Dr2, working on this, getting sillier each sweep, lacking a certain smoothness
Two of us tend the farm at the weekend. We both start at eight o’clock and by twelve thirty I am homebound in the car, rocking to Radio Sussex, or the Classic FM which suits a journey through vivid countryside. Hills pass on every corner, whilst Beachy Head stands a mere roundabout and stretch away, I reflect again, and for this reason avoid Radio Four until the next journey in – though absolutely nobody broadcasts on a Sunday morning. Seven am tomorrow I might tootle the lanes [A27] to a religious show, lose myself in grief, worship, guitar, but no thanks, all the same, I say to the reverend. Such a shame, she says.
Twenty thousand birds live in a shed. Call it shed six. The birds have these two days remaining, with me, until the lorries arrive at midnight, take poultry away to the laying farm, so-called where master cockerels squire pullets and more yellow chicks are born. I could have been a cockerel, I say. Instead, I am your chicken slave at the moment, to prized birds, my mistresses, and these last few days we endured a nice time together in our shed. The darkness took some adjustment, as did the smell those brief, those initial encounters, weeks ago, when I perceived a new vision of hell in this new job of mine. I could not, back then, even comprehend how ten identical pens sat inside a hundred metre shed: I stepped a hall of mirrors, tripped, or teabagged electric fences, the light set to lux thirty so the ladies don’t peck each others feathered backsides, you see [not]. This shed, to me, still appears dark. I see shape in shadows, hear voices in the squawk. As for the fire risk. How many chickens can I save with one extinguisher? I think about this, about the local news programme article. However, work is now upon me. I arrive a couple of minutes after eight o’clock am and the flock hears the operations room door opening, sees the glint of light. An avian crescendo erupts
‘Daddy’s home,’ they probably say.
Chickens greet me. Sweet little birds, eyes upon; white-bodied with the floppy red crowns. I flick a dozen switches and spinners fire bird seed all about the place. The birds get to business, peck their breakfast. I close the operations room door, adjust to darkness and properly enter the world of birds. I shuffle past the chucks in my wellingtons, my boiler suit. You could stride, but being sensitive, I wander along making sure everybody is eating their grub nicely. Occasionally an assassin, maybe a lesbian chicken, rushes for my knee and pecks hard. Here, I need to resist the urge to kick. Always I pick her up, give her a man stroke. My policy is essentially liberal, though if she, the bird has ‘the thick ankles’ technically, we, I must escalate the situation, apply training in the wrist. But not today. The young chap scampers away to blend amidst his two thousand girlfriends.
One pen is not right at all. The birds here are squeezed together against bars in an enormous mass of anxiety. Remember, they are chickens, a low-flying jumbo will kill them all. But only I wade through the starving crowd, shake this massive eight foot steel spinner machine containing feed, and the machine cranks to life. I get whacked in the backside by ten thousands subsonic bits of horrible chicken feed. Watch your eyes, Matthew I say to myself, and wear your face mask. Nobody wants ‘farmer’s lung’ – the dust in the air. Once birds are fed I conclude my beauty inspection and then fill the spinner bins for the next day’s meal. Two huge silos sit outside the shed. Inside, pipes run along the ceiling to convey the food to the bins. The pipe is an ‘auger,’ a new word, for me as well. I control the auger with a switch and dial. This whole business of feeding, inspection and refill takes two and a half hours. Complete the paperwork: no dead, none culled, thank goodness, and I step out to the brightest sunshine: me, a man all covered in dust, to see a trio of rabbits spring along the verge.