The BBYC would like to thank guest author Ben Petzinger for his keen insight into Idaho living.
by Ben Petzinger
Some live by the farmer's almanac, but there's
another reliable source for direction in rural Western Idaho called the
'code'. The code isn't written as it doesn't need words to direct
action, it's more common sense mixed with the reality of living with
chickens and dogs.
Growing up, we had chickens and lots of
spare land in Canyon County, a place I am proud to call home. Mom and
Dad expected us to gather eggs, feed, water and occasionally we even got
to test the theory that recently capped chickens really do run about as
beheaded feather balls. It's a grisly affair, but the code is part of
realizing where food comes from. The code also teaches you how to deal
with the untimely demise of poultry due to the blood lust of neighboring
Coyotes are always a risk with chickens, but with
robust coop security and nightly lock-downs, coyotes can be held at
abeyance. No one ignores a coyote on their property, but dogs on the
other hand can be a little more covert and inconspicuous to the novice
chicken coup patrolman/owner. It's the neighbor's dog that chicken
owners need to watch out for.
The code is clear about the hierarchy of
dogs vs. chickens, but it is only enforced when one of them is killed.
Having never seen a chicken "hen-peck" fido to death, I think this is a
one-sided hierarchy and rightly so. Chickens are no match to the blood
lust of a dog and once the canine gets a taste for pre-KFC, they'll be
back for the original recipe again and again.
I don't remember
many such killing raids by neighborhood dogs when I was young, but I do
remember one event that taught the code very clearly.
Dad bought some
guinea hens which ran wild on the property and stayed close to the house
and orchard. They weren't chickens but more of a garnishment to the
land which my dad enjoyed seeing. One summer day 3 or 4 of his hens
turned up dead and it was clear to him that the neighbor's dog was
guilty. Dad carried the dead birds with him and left his anger at home
as he walked down the lane to the neighbor's house.
In a matter-of-fact
delivery known to those familiar with the code, he simply laid the hens
at the door step, rang the bell, explained the situation and asked for
compensation. The neighbor also knew the code and accepted the fate of
his dog's actions. Dad was paid but the full price was brought to bear
upon the mongrel down the road who's ultimate demise was paid with a
single shot. We all heard the shot ring out and that's how I learned
this part of the code.
Fast forward 20 years, and a round
trip of employment opportunities across several states which ultimately
brought me back to Idaho; only this time to the Wood River Valley.
Jelina and I bought a small farm and started Petzinger Beef Garden, a
small beef growing operation with grass fed and hormone free taste as a
way to keep the pastures down and enjoy the gentleman farmer's lifestyle
of having one foot in corporate America and the other foot in manure;
the odor differentiation is difficult to distinguish. I love them both.
Our neighbors were wonderful people. Our children of the same age and
interests and both families love the quiet life in rural Idaho. They
kept a healthy coop of egg laying chickens and loved them like pets. We
had our cows, much less productive on a daily basis but the yearly
reaping yielded healthy beef and paid the bills. It wasn't until a new
addition to the family pets, that I had any remembrance of the code.
Chewi is a massive Rottweiler who came to be in our family
as a result of someone else's misfortune. No longer being cared for,
we decided to adopt her in not fully knowing how she'd handle life on
the farm. It was quickly apparent that boundaries needed to be defined.
One winter's day, I received a curious phone call from Jelina who
reported that Chewi had a chicken in her mouth out in the yard. Flash
back code instinct took over and I told Jelina to keep the dog at home
until I could get there, but it was too late.....the damage was long
I walked over to the neighbor's coop crunching through
the snow and turned the corner to see all 13 chickens resting in the
snow crumpled, broken, torn, and red. It was like a terrible egg carton
of red feathered snow cones each in their own divot of death. Chewi had
definitely tried the first one and came back for more-all 13 of them to
be exact. It was a grisly sight. I assessed the situation and decided
to clean up the mess before my neighbor came home. Jelina had already
called and the proud chicken owner was on her way.
home and put the dog on leash. She was marched to the scene of the
crime and I had a choice to make. I either had to follow through with
the code or find an acceptable solution to spare the rottie's life. It
was clearly a death sentence to ever set paw on the neighbor's property
again but she knew no boundaries and as training goes, she had never had
Retribution: I knew what my neighbor wanted and that
had already been taken care of; we had located 15 egg laying hens in
Kuna and I had already purchased them and made arrangements to pick them
up that evening. They never mentioned a commensurate punishment for
the dog, the code left that up to me. It was my responsibility to
contain, train and protect that dog from her own instinct to kill
chickens. Now that she had done the damage, I either needed to move her
away from there, shoot her or forever keep her on leash. The choices
were hard to accept as a new reality.
I quickly made up my mind; she would live and I'd have to enact my own
version of the code. She would never forget the scolding and throttling
she received at the scene after being marched over there and our
relationship forever changed from that day. But she's alive thanks to a
small investment in an invisible fence with enough wire to enclose at
least 4 acres. This kept her away from any trouble and kept my
friendship in tact with our neighbors who quickly reported that the 15
hens delivered that same night quickly began laying eggs in their new
We've since moved again but I've brought the memories
with me and whenever that dog sees a chicken, she looks out for me.
Smart dog, I let her live to understand part of the code.
side note, I found it strangely ironic that the shock collar she wore
ever after had as it's highest setting the lucky #13. Code or not, she
quickly grasped the full shock and power of #13 and never tested that
range again. The code is now amended to include boundaries.