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.

chickens and dogs

Chickens and dogs: is your flock in danger?

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.

Listen Lissa - chickens and dogs

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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.

Earl Handy August 23rd, 2013

Personally if I caught a dog on my property endangering my chickens, it would be the last thing the dog does. While I love just about all animals, if it comes to a choice between my pet chickens and someone else’s pet dog , my chickens will win every time. Dogs, once they get a taste of chickens, will keep coming back for more.This means the dog has to be removed from the area or killed. You can warn your neighbor but when all is said and done I will kill the dog to protect my birds!

Steve Carrington August 23rd, 2013

I just lost 5 guinea to the neighbors border collie I told them about it and they shot ths dog and I only wanted them to tie it up we felt terrible. I live in southern ohio

Kathleen Smith August 23rd, 2013

How timely! I came home from work Wednesday to find that a dog or dogs had come through my yard, mauled two hens, and made off with my rooster. I called the town police, which I do every time dogs come into my yard. They told me they couldn’t do anything because our contract with another parish’s animal shelter had expired and they had no way to track down the dog(s). I could pay for that, if I wanted to, the police person said.

We have a leash law, but I don’t know what good that does me. I don’t think I should have to fence my yard to keep out other people’s animals, and I shouldn’t constantly worry that my chickens (penned, no less) will be slaughtered because someone else is too lazy/incompetant/unaware of his/her animal’s whereabouts.

I live in the middle of a small town, two doors down from the police station, and I can’t get them to do their jobs. I’m thinking of posting a sign in my front yard–“A dog in YOUR yard is a pet; a dog in MY yard is a threat. I am not responsible for what happens to your dog if I catch it in my yard.” Really, I don’t know what to do at this point.

Paula August 23rd, 2013

I have many dogs in our neighborhood, and my solution is electric fence around the enclosure, about 8-10″ off the ground, encircling the entire run. I have to step over it at the gate to get in and out, but it works. I know this because I have heard one of the neighbor’s dogs that frequently gets loose YELP when he encountered it one evening after dark. He learned quickly, as did the coons and other various varmints from the woods, not to mess with my birds! It startles them, but does no lasting damage. They sell installation supplies at Tractor Supply or probably any feed store. Good luck, and sorry about losing your birds.

Sondra Gibson August 23rd, 2013

I like the electric fence solution. If done right it will even keep out bears. Check your local laws before taking action against a neighbors dog. Where I live if a dog kills your birds (or rabbits) the owner is responsible for the damages. However you only have the right to shoot the dog if it is harassing or killin hoofed livestock. And really, it’s true that good fences make good neighbors. I would NEVER attempt to keep chickens without having my yard fenced. That’s your first line of protection. The second is your coop and run.

Mary McPheron August 23rd, 2013

My heart is aching as I have intruders from the sky. The large Cooper Hawk is eating my chickens as they leisurely enjoy being somewhat free to scratch and eat. One can put up an electric fence. what can one do to prevent the raptors from eating our chickens. I think it is illegal to kill the killer. Help

Danelle McNeece August 23rd, 2013

I am sorry for your loss!! I have had issues with coons, and the lastest, a dog who has killed, over time, 3 guineas, a couple of ducks, and well over a dozen hens. It is devastating!! We managed to catch the coon, easily and had no more issues with him, but as for the dog/dogs? I can not catch them in the ‘act’, the owners let them loose at night or very early in the morning and I have yet to catch them which makes it quite difficult to get compensated for the losses. I have not proof other than paw prints, dead birds, and seen, only from a distance, the dog/dogs. It is very frustrating!! I do like the electric fence idea and will be doing this!!!!

Paul August 23rd, 2013

I lost about 20 chickens some months back. I live in Tennessee. I had the sheriff come out and they found the dogs responsible (my wife came home in the midst of the carnage and took photos of the dogs inside my electric fence). Because of the photos, it was a slam-dunk so I just went on craigslist, found similar breeds in my area and used that as a price-point. I just copied and pasted these onto a list and gave it to the court. About 2 weeks later I had a check for my losses.

Cathy Eddy August 23rd, 2013

There are insurance tables available on the web to help you calculate the worth of your chickens if they are killed. I lost over 20 chicks and laying hens to a neighbors dog who escaped his fence and I used this table to produce a bill to present to the dog’s owner.

Lissa August 23rd, 2013

That’s a good idea, but I have to admit I wonder whether those tables would be accurate for rare breeds, and I can’t imagine they could accurately calculate damage to a coop or run (given how different pet chicken coops can be from one another!) They might be very useful for common breeds, though. Do you have a link?

Sandy August 23rd, 2013

How awful for you! I wonder, though, about the loss of the eggs themselves? Would that be considered part of the “damages?” In our area, farm fresh eggs cost upwards of $3.50 per dozen. Losing a dozen chickens would be 6-7 dozen eggs per week, and if you purchase chicks that would be another $500. or so in eggs (lost income) in addition to feed and the chicks until they are laying. Additionally, I would think that the dog owner should bear the cost of reinforcing the coop. I have a coop with a shingled roof, hardware cloth, 2″x3″ construction, and lots of nails and staples holding the cloth. We also reinforced the bottom of the coop with large rocks so nothing can burrow underneath. Why? Dogs all over the place here! So far, so good. Hope it all works out.

