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Herding chickens?

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My dream of owning a ranch is still out of reach but I've considered raising chickens to herd in the mean time. Does anyone else have experience?

I'd plan on keeping 4 chickens and and allowing them to explore the backyard during the day (I work from home). My plan would be to have the dogs move the chickens around the backyard gently as well as encourage them into their coop at night. My border collies have worked sheep and a little bit of cattle, know their manners around livestock, etc.

If this is a good idea - is there a preferred breed of chicken?

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Chickens don't flock like some animals and that puts some dogs off.

My experience with backyard chickens varied. One dog was amazing with chickens, and he worked them much more gently than he did sheep. That made it easy to fine tune his work and teach him new things because he was very keen but could also be tough and if he'd get frustrated with the sheep would have a tendency to grip. We had 5 hens and 1 rooster, who was the devil incarnate. He'd attack anything and everything. Mirk didn't put up with much from the sheep but would allow the rooster to attack him exactly 4 times without disciplining him. The 5th time though he'd grab the rooster and gently mouth him, never causing the least harm except perhaps the the rooster's ego.

Another dog, who was far easier to work on sheep, tried the chickens a time or 2. When they didn't react like the sheep did and just scattered rather than flocking she'd stand in the middle of them, turn and give me a very distinct WTF look and walk away. Couldn't convince her they were worth her time.

I don't think it was simply a matter of power; although different, neither dog had any difficulty controlling sheep. But one was respected by the chickens and would move wherever the dog wanted them to go while they really didn't pay much attention to the other.  

I've only had Rhode Island reds so have no insight into whether there'd be a difference.

Border collies are often used to herd ducks, geese and even turkeys, though I have no experience with these. Got either some ducklings or goslings (I think the latter) with the intention of using them for some backyard training but got rid of them after 3 days or so. Filthy things that I really didn't want to raise in my smallish back yard and they'd have been fox bait at the pasture.

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Gentle Lake,

Thanks for the feedback, greatly appreciated.

I've heard the same about ducks and have avoided researching further based upon similar feedback.

Another option I'm considering is guinea hens although I've heard they are loud and may not be suitable for a neighborhood although they mow through bugs and flock well like sheep.

Has anyone raised guinea hens?

I laughed out loud at your description of your rooster. I don't plan on raising further chickens would like to avoid the hassle of a rooster where possible!

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Chickens don't herd well. If they don't feel like going and they can't out maneuver the dog, they will fly. If they want to go to a certain place but just need a little help going far enough to find the edge of the fence and get around the corner, a dog works great. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

You should reconsider ducks.   Yes, they are messy, but most of the mess is confined to wherever you keep their water.  Ducks don't need to have a swimming pool.  For a small flock of maybe a half dozen ducks, one of those rectangular feed pans that are about 1.5 ft X 2 ft X 0 .5 ft deep is plenty as long as you change the water daily.  You can reduce the mess quite a bit if you cover an area around the water pan with coarse gravel.  There will still be a mess but it's not like you have to turn your whole yard into a mud pit.    I recommend khaki campbell ducks if you want eggs.  Domestic mallards are also nice (make sure they are the small mallards, and not the big rouen ducks that look like mallards but are a larger meat breed.) Smaller sized ducks move more readily and eat less.  Runner ducks and runner crosses are popular but I don't like them for dog training and I don't understand their popularity at all.   The biggest problem with ducks is that the males are serial rapist and will harass females mercilessly during breeding season.  Having an all male flock is not the answer, because they will just gang up on the weakest male if there are no hens available.   An all female flock is better, but then you have to deal with eggs.  I rinse them off, and store them in a zip lock bag in the freezer.  They will crack as they freeze, but I just cut them in half while still frozen and add a half egg-sickle (including shell) to my dogs' dinners.   The dogs love the eggs, and I feel like I'm getting a little something back for the cost of the duck feed.

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Another vote for ducks.  The water mess can be solved with a little creativity.  We think the eggs are delicious, and ducks often lay better than chickens.  They definitely do flock and are much easier to control than chickens.

You want one of the lightweight or mediumweight breeds.  These are too heavy to fly, but are still mobile enough to give a little challenge for the dog.  Wild-type mallards are classified as a bantam breed, and all bantam breeds are fair to excellent fliers.  Muscovy ducks are an entirely different species, and behave very differently than other domestic ducks.

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