Farm Dog 101: Chore Dog

The young chickens are not quite six months old but were large enough to allow out. The first couple of days, none seemed interested in venturing out of the familiar enclosure attached to the chicken coop but eventually the bravest started exploring the area immediately around the chicken coop and the others soon followed. Fix is helping to put the chickens up a couple of nights ago. The rooster is the Icelandic given to me by a friend. Notice how calm and quiet Fix is moving – just enough pressure to move the chickens without panicking them.


Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Overview

English Shepherds are/should be control freaks. They understand rules and want those rules followed. That is one of the things that makes it easier to work with them on your own stock and one of the things that often makes it frustrating to work them off your property and with strange stock.

English Shepherds are “loose eyed” dogs and thus work closer in to their stock than border collies. While some dogs will bark at particularly stubborn stock, if a dog is barking almost constantly it lacks confidence and you will have to be extra careful in starting that dog to build confidence.

The first thing I do when starting a young dog (and young isn’t age related but determined by experience) is develop a bond with the dog. This means I spend time with the dog in a variety of situations, teaching the dog to respect me and fostering its desire to be with me. I will take the dog with me doing chores. Depending upon the dog and the situation, this may mean the dog is dragging a line to ensure I can control its behavior. While I don’t directly focus on the dog, after all I am doing chores, I do make sure the dog isn’t getting into trouble and is staying close (how close is a personal choice.) When I have a dog that is sticking with me doing chores, coming back to check in frequently on off-leash walks and has rudimentary obedience skills as well as self-control I’ll evaluate whether or not the dog is mentally and physically mature enough to start working stock. This is also dependent upon my stock. I won’t work a young dog on ewes with young lambs.

If I’m going to work stock with a dog, I will wait to do serious obedience training until AFTER I have started working stock. While I want the dog responsive to me, I want the dog’s focus on stock. A dog who focuses on the handler is either going to be less effective in working stock or, worse case scenario, is going to get hurt by not paying attention to the stock. It is very important to remember that if you want a partner, you have to ensure the dog is capable of making decisions and not expecting you to make all the decisions for him/her. All the dogs I train are taught self-control early on so that the dog is making GOOD decisions on its own and so that I’m not constantly telling the dog to do or not to do something.

It is also critical that you set your dog up to be successful and not to fail. While corrections are, in my opinion, a necessary part of training, corrections rarely have a place in “teaching”. Until the dog understands what is required and knows how to avoid a correction, it isn’t fair to correct the dog. Once I move out of teaching and into training, I can set it up so the dog has to make the right decision under more challenging circumstances, but again I have to ensure the dog is prepared for the challenge and I’m not expecting something I can’t reasonably expect.

The age you start a dog is not critical as long as the dog is mentally and physically ready to start. What is critical is that you haven’t done things to “turn the dog off”. I’ve seen pups that were put on stock too young and a single bad experience was sufficient to turn the dog off working stock permanently. I’ve seen older dogs that had been discouraged as pups from interacting with livestock who wouldn’t work as they got older. I’ve also seen dogs bounce back from traumas that you would have thought sufficient to turn them off permanently — my first ES got kicked by a steer so hard it knocked him across a pen, gave him a concussion and broke a molar. He tried, unsuccessfully because of the concussion, to get up and continue working.

Working poultry (chicken, turkeys, ducks), sheep, cattle and goats is challenging in different ways and some dogs will excel on one type of stock and yet may not be a good worker on another type of stock. The dog might be ready to work poultry very early on and not be ready for sheep, goats or cattle until much later. So just because your pup or dog doesn’t seem interested in working one type of livestock or another, don’t be discouraged. It may need more time just accompanying you doing chores or you may want to try starting on a different type of livestock. While I do use my ES to handle my American Guinea Hogs, I don’t recommend starting an inexperienced dog on hogs and I personally will NEVER use a dog to work horses. There are several reasons for that but it can be boiled down to a safety issue for both the dog and rider.

NOTE: The above was originally written a few years ago, when I was raising Katahdin sheep for lamb and was pasture raising American Guinea Hogs. I have downsized the number of sheep I have and the hogs are now in various freezers.

The Old and the New

The OLD: My hens are all molting and have stopped laying. These were the chicks that came in September 2013, while my driveway was under water.

