a shelter big enough for him outside yet so we put him in the barn in the wood shop. About 10 minutes later I look out the window and there’s Bo! We try to walk him back up and secure the door better but he’s not budging (and at 130 lbs you can’t just pick him up). Ok Bo… Come on into the mud room (it’s still “outside” as it’s a screened room but it’s covered). Within minutes he’s deeply asleep, comfortable, sheltered and hears us talking nearby. Zach set up a sleeping bag next to him and stayed there for the night to make sure he didn’t escape. We brought pup Delilah and her crate in too so they could become acquainted slowly.
I’ve been joking about how this El Niño year was a big lie because we really hadn’t had THAT much rain. Well the weather man in the sky decided to show me a real El Niño storm! So here we are, new HUGE dog that rivals Houdini, a nearly complete fence, and pouring rain so nobody can work on it… I started walking the perimeter of the fence multiple times per day with the dogs on leash so they would know their territory. Bo just wanted to stay by my side so I let him off the leash and he followed me everywhere. If I went inside he stayed by the door. Well this is fine, I thought. As long as I’m here he won’t leave! That worked for two days until he heard something in the woods on our perimeter walk and took off up a steep and bushy hill! This big old lazy looking dog is FAST! But he came back, then ran down the deer trail, then came back, then ran back to the woods, then came back. Ok then, all the warnings of wandering and escaping Pyrenees are true! So it was leash or kennel and lots of walks. At last the rain gave a little break, the fence was done, the gates were in, concrete was poured under them and the dogs had a huge two acre pasture open to them! We put them in, took off their leashes and off they ran! We walked the perimeter with them and then closed them in and went back to the house and soon enough there’s Bo, outside the window! He had jumped through the panel on top of the gate!! So now we have wire attached to the gates and new gates on order. So far that’s worked and he spent his first few nights in his pasture without escaping. We have a hot wire around the bottom too to ward off any digging ideas.
Sadly this past Friday I learned that cute little Delilah is not the mix we thought. She’s half guardian dog (Great Pyrenees/Antolian Sheppard like Bo) but also half Belgian Malinois (a police guard dog with a crazy high prey drive) which is a very risky combination for livestock and children. The LGD is a gentle giant and bred to protect by intimidation. Mainly size and barking. Attacking is the very last resort for a predator as they intentionally have very low prey drives. Mixing that with a breed with a high prey drive was asking for trouble. At the advice of many LGD experts and resources I returned her to the neighbor. The kids were a little sad but understood and Bo is now alone. Have no fear though! We have two Southdown Babydoll sheep coming just before Easter which will be his true loving companies. Guardian dogs bond to livestock and will protect and love them to the end. The poultry get protected as a shadow result of this since they don’t cuddle. So we need sheep! See how this math works?
We got the sheep to bond with the dog, we got the dog to train the pup, we got the pup to guard the chickens, we got the chickens to go with the ducks…. I don’t know why we swallowed that fly…. But please wish us LUCK!
Once we have everything well in order we will find a true guardian pup for Bo Duke again.
I think Frankie is getting the hang of this homesteading thing because the other day when we ran out of milk she said, “Then we’re getting a cow!!” Love that girl!!
In summary, residing in the:
Layer Coop: 7 mature hens, 14 chicks (still under heat lamps).
Night Coop: 14 ducks, 49 red ranger broilers (one didn’t make it), and 2 sheep (coming soon).
Big Bo Duke is on patrol EVERYWHERE!
Everyone will free range within the 2 acre fenced pasture during the day and sleep in coops or shelters at night. The broilers will be processed in about 8 weeks. 30 have been sold to friends and the rest will go in our freezer. We will be doing another batch this summer to ensure we have lots of yummy roast chicken available all year! My goal is to add a big pond for the ducks and link it to our vegetable garden beds and or fruit trees for our own hydroponic watering and fertilizing system. Stay tuned for the finished (haha….as if it’s every going to be “finished”) set up!!