Fowl play after egg farmer adopts rescue dogs to protect flock

Usually when a family pet is "sent away to a farm" the outcome is dire.

Key points:Maremma sheep dogs are often used on free and open-range egg farms to guard the chickensA Victorian egg farmer who has up to 4,000 birds has adopted rescue dogs to work on the propertyChickens are targeted by birds of prey and foxes

But for four lucky Maremma dogs and their new employer it is a dream come true.

Boyd Carmody has adopted four rescued Maremmas and given them the most important job on his egg farm, protecting his chickens.

"They're my best workers," the owner of Creswick Open Range Eggs said.

"We've got four Maremma sheep dogs; we have two pairs working in 30-acre paddocks each."

"Most of them have come from suburban settings, where people have needed to give up their dogs because they bark too much."

Australian working dogs often get bored when living on properties with little or no access to outdoor settings, which can result in destructive behaviour or barking, unless they are kept stimulated by tasks, training or regular walks.

"They bark too much because there is something they don't like on the other side of the fence, which is perfect for me," Mr Carmody said.

A large white dog with chickens
Harry protects chickens from threats like eagles and foxes.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

The dogs play a very important role, Mr Carmody said. The farm is open-range and, with plenty of room to roam in paddocks, the chickens are exposed to predators.

"We love a good bark; Toppo is our best worker and he's probably our biggest barker."

"He loves barking at eagles, the foxes, rabbits and anything else that is wandering up and down the fence."

Win-win arrangement

Adopting rescue dogs was not only good welfare for the animal, Mr Carmody said dogs over four years old are also easier to train.

"We like the rescues because they are mature, we don't have to deal with the puppy stage — they're a bit useless at protecting the chickens under two years old."

Two large white dogs in a paddock
Harry is being trained by Toppo, who has more experience guarding chickens.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

Mr Carmody runs between 3,500 and 4,000 hens, with no more than 200 hens occupying a hectare of land.

"We move our chicken houses twice a week, so they are only in one spot for three or four days at a time, which is good for the soil and gives the chickens a fresh environment," Mr Carmody said.

"We also use recycled trampolines for shade; they're replacement moveable trees."

"I've had to fence off the trees, allowing the chickens to graze under the trees but the problem is you get hawks and wedge-tailed eagles."

"[Birds of prey] like to sit in the trees until a flock of chickens is underneath and they'll drop down from the tree and enjoy themselves a fresh hot chicken lunch."

Trampoline chicken shelter
Mr Carmody recycles old trampolines to create shelter for his chickens, also hiding them from birds of prey.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

Diet critical in dictating egg quality

Every time Mr Carmody cracks an egg for breakfast or puts one on the barbecue for a burger, he studies the quality of the egg.

"I'm also hunting for better yolk colours, white strengths, shell quality and colour," he said.

"We try to keep the white part of the egg strong and not watery, which is advantageous in the local cafe when they're poaching eggs."

A hand holding an egg
Mr Carmody prints 'Creswick' on his eggs to prevent them being fraudulently sold on.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

The diet of chickens dictates the quality of the egg, Mr Carmody said. 

"It's a constant battle with the seasons; as we come through spring now, we've gotta keep the grass mowed, as chickens are pigs for pasture," he said.

"Eating too much grass actually degrades the shells of the egg because it dilutes the amino acids and vitamins that's in the chook food."

"The right food for chickens is absolutely crucial."

Egg size sorter
Mr Carmody has modified his egg sorting machine to create more space for workers.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

Posted 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 11:54pm, updated 31 Oct 202131 Oct 2021Sun 31 Oct 2021 at 12:13amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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