One enduring frustration of the poultry industry is that chickens can’t be made to cross the road. Or even the chicken coop.
It’s a snap to coax barnyard animals like pigs and cattle to go where you want them — but “you can’t herd chickens,” says Paul S. Berry of the British Silsoe Research Institute, an agricultural-research center that has studied the problem for decades.
For that reason, poultry farmers have long relied on human catchers. Their job is to run around inside chicken houses, nabbing by hand more than eight billion birds a year. This is hard not only on the chickens, which get roughed up, but also on the catchers. The birds flap, scratch and befoul their captors. Most people can tolerate only a few months of that before flying the coop.
Now after years of attempts that ended in failure, including one ill-fated chicken vacuum, manufacturers have finally produced machines capable of catching and caging chickens. Looking like a combination airport baggage carousel and tank, the devices can capture 150 birds a minute. That’s as many as a team of eight skilled men can corral.