Chickens and dogs (Listen Lissa) August 23, 2013
Chickens and dogs: they don’t naturally get along. A reader writes to “Listen Lissa,” asking how to handle the loss of her chickens to a neighbor’s dogs:
My neighbors’ dog gets out of their house a lot. Twice he got into my enclosed chicken yard and has now killed half of my hens. How do I calculate the worth of those hens? They are 2 years old and were laying jumbo sized eggs. The hens that are left seem to be so traumatized that I’m not getting eggs anymore. Not only am I horrified by what happened but I’m also eggless.
First of all, please accept my sympathies as to the loss of your birds! It’s terrible to lose pets, certainly beyond any financial costs of your loss.
As to how to calculate your losses, much may depend on where you live. In most areas, owners must keep dogs leashed or fenced, and are legally and financially responsible for any damage done by dogs that escape or are not properly confined. Legal consequences vary, though, so be sure to check your local laws. For instance, some areas will require that a pet-killing dog be put down. In other areas, chickens are considered to be “only livestock” rather than pets… but dogs that kill livestock often fare no better. In West Virginia (at the time of this writing), dogs that kill poultry can be shot by the local sheriff, or by you if you catch them in the process and are acting to save your flock (view details of WV dog laws). But in most people wouldn’t want to do any such thing, unless there was no alternative. I’m not particularly a dog person, but I like dogs, even if I don’t want to worry of having to house train one of my own. (It depends on your set-up, of course, but chickens are often like cats: with a little preparation, you can usually leave them alone for several days with no worries.) But even though I’m not a dog person, and even though the law says it’s okay, I’d never want to be in the position of having to kill one! I think most people probably feel the same way, even where it’s legal. I hope if I’m ever in that situation, there would be some other alternative for me to be able to save my flock.
That’s all peripheral to your question, of course, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to encourage a thoughtful, considered response, no matter what your local laws allow.
To your question: When your chickens have been killed by dogs, it will depend on your local laws as to what the dog’s owner is responsible for. In most cases, they will have to reimburse you for any damage the dogs caused to your coop and run, as well as reimburse you for the loss the pet chickens that were killed. That’s the case in my state… and where the owner of the dog can’t be ascertained, it’s sometimes possible to apply for compensation from the county. (I’ve never heard of this being done, but it doubtless has.)
As to specific costs, again, be sure to be familiar with local laws, which might specify what costs can be recovered. In West Virginia, the law currently just states that “damages” can be recovered. If you had rare show or heritage breeds, the replacement cost can be substantial, even though most baby chicks cost a few dollars each. Some rare breed chicks cost more. We have seen some exceedingly rare imported varieties sell for as much as $40 PER CHICK. When it comes to estimating the value of adult birds, for example, we wouldn’t expect the rarest breeds and varieties of juveniles to sell for less than $100 each (including shipping). Other heritage breeds that are not quite as rare may sell for half that. Even relatively common breeds kept just for egg laying might be as much as $50 each to replace, if they must be ordered—less if you can find them locally. Consider that if you start with chicks, you will also have to account for the cost of feeding them until they are old enough to begin laying. Further, you may need to erect special quarantine facilities when you buy adult birds, or at the very least you will have to have a special set up so you can introduce your new birds to the rest of your flock in a safe way. If your entire flock was killed, you may not need a special set up to keep them separated… but you will be forced to buy eggs elsewhere until your new birds begin laying, or simply go without. If you sell your eggs, you might be entitled to loss of income as well.
Be sure to account for all these costs if you have experienced a dog attack and are calculating reimbursement. In some cases it may be helpful to retain a lawyer to ensure you are remunerated fairly according to the laws in your state, and that the owners of the dog are held accountable for the loss of your pets and any damage their animals caused to your property.
Again, I’m so sorry to hear you lost your birds. Losses are normally the fault of the dog owner (not the dog; dogs are just doing what their instinct tells them and what their owners allow them to do). Even so, when you love your pet chickens, it’s best to be proactive with securing your coop and run.
To reconstruct your run and keep your flock safe from dogs in the future, make sure any wire mesh on your coop is securely attached, because dogs can easily push through areas that are not firmly attached. Many dogs can jump low fences to your run, and some determined dogs can jump or even climb very high fences to get to your birds. Don’t use chicken wire for your coop or run: chicken wire is not a barrier to predators. Dogs and other predators can tear right through it like tissue paper. Instead, welded wire mesh (like hardware “cloth,” with 1/2 or 1/4 inch openings) is strong and secure, and can keep your flock safe from dogs.
Has anyone else had to deal with a situation between chickens and dogs? Were you fairly compensated? What are the laws like in your neck of the woods? Please share in the comments.