The first sign that something wasn’t right happened at puppy school. Roxy was irritated, anxious. Despite loving puppy school, she did not want to be there. She was disruptive and did not care about any of the treats we desperately offered.
We made a decision to leave early. 5 minutes into the car ride home, Roxy had an episode of explosive, stinky diarrhea in the back of the car.
It took days to clean up properly. I rescheduled the WOF that I’d booked for the next day. Over the next few nights, Roxy would wake me up hourly between 1 and 4am to go take a poo.
I was worried. During the day she was fine, but at night she had the runs.
At first, we struggled to put our finger on it, but then a conversation with a workmate led us to the cause.
You see, we’d also noticed a drop in the number of eggs we were collecting from our chickens. My co-worker put two and two together and told me that Roxy was eating eggs, and the eggs were giving her the trots.
An egg a day for a dog is OK. However it turns out that several eggs will produce a laxative effect in the canine digestive system.
We started by trying a dog repellant to keep her out of the laying spots. It’s a synthesized skunk-scented paste. It made me want to vomit while I was applying it around the entrances to the coop and laying box. Hours after putting it away, I could recall the scent so viscerally that it made me gag. But it was not enough to deter Roxy. She practically waited under the chook’s bum for the tasty treats to be dispensed.
The chickens – clearly unhappy about this – began rebelling by laying in patches of long grass. Meaning Roxy began finding entire caches of eggs – albeit less regularly.
We started looking to contain the chickens. It makes sense for other reasons as well: it would stop them walking into the cabin and raiding the cat biscuits. And it meant I could get on with making some long-planned gardens without the threat of them being completely turned over within hours.
But to contain the chooks, we’d need to free up some resources from other areas. We were working on it, but slowly. A few less eggs wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world either.
And then I came home from work last Sunday. I saw Richard and he looked… terrible. I asked what was wrong. He broke the news that Roxy had killed our favourite chicken, Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga was our favourite in part because she was really docile. She’d freeze when you stood over her. Unfortunately, Roxy had figured this out and it didn’t end well.
It’s a horrible feeling: your dog being a chicken-killer. Ceasing to love and care for the dog is not an option. Love and care is how you get a good dog long-term. She’s just gone 5 months old. She wasn’t violent per se – we think Lady Gaga died of fright when Roxy licked her to death – but it’s clear Roxy will take advantage of the situation, if the situation arises.
Fencing an area off for the chooks became a very high priority.
A truly flat piece of land is hard to come by around here, so we built a level platform for the coop. We dismantled the very secure (but severely rotting) climbing frame we grew luffa on last year to make space. Their new area includes a huge ball of mulch I still haven’t finished using, and still cannot move.
We fenced it off with a 50m poultry net. The first day, three chickens escaped. We clipped some wings and set up a solar electric charger. Jacinda is still getting out, but she has always been wickedly smart and cunning.
I feel bad for fencing them up. The area is very boring, but it’s what we could do quickly. Even though they sometimes stole my snacks right out of my hand, frequently dug up my gardens, and never missed an opportunity to steal the cat biscuits, I really loved having free-range chickens.
The spot they’re in at the moment is temporary. We have to find somewhere better long-term and set up a safer area for them. It’s clear Roxy can’t be trusted with poultry, so the ducks will ultimately move down to the orchard as well.
On Monday, we purchased a pōhutukawa tree to bury Lady Gaga under. We placed her at the top of the hill, on her favourite scratching spot.
Roxy has had much less free-reign this week. If she’s outside, she’s with us. Or she’s in her ‘house’ under the cabin. She got in a lot of trouble and she knew we weren’t happy with her. There’s been a noticeable improvement to the amount of mischief she’s been getting into.
I’m still sad to have lost my favourite chicken and not convinced any of the new girls are going to be as friendly. But I’m slightly comforted by the fact our egg supply has improved, and greatly comforted by the fact they’re safe.
Next year about this time, the pōhutukawa should be in bloom, and I’ll remember our favourite chicken and the egg thief.