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Sunday, May 19 2019
The Twelve Labors of Hercules

It has been firmly established around here that dusk marks the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse. Everyone on the lower
rung on the Food Chain needs to be locked up or have a Livestock Guardian Dog, or both. The dogs pretty much keep my close
encounters with skunks, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, and the occasional cougar, to a minimum, but snakes are another matter
entirely. We used to live by the policy that all copperheads and rattlesnakes met an early demise, but rat snakes in the
barnyard were relocated. This policy bit us in the arse when we discovered that large rat snakes not only eat eggs, but
will also kill guineas and chickens in their misguided attempts to eat something woefully too large for them. This makes
for wasted birds and pissed off farmers. We amended our relocation policy. 

Since once they are locked inside the coops for the night the birds are pretty safe, we added Chicken Wrangling to the
list of evening chores. The problem is that I'm ready to get things locked up for the night long before the chickens are
ready to go to bed. If I wait too late to lock things up I run the risk of stepping on a copperhead, or finding a rat
snake already inside the chicken coop. That's where the Border Collies come in. 

I've heard it said that an adult Border Collie is as smart as a 3 year old human child. As a retired police officer, I can
assure you, an adult Border Collie is smarter than many 33 year old humans. That said, I've found that teaching a Border
Collie to herd chickens is really just a matter of having a dog that wants to help you, and communicating that you need
help with a task. A well-bred Border Collie should already have work ethic, so scratch that off the list. You should already have that.

Communication is the biggest issue. I'm a dog trainer, but as a herding dog trainer, I still suck - mainly because I'm too
poor and too far away from a real trainer that can train me. That said, I don't let it hold me back. And neither should you. My
dogs don't know that I don't know how to properly teach flanking, but they always want to help, and that's half the
battle. I present the chore at hand (one of the twelve labors of Hercules) and I give them a well-timed "good dog" when
they do what I want. Over time we shape the behaviors. The communication starts with a foundation of trust. I trust that
they really do want to help me, and they're trying their best, and they trust that I'm fair and that I'll guide them through
the steps of a task until we're both on the same page. That system works pretty well for most of what I need done around
here. It ain't always pretty but the job gets done. 

We have three chicken coops. All birds free range during the day and then are locked in their assigned coop at night. 
The adult chickens are easy. For the most part they cooperate because Mesa has already trained them that resistance is
futile. The twelve juvenile gray birds are another matter entirely. If you have ever seen the movie "Kindergarten Cop"
with Arnold Schwarzenegger then you get the idea. Every evening this group of half-grown nitwits splits and runs in twelve
different directions, none of which is aimed at their coop. Enter Border Collies. Two. You need two. One is not enough.
This chore has been a good learning exercise for Wyatt. He has to balance off me or Mesa, not get frustrated, not go too
fast, not get sticky, and be ready to try it again, and again, and again. 

The chickens don't make it easy. They hide in the sunflowers. They hide in the roses. They run for the rocks by the old
homestead. In general they force a Border Collie to go every possible place a copperhead would be lurking at dusk. We've
tried doing it without the Border Collies. It is simply impossible and results in a unhealthy amount of cussing and a lust
for chicken salad. The Border Collies have the task down to five minutes - and they're getting faster. 

Last night we discovered that if you use board panels to make a flow gate the dogs can funnel the silly birds straight
into their pen. They still have to run around the yard flushing them out of sunflowers and roses, but at least once they
get them near the coop, the job is easier. I look forward to when these birds get old enough to pull out the roosters for
butchering. That should reduce the number by half. In the mean time, Mesa is always happy to work, and Wyatt gets more
practice honing his skills. The dogs make a irritating chore somewhat enjoyable because I do love watching a good stockdog
laugh in the face of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 02:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Love the border collie stories. How are Trace & Lilly coming along?
Posted by Elissa on 06/01/2019 - 05:38 PM

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