I think pretty much most people are aware of the fact that Australian Shepherds are herding dogs. I remember thinking about the time Pepper was three or four months old – as I watched her herd the kids around the yard – that she’d be a happy girl if she could herd some sheep or goats or cows in our yard! Yesterday, it occured to me that Pepper is – in fact – thrilled to be a chicken herder.
After all of the tales of woe I’ve read from folks who’ve had tragic ends when chickens and dogs intersect, I’ve been very cautious about Pepper’s access to the girls.
But Pepper is a very maternal girl. When Jake and Caleb (our cats) came to stay as orphaned 7 week old kittens, she was positive she was their Mom and would lay down, grab one of them between her paws, and then commence with a thorough washing. Funny thing is – now – our nearly 15 pound cats still let her do it! LOL! John mentioned to me that one day he found her doing the same thing to one of the big girls. My worry, of course, being she would think, “YUM!”
Well todayI decided that I’d cautiously observe Pepper’s interactions with now about 12 week old Henrietta, Hallie, and Millie.
As I sat at close proximity I was amazed to observe her quietly follow the girls around the yard. If they were to wander further than she felt comfortable with – she’d gently round them up and head them back closer to me. At one juncture Joe (the young racoon that seems to have adopted our family – horrors) peeked out of the bushes the girls were not terribly distant from – and Pepper tore off after him, barking like crazy. Her hackles didn’t settle down for quite some time afterwards and her watch was extra vigilent.
I have thus concluded: we have ourselves a chicken dog. And a darned good one, too. After a very successful several hours with the big girls, I had her babysit the little chicks (now nearly 5 weeks old) while I was transferring them from the baby pen back to the coop. I originally was going to take them straight from the baby pen to the coop, when one of the chicks that I was carrying managed to escape and start running around willy nilly. I then decided to put the other chick I was carrying into the finished side of the chicken yard, and Pepper then very obligingly plopped herself down on the unfinished side to keep an eye on the youngsters.
She was pretty torn (as you can see from the photo above) by the fact that one chick was out running around by itself, but her duty clearly lay in the growing flock of chicks to her side! She whined a lot! It actually took me quite a while to get that one escapee corralled and back to the coop – much to Pepper’s relief!
The big girls are always looking for duty to bathe in. I’ve put out DE, which they do to a certain extent, use to bathe in. But I could just about heir their sighs of joy when they discovered the dusty driveway! First they dusted, then they basked. They were nearly deliriously happy!
I found it really interesting that they felt no sense of danger from Jake and Caleb today. Both cats are pretty successful hunters – something that I really like about them. We have only seen DEAD rodents since they’ve come to live with us – just the way I like things! And though it pains me to admit it, they catch an occasional bird, too – I could just weep when they do – I love the birds so! So I’ve been quite concerned about interactions between the chicks and the cats.
Jake and Caleb were up on their elevated feeder munching away when the three big girls came their way. They watched the girls, but didn’t seem too interested, to be honest. Eventually Caleb jumped down and quietly went and sat to observe the girls more closely. Pepper sat and watched carefully – and I was prepared to intervene. Henrietta actually got nearly nose to beak with Caleb, and it was then that I realized, “The girls are taller than the cats now!” Henrietta – nearly simultaneous to that thought – reached out to peck at Caleb, who in turn made a bit of an injured pride squack, and hightailed it out of there! Wild! While I won’t relax my vigilence with them, I’m a little bit pleased that the girls – thus far – can hold their own with the cats.
I have to say, though, that today was tonic to my soul. Spring has definitely sprung – now if only it will warm up enough to actually stay! The lovely iris are beginning to bloom, and my peas are as well.
I love this time of year!