At 4 years of age, the productivity of the hens was on the downward slope which is the reason I bought new chicks this fall.

The NEW: Readers of the blog may remember my failed attempt to add Icelandic Chickens to my farm a couple of years ago. A friend of mine has a son who purchased hatching eggs this year and had much better success in hatching out chicks. He gave part of the chicks to his mom and when she discovered that she had two Icelandic Roosters, she offered me one. I brought him home Friday night and put him in with the almost 10 week old chicks. He is five months old and is a very handsome fella.

More Random Farm Photos

I built another cattle panel shelter last weekend. The first two were built with two people and the shelters went up quickly and easily. Unfortunately, I am not tall enough to be able to easily “walk” a panel so putting up a shelter for the sheep was not as easy or quick. However, I did manage it. I bought a tarp to cover it last Wednesday so after work on Thursday, I tarped the shelter.

The chicks will be nine weeks old tomorrow.

Buff Orpington front left; Red Star front right; Delaware behind Red Star; Barred Rock in back. The Bantams are a Japanese and Red Frizzles.  It is really easy to see the size difference between the Bantams and the full-size chickens.

As I noted in the last post, I was tired of cleaning out the chicken waterer every day so decided I would try using a hanging waterer with “nipples.” The one I bought worked well enough that I wanted another for the main chicken coop, but wasn’t willing to buy another one ($19.99 plus tax). I bought four nipples and then found two plastic buckets in my recycling. The smallest one is 1 gallon — too small for summer use but should be useful in the winter when I can’t leave water out overnight to freeze. The larger bucket is 3.5 gallons.

I put the smaller waterer together using a drill bit that was too small so I was pleasantly surprised when my attempts to enlarge the hole sufficiently didn’t result in a too large hole. I did buy the correct size drill bit before making the second waterer. The nipples came to just under 1.50 each and I used two nipples for each bucket (rather than the four nipples on the 5 gallon waterer I bought). I can add two more nipples to the 3.5 gallon waterer if needed in the future.

Random Farm Photos

The chicks turned 6 weeks old on Monday. I started opening up the pop door to the outside run for the chicks this past weekend and they have been having a grand time with the extra room. I had bought a Hen Hydrator which is a 5 gallon bucket that hangs with nipples for the chickens to drink from because I was tired of having to clean out the trays on the ground waterers. It plainly states it is not for chicks, but I went ahead and lowered it to chick height and  the chicks have been happily using it for the past few days.

The bantam chicks are noticeably smaller than the other chicks


The frizzles look like they stuck their beaks in a light socket











Cosmos, the youngest buckling, does not quite understand the proper way to go down a slide.









The kids are three weeks old today.




And here is Fix – who is starting to mature into a very nice looking dog.

Year of the Snake

The last Year of The Snake was February 10, 2013 through January 30, 2014 and it won’t come around again until January 2025. You couldn’t prove that by me however.

In an earlier post I mentioned that in the not quite ten years I have lived here, I had only seen nine snakes on the property and two of those were just recently.

The dogs and I went out just before dusk tonight to turn on the heat lamp and move the chicks into the brooder for the night. After that was completed I walked around the front of the chicken coop to close the pop hatch to the main chicken coop and heard an unmistakable rattle. I called the dogs and retreated to the house where I left the dogs inside before returning to the chicken coop.

Sure enough there was a seriously p**d off rattlesnake, this one caught in the chicken wire of what I think might have been a rabbit hutch placed next to the chicken coop. The chicken coop itself is built with hardware cloth which makes it predator proof but the outside run to the coop and this small structure were built using chicken wire. It appears this snake went into the hutch and then was unable to exit — possibly due to eating whatever it went in after. At a guesstimate, this snake is a little over 2 feet in length.  If you look carefully, you can see the head. The tail might be a little blurry because the snake was agitated and rattling like crazy. Again, since I won’t try to disentangle it, with luck it will be able to get out on its own; otherwise, there will be another dead rattlesnake in the morning.



























This snake brings my total up to ten, three just in the past few weeks.  I’m wondering if the brush hogging I had done a short while ago has moved the rattlers closer in to the structures. I may never know exactly why I am seeing more snakes, but I do know I am going to be taking more precautions when I work outside in the future.

