Animal Instinct

Reader Contribution by Brenda Arthur
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I knew Betty Turkey would try to hide her poults if I let her out of the coop – but I did it anyway hoping that by keeping her penned for a week after they hatched she would keep them in the barnyard. Those little poults are nearly impossible to see when out on the ground. I guess nature made them blend in so prey wouldn’t easily spot them. Not only do they blend in with the ground – they don’t all huddle together like chicks do, they are scattered around. They become very still – not moving or making a sound when you get near. I am afraid I will step on one! Well, just as I feared, Betty made it outside the pasture fence with all seven. Took us about an hour to usher her and the chicks back inside and corral them into the coop. We will be repurposing an 8-foot dog kennel lined with hardware cloth for an outside run for them later this week – there they will stay until they are big enough to at least see and to be able to fly from predators when out in the grass.

And there’s Barney and Rosie – our Great Pyrenees pups (they are now a year old). We allowed the pups to be with the cows while they were in the barnyard and to mingle with the chickens ever since we got them at about 8 weeks old. Early this spring they were big enough to go out to the pasture with the cows. It was so cute seeing them out there napping with the cows while the cows lay chewing their cud. Problem was, they still acted like puppies at times and wanted to chase the newest cow. We felt it best to separate them from the cows after Patty was born the first of May. Now that Patty is nearing 2 months old, we have let the pups back out with the cows. Patty, though, likes to play chase with the pups!

We have finally started letting the pups outside all night with the livestock and they seem to be enjoying being able to do the job they are meant to do – guard the livestock! It is pretty cool listening to them at night. Rosie stays up at the barn with the animals and Barney heads to the middle pasture. I can hear them checking in with each other. One will give a few quick barks then I hear the other answer. It’s as if they are saying, “all is good on my end – how’s yours looking?” Yes, I would like to sleep all night without the barking – but it is getting less each night and I do feel more secure knowing they are out there warning away predators of all kinds! Hopefully my neighbors appreciate their work as well!

Maggie, our Border Collie mix, grew up in the city with us before we moved to the country. She never had a chance to do her natural job – herding. It was so much fun when we got our first chickens a few years back watching her go to work. She knew she was supposed to herd them – she just didn’t know where to herd them to! She would move those chicks all around the yard to no place in particular – just move them!

Jack, our Rat Terrier mix, also grew up in the city with us, but once we got to the country his instincts quickly kicked in and he became an ace mole catcher (actually any small animal that burrows). Our friends have often commented that they need to borrow him to rid their yards of moles!

How do animals know to do what they do? We didn’t train any of the dogs to do what they do! How do they know instinctively to separate to guard against predators? Dig for moles? Herd other animals? Obviously we didn’t train Betty Turkey to move her chicks, but we knew that’s what she would do since her mamma did the same thing, and she and most of her babies died because of it. Knowing that is their instinct we tried to undo it by keeping her penned for a while – but it didn’t work – her instinct is just too strong.

I guess there is a lesson here – know what an animals natural instincts are before you get them. For us it has worked out beautifully as all our farm dogs were rescues except for Barney and Rosie. All of our dogs have a job – one that is natural and instinctive to them and they each do a fine job!

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