Thoughts of a Dog Therapist – Chickens

My home is like a drop in centre for animal waifs and strays. We already have 20 dogs, 2 cats, 5 sheep, a goat and 4 ducks all of which are either rescued or ones that needed a home.

Then last week Kev came home and informed me that our friend was on his way down to us with a cockerel. He had rescued it after the council had threatened it’s owner with a fine if it kept crowing. He then took it home but living in the middle of a town meant that he soon got complaints as well. So Kev told him to bring it down to us.

To say that I wasn’t very happy is an understatement. I don’t mind chickens, we had some when we first moved into our house 15 years ago but I really didn’t need to be taking on any more animals. You see I started my business during the lockdown last year and although It’s going ok, I’m not exactly rolling in money and that’s in part due to the animals. I spend nearly £600 a month on dog food (I do sell it so I make most of that back but it only covers the cost of buying the next months). Then I spend another £300 a month on everything else that our menagerie needs. That’s without any vets bills that pop up or Bella’s hydro and physio visits. In short my animals keep me skint!!

When he arrived I set up the old, unused dog kennel and run for him to stay in and went out to collect him from our friends arms. As He handed him over to me, he fluffed all of his feathers up and I noticed a black Velcro strip tied tightly around his throat. I asked what it was and our friend didn’t know, he hadn’t noticed it before and I can’t blame him because it didn’t show when the cockerels feathers were laying flat. He struggled to undo it but when he did it was obvious that it had been there a while and although it hadn’t cut into his neck it had left a nasty red mark behind.

I took him through to the kennel, left him to settle in and started to send some emails to the local farms and petting zoos to see if any of them could take him, one by one they came back and said no. Apparently there has been a rise in the amount of chickens being kept during lockdown and as is the story with a lot of lockdown pet purchases, they are now being given up again as people start to go back to work and realise that they don’t have time to look after them.

When I woke up the next morning he was singing his heart out in his makeshift house. I didn’t know what time his crowing had started but I was shocked that it hadn’t made the dogs bark. Most of our dogs didn’t live with us last time we had a cockerel so it’s unlikely that it’s something that they’d heard before and they bark at the washing machine spinning so I was sure that they’d kick off when he started in the morning, but to my amazement I managed to sleep in until my alarm went off. It’s just a shame that they weren’t so great when I let them out into the garden. They all went piling out and ran straight down to the kennel barking frantically at the massive white thing that had appeared. He didn’t seem to care though, he just stood there looking at them from the other side of the wire.

I knew I needed to find him a home and soon because I didn’t particularly want to go down the route of having chickens again, they need too much looking after. Ducks are messy but easy to keep, they don’t need much, but chickens are a lot more complicated. They need places to roost and nest boxes to lay in, they are prone to various different mites that I would need to prevent against (leg mites, red mite etc), then there’s the hassle of broody chickens who just want to sit on eggs all day and all of that is without the grief of having a cockerel that wants to fight you every time you step in with him. It would also be another enclosure to clean out and to be honest the thought of it all really didn’t fill me with happiness so I turned to Facebook and asked if anybody on my friends list could offer him a home.

I asked for the post not to be shared because I know how far these types of posts travel and I wasn’t going to let him go to a home that I hadn’t vetted first. As much as I didn’t really want to keep him I also felt really sorry for him, he had been moved and stressed out at least twice recently and I didn’t want him being passed around more. The next home had to be his forever one. There were a few people who came up with decent suggestions or tagged others to see if they could help but nothing came of any of them when I followed them up and all he did all day was pace up and down the dog run and crow, it was obvious that he was getting distressed being on his own. Having the dogs charging out and barking at him every time I opened the back door probably wasn’t helping either but they’d done that with the ducks to start with so I knew that would stop in a couple of days when they were used to him being there.

The next morning I was woken up at 5am by him crowing and when I left for work at 8am he was still crowing. It had been pretty much constant for the whole 3 hours and I knew I had to do something to settle him down and de stress him, so after my first dog walk I gave in and headed to the local hatchery.

I have visited this particular hatchery many times in the last 15 years. They breed and hatch all types of domestic fowl and stock everything you need to house and take care of them. They’re where I bought some of my first chickens and where I always go for any advice I need with regards to any of the birds we’ve kept over the years. When I got there I told them my predicament and mentioned the black Velcro that had been around his neck. They said that people do that to them to try and stop them crowing, but it rarely works it’s just cruel. They asked what sort of chickens I wanted and I just said that ‘I don’t need fancy breeds, I don’t care about egg production, I just want hens that are big enough to live with him so that he’s got company and I preferably want to buy the right amount of hens now that already live together so I don’t have all the stress of introductions’.

They took me over to a pen that housed several chickens that had been handed into them because their owners no longer wanted them. They said that all of these needed to be rehomed so I was welcome to take the four biggest hens out of there, we picked out my 4 new rescue hens and I headed home to introduce them to their new beau.

I put them in the kennel with him, changed their water, topped up their food and left them to settle in while I did my next dog walk. Kev was home and on hand if they had to be separated again for any reason but when I got back they were all fine and the cockerel had finally shut up. I let the dogs out and they went running to the kennel barking again but this time the cockerel had his girls to protect and he tried to attack the dogs through the kennel mesh. The dogs absolutely shit themselves and have pretty much left them alone since. They’re still interested and like to look in and watch them though.

After settling our new birds in I found out from our neighbour that a Fox had broken into her coop the previous night and killed all of her chickens. Obviously ours are in kennels and runs that had kept our dogs securely inside for years, so you’d think that if they could keep our dogs in then surely they would keep foxes out and Mr/Mrs Fox would have to be pretty dumb to come into a garden that smelt of all of the dogs, but we decided not to take the risk. That afternoon I set about fox proofing the kennels. I did the half that the chickens would be shut in over night and then I left the rest until I had more time at the weekend because funnily enough none of this was planned into my working week and wasn’t something I really had time for.

I completed the fencing over the weekend and now hopefully have a fully secure, safe home for our newest additions. As much as they’re not something I wanted and would have preferred not to have to go through all of that last week, I’m actually really enjoying having them. I love hearing the cockerel crow now and the girls are so friendly they were all over my lap while I was doing the fencing. I’ve also already had some lovely eggs from them so they’re obviously happy to be here as well