Alanna Moore is the author of ‘Backyard Poultry – Naturally‘ – where you can read more about Vikki and poultry care, including a permaculture approach to keeping them.
You don’t often hear about the positives of dog ownership, in a permaculture sense. My Jack Russell terrier Vikki is a permaculture farm dog, who works for her keep – a real ‘WOOFer’. Not only does she provide a 24 hour fox warning system, but she also uses special skills with the rare poultry I keep.
Vikki can catch a chook on the run. One mention of “catch the birdie” and she flies off in hot pursuit, to finally land on top of the target bird and hold it firmly (but unharmed) underneath her until I arrive on the scene. Other Jack Russel owners can’t believe it’s true. One guy lost 57 chickens to his dog in three minutes! Vikki’s dad happens to be a chook killer too.
Her breed was developed to hunt rats and rabbits – no wonder they are such a popular farmers’ companion. I’ve heard of Jack Russells who climb the macadamia trees in the plantations near us, and catch rats red handed. When Vikki used to catch rabbits on my property she would bring them home for butchering and enjoy the spoils of the hunt for dinner. Not surprisingly, the rabbits keep well away these days. She also chases doves from freeloading in the chook feed bowls, keeps goshawks from snatching chickens and warns us of snake presence and visitor arrivals.
Instincts Modified by Training
Vikki’s natural instincts have been modified by lots of good training. When we got her at 5 weeks of age we put silky chickens and baby guinea pigs in her bed for her to bond with. She would happily doze off cuddling a fuffy fat pig, who would sneak off to the other end of the box with great relief when she finally fell asleep. The farm animals became family, with Vikki their protector. Lots of discipline and patience were needed in the learning process along the way. Training was hard work at times. Now she loves to please us and revels in her farm work.
All domesticated animals are a nuisance if not trained or managed correctly. If we provide them with proper sustenance, protection and the freedom to follow their natural behaviours, they can be so rewarding to us. When people and other animals have symbiotic partnerships of mutual benefit that also create ecological balance, it is a natural harmony. Our animal allies have much to teach us.