If you’re thinking about keeping chickens in your backyard, one thing is certain – you’ve obviously got plenty of space to manage in your patch of the outdoors! And that’s great, seeing as letting all of it go to waste by solely keeping plantlife would truly be a sorry state of affairs.
Why not then, populate the yard with a bunch of animals? Naturally, chickens are a great choice. But these feathered cuties are rarely anyone’s first choice of animal companion. Before people think about keeping chickens, usually they’ve already got something more common – like cats and dogs.
So, the question is – is it possible to reconcile the different species? Dogs and cats live with each other quite commonly, though it’s widely known that there’s some infighting there as well. But is keeping chickens alongside cats and dogs possible?
Can You Do It?
Let’s get one thing out of the way pretty quickly:
Keeping chickens alongside cats and dogs is indeed possible. With some concerted effort you can certainly train other pets to go along with chickens. Cats are typically less aggressive than dogs around chickens, however both can be trained and conditioned such that they can safely co-exist with poultry.
Keeping Cats And Chickens
If you want to get your chickens to get along with cats, there are a couple of things you’ll need. Most importantly there’s no substitute for good old fashioned patience, meticulous supervision and a lot of training. Really, this process is pretty similar for any domesticated animal and chickens.
So, the first thing you need to remember is – cats are pretty curious creatures. Their inquisitive nature is not that different from the chickens in this regard; but obviously, in a tussle between the two, cats will have a greater advantage. That’s why you’ll need to train it to live in peace with chickens.
Where To Begin
As mentioned above, cats are pretty curious, so for a cat that’s never seen a chicken before, the sight of an entire coop will definitely be interesting to say the least.
Note therefore that trying to completely separate them would be a waste of your time. The more you try to keep cats away from something, the more they’ll be keen on investigating what it is. That’s why you should focus on making the chickens an everyday part of the cat’s life, and not some forbidden fruit they’ll constantly try to get at while you’re not looking.
Start With A Mesh Fence
With the abovementioned in mind, the introduction of your chickens to the cat (and vice versa) is something you need to do gradually. And make no mistake – the first time the cat sees your chickens, it will attempt to hunt them. It’s not the cat’s fault, nor does it mean it’s a particularly nasty feline; this is simply a part of its natural hunting instinct.
Once this instinct comes into play, the only thing you can do is contain it. If you see the cat arching, or hissing aggressively, separate it for the moment, giving it ‘time out’ from its new found point of interest. At this point, you need to make sure the cat realizes everything is okay, and that you’re bringing it food, so that there is no need for it to act on its hunter instincts.
Give the cat its favorite squeaky toy, or buy it one if you haven’t got it already. It’s important for the cat to have something to chew on and bother; even if it’s made of plastic. Then, give them a nice stroke, or a scratch behind their ears, whatever usually subdues them.
This will go a long way towards soothing their predatory instincts. Do this for a while, ideally a couple of weeks. Careful supervision will be required while the cat grows to view the chickens as more than mere prey. But rest assured, in no time at all, they’ll start behaving like proper household felines!
Face to Face Time
Once you’ve spent some time carefully introducing the two species through a fence, it’s time to try putting them face to face with less protection. When you believe that your feline is prepared for a less controlled environment, take one of the tiny chickens from the coop.
Next, proceed to gently hold it near the cat, just to see its initial reaction. Crucially, you don’t want them to interact without any supervision just yet. Don’t release your control over the chicken right away; observe what the cat’s next move will be. Hold the chicken close, so that the cat can have a nice long look.
If you spot no unsavory moves made by the cat, and if it doesn’t seem phased by the chicken’s presence – you’ll know that it’s safe to move further into training the cat to living with the chickens.
And if you see that the cat is still behaving in a predatory manner even a little bit; make sure to scold it! The cat needs to know that such behavior is completely unacceptable. Once the cat stops being intrigued by having a chicken nearby – you’ll know that you’re almost there with the integration process.
Let Them Mingle
Finally, once you’re comfortable with your chickens roaming freely around alongside the cat – it’s time to let them hang out in the backyard together! Though at the beginning at least, you’ll still only want to do this for short periods of time, not indefinitely. And remember – some supervision will still be needed.
Cast a careful eye over the proceedings. Once both the chickens and the cat are free, you may want to give the cat some of its toys again. Before the cat is fully trained to respect chickens, it’s good for it to have a distraction that it’s used to chewing on and playing with.
And when you’re confident that the cat won’t bother the flock in any way – you can finally leave them to their own devices in the yard!
Keeping Dogs And Chickens Together
Now that we’ve gone over what you need to know about keeping cats with chickens; we’ll have a look at the process of socializing dogs with the chickens as well.
Knowing The Breed
Unlike cats, the success you’ll have getting your dog to interact favorably with your hens is entirely dependant on the dog’s breed. In fact, a dog’s breed can inform you on how it will behave with small animals in general.
So, the first thing to do is make sure you read up on the dog’s breed; specifically, you want to know what purpose it has been nurtured for over the centuries. For example If you’ve got a Border Collie, or another type of herding-bred dog; it will behave more amicably right from the start.
On the other hand, a hunting dog like a Golden Retriever will be a lot harder to adjust to smaller animals around it. Indeed, understanding the baseline, inherent temperament of your dog will tell you a lot about how easily it will get along with the chickens.
If you’ve determined that your dog is of a breed that can safely coexist with the coop; the next thing to do is to work on introducing them. Now, the precise logistics of this will depend on your dog’s age.
If you get a puppy and bring it into a household that already has chickens; you can start working on introductions right away. But if it’s vice versa, and you’ve got a dog before you’ve started your coop; additional work will be required. Primarily, you need to test whether your dog will react to the sight of chickens in a predatory manner.
The best strategy is to begin by providing both species with limited mutual exposure, just like with cats; working your way up to unsupervised direct contact in the yard.
At first, walk your dog on a leash, and spend some time in the yard. Naturally, you will have to keep your distance from the chickens at first.
Pay careful attention to the smallest details in the dog’s reaction to the sight of chickens. Does its gaze lock onto the chickens? Or does it just shrug off their presence, sniff the nearby air and take its attention elsewhere? Obviously, the latter is what you really want to see before you trust the dog not to attack the chickens.
Should the dog exhibit any signs of predatory traits towards the chickens, like tugging at its leash, growling, barking and fixating on them; it’s time to end that session and try one again later.
Bear in mind that dogs can be much harder to tame when it comes to hunting than cats. So, if you see your dog wanting to chase the flock, and you find that you’re unable to deter them, even after repeatedly trying – you may need to find it a professional trainer for this purpose.
On the other hand, if the dog only shows mild signs of interest in the hens, that’s probably something you can work on yourself. In that case, let the dog get to know them gradually – spend some time with all of them in the enclosure. As the dog gets used to their scent, it’ll start treating the chickens as friends and not prey.
In time they may even developing a protective instinct for the chickens, which can prove extremely useful, especially if you know there are potential threats like foxes and other predatory animals are lurking in the background.