The Farmer and I have been raising meat birds for years. I prefer turkeys to chickens, because turkeys respond to you with a simultaneous “gobble” when you speak to them. Chickens just squawk and scream without grace or style. Turkeys stand politely beside you while you top up their feeders. Chickens can actually be quite aggressive when you enter their pen. But, I have discovered, if you can find a way to keep your chickens content, they are far more agreeable and pleasant to be around. This may be our year to have a flock of happy chickens (and less peck marks on my ankles).
We have always had music on in the barn. It may or may not be a deterrent to predators, but when we had sheep and cattle it definitely seemed to soothe the beasts and help them sleep.
The chickens seem to like the music too. I often tiptoe up to find them sitting together and commenting quietly on the tunes. When I worked at LCBO, I learned that chickens also love brightly coloured liquor boxes! They poke around inside, comment on the colour, and roost atop the boxes. But their absolute favourite thing, I have found – the thing that gets them more excited than a fresh pour of food in their feeder – is new, dry bedding.
The Farmer has been milling his own wood on a 16-foot sawmill that he keeps where the cows used to live in the main part of the barn. He buys full logs and cuts them into boards for various projects. So far he has built a log cabin and a lake house. All of this activity has filled one whole storeroom in the barn with wood shavings.
And so, every few days we can make a few dozen chickens positively squeal with delight. First we top up the feeders and water, then we go into the other room and come back with a wheelbarrow full of wood shavings. With each pitchfork-full, the chickens go hopping and squawking and crashing into each other, trying to be first to nestle into the soft, dry bedding. They wiggle their fat bird bums into the nest, drying their damp feathers and soothing their hot skin.
Even the turkeys allow themselves to get a bit excited over a fresh bed. They strut around, commenting to each other on the lovely feeling beneath their clawed feet.
The life of a meat bird may be short, at 10 to 12 weeks, but it can at least be comfortable. It’s the least we can do, to say thank you for providing good food for our family.