Chick Update

The chicks were two weeks old on Labor Day. I lost two of the chicks — one shortly after arrival for an unknown reason and one last Friday when I was late closing the chicks in the brooder and it was separated from the others and froze.

While everything I have read states that chicks have to be kept at about 95 degrees for the first week, with a drop in temperature of 5 degrees for each subsequent week, until fully feathered, I have not found this to be completely accurate. Chicks, indeed, cannot regulate their body temperatures well and do require attention to environmental temperatures – up to a point.

These chicks were kept in an enclosed brooder under a heat lamp for the first week. After that initial period, during the day I removed the cardboard which blocked their access into the larger (about 4×4) section of the coop, and allowed them to leave the brooder. I also turned off the heat lamp during the day. The chicks have been fine running around their limited space without an additional heat source. I do need, however, to put them back in a sheltered place (the brooder) with a heat lamp at night still.

On occasions when I have not secured the chicks before dark, I have gone out to find the chicks outside of the brooder but in piles (usually two separate piles) with the smaller bantams in the middle of the piles, and have had to pick up each chick to place it in the brooder for the night. With that one exception, all of the chicks – full size and bantam – have been fine. I wouldn’t want to chance that the chicks would all survive the night at this point without the heat lamp but it is clear that the high temperatures the internet and books tell you are required, really aren’t. I think common sense goes a long way in raising poultry and animals in a specific environment – i.e., what I can do here in New Mexico probably won’t be as successful in Vermont and vice versa.

Mix of full size and bantam chicks at 2 weeks, 3 days

Full size chick next to Red Frizzle bantam chick




I last ordered and raised chicks in September 2013. While I have had a few hens go broody and raise a clutch since then, because most were hatched and raised outside the coop, those chicks have had a short life expectancy. My predator losses have been significantly less since I finally finished fencing the perimeter of the property, but I have less than half of the number I raised in 2013. Between the reduction in numbers and the fact that egg production drops after the first couple of years, it was time to replenish my flock.

When I purchase chicks I try to do so in the fall (September) so that the chicks are old enough to be feathered by the time cold weather arrives. Chicks born in the spring will be old enough to lay in the fall (depending upon breed, between 5 and 6 months of age) but since I don’t use lights in my chicken coop, egg production does not generally occur until February of the next year when the amount of daylight increases. That means that I am feeding chicks / young chickens for about 9 months. I’m not sure where the phrase “eats like a bird” comes from, because, in my experience, young chicks eat voraciously. If I raise chicks in September, then by February the chicks are close to laying age and I’ve saved about four months of feeding without getting eggs in return.

To accommodate a friend who wanted bantam chicks which are not shipped in September, I placed an order this year to arrive the week of August 21st. So this past weekend I cleaned out the brooder section of the chicken coop, rebedded the brooder and enclosure with fresh hay, readied the feeders and waterers, and ensured the heat lamp was working properly. I had already picked up chick starter from the feed store.

Chicks were shipped on Monday and arrived at the post office early (I received a call at 5:28 am) Wednesday morning. My friend picked up the chicks as I was working at the office that day. When I got back into town that evening I stopped at her place to pick up the chicks I had ordered – Australorps, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Delawares and Red Stars plus two bantams – a white silkie and a red frizzle. Instead of the one free chick usually included, this shipment included several extra bantams which we split.

Mystery of the Missing Eggs

For the past week and a half or so I haven’t been finding eggs in the nesting boxes. Then a few days ago when I went to check on eggs, I discovered a hen lying dead on the chicken coop floor. She had no apparent injuries so her death was a mystery.

Then Tuesday evening when I entered the chicken coop I found a rattlesnake that had gotten caught in the chicken wire in the run just outside the pop door.

If it had been anything but a venomous snake I would have gone to get gloves and tried to release it, but assuming the snake was the culprit in the missing eggs and death of the hen, karma caught up to him.

I’ve been here for ten years this November and with the garter snake from a couple of weeks ago and this snake my total snake count is four non-venomous and five rattlesnakes.

Random Puppy Photos

Chores – watching chickens

No real post – just some random photos of Fix this past week. Today he turns 12 weeks old and we start more formal training.

Chores – trying to play with bucklings

Visiting a Friend – who is that doggie in the . . .

Uncle Tuck won’t you play with me?

“This is not happening”