Cindy August 23rd, 2013

I too, have had issues over the years with foxes, coyotes, raccoons, hawks and dogs. My coops and outside runs are ‘bullet’ proof, but my 50 ‘pet’ silkies and various laying hens are free to roam throughout the day. I was willing to sacrifice occasional losses for the freedom my chickens thrive upon. However, my best protection to date has been a DOG! My pyrenees/lab rescue spends much of his day with his ‘flock’. While Brutus’s occasional barking can be annoying, he does not tolerate predators near his ‘charges’ and between his bark and his large presence, it has been a safe and uneventful summer. He was adopted as a rescue at the age of 4, but quickly learned his role as guardian and protector. Just thought I should pay homage to the few canines who protect our featherbabies!

Jill August 23rd, 2013

It’s awful that your chickens were killed, but even the idea of putting down a dog is horrifying. Chasing and even biting chickens is normal dog behavior. It doesn’t mean the dog is vicious.

The financial loss of a dog is far more significant than $50 or $100. My dog cost $500 as a puppy, plus the spay ($900) and vaccines, vet bills over the years, etc adds up to $5000 to replace her financially. She couldn’t be replaced as a member of our family.

Perhaps you could work with the dog’s owner to acquaint the animals. I know my own dog will chase cats until she is introduced (then she’ll be friends with the cat). Dogs can be trained to tolerate chickens too.

Lissa August 23rd, 2013

I agree—the thought of the loss of any pet is horrifying. But suggesting that the relative financial loss of a pet should mean it’s okay for an expensive pet to kill or injure another less costly pet is a wrong way to think. As you pointed out, your dog couldn’t be replaced as a member of your family. If you assert that the cost of a pet-killing animal is a defense, that means that a purebred dog that was purchased for $500 could kill an equally beloved canine who was “free to a good home,” or one that was rescued from the pound or the streets. Most reasonable people would agree that mutts and rescues can be just as loved and valued as purebred dogs can be. Should your $500 dog be permitted to be killed by another dog that cost, say, $1500? Of course not. That line of reasoning just doesn’t make any sense.
That said, talking (or attempting to talk) to the dog’s owner should always be the first step. But if the owner turns out to be someone who thinks your pets have little or no value because they cost less money—that because their pet originally cost more to adopt, you should accept that it’s okay for your pets to be killed or regularly chased and worried—it’s probably time to contact animal control and find out what they recommend for pet-killing animals.

April Kincaid August 23rd, 2013

There would be no way for me to calculate the cost of damages. My hens are family. I would be devastated. There is no replacing each individual personality. Who even cares about the loss of eggs, it’s the loss of their little lives that I could never get over. We had a pit bull come on our property and we lost three hens. Bought a shotgun after that, tracked down the neighbor, called the SPCA and wrote a letter to the neighbors saying the next time we saw their dog on our property it would not be coming home. They moved shortly after that. Not because of us, but foreclosure. Thank god. Still traumatized from the experience. I think we should be able to take the owners to court for our pain and suffering. One million. Thank you.

Phyllis August 23rd, 2013

I too raise chickens. Also have four cats and two dogs. All of them roam in the yard together. It has gone well. Except for with the neighbor’s dogs. They got out of their yarn on June 26 and killed 33 of my laying hens. MAD YES ! Send her a list of the hens and prices to replay each (with layer of the same breeds) Right away she paid me for three. And that has been all. These hens ranged from 18.00 to 20.00 each from the Breeders I have always bought from.
Where I go from here I am not sure. In VA we do have laws that you are to keep your dogs on your own property. Don’t want to get nasty about it but feel I am at that point.
Sorry for your lose and hope you get some payment .

Quack Chick August 24th, 2013

This strikes very close to home. We have had repeated intrusions over the years, and lost a few chickens. I resorted to writing a letter to one of the dog owners, making my intentions very clear: namely that I would contact the police and SPCA and that she would be fined for repeatedly letting her dog roam leash-free and trespassing on others’ properties. I never saw the dog roaming again!

When forced to call the SPCA to handle the blue/grey pitbull in my yard, they explained that the dog would be put to sleep if I pressed charges. It was the last thing I wanted, so I asked that they just hold it in custody until the owner came home. I know him to be a responsible pet owner and took my own measures in adding plenty of wire and netting so as to prevent him from ever making it into my property again. This measure has proven helpful in keeping the majority of predators away.

I cannot blame a dog or any animal for its nature. I can only blame an irresponsible owner. It is unfair to all involved that anything of the sort should be happening.

deb August 24th, 2013

There are red eye preditor lights for the all the other predators including the flying ones

Crystal September 24th, 2013

My rooster has attacked about all the neighborhood dogs.They stay clear of him.He is a barred Rock named Elvis.

Ginny November 28th, 2013

Thank-you, tonight our new neighbor’s bird dog killed 2 of my grandson’s therapy chickens. My grandson has autism and the chicken’s have been amazing therapy for him plus they provide him organic, soy free eggs, one of the few things he can eat. I have never seen organic hens for sale, so I was going to base the damages on the loss of the eggs from the hens, this seems to be a lot but what is the cost of therapy? These are also 4-H projects and he is so proud of his chickens for getting blue ribbons at our county fair. Thank-you also for the links, WV, has some very tough laws, I want to be fair but need to cover our loss also and make sure to the neighbor this can not happen again. He kept saying the fence was in good repair which it is not and has not been for years, they just bought the place. By law, I have to report this and the sheriff could come out and kill the dog, don’t want that to happen either. Thank-you

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