Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features New Technology Production
Musical barns have pay-offs


June 4, 2015
By Leslie Ballentine Ballentine Communication Group

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We are all familiar with the quote “Music has charms to soothe a savage beast” by 17th century playwright William Congreve. The same may hold true for poultry.

Even though chickens don’t sing they do seem to have musical preferences according to a growing body of research and farm experience. And the right kind of music appears to be good for production. University researchers in Europe and the U.S. have shown that, like humans and certain other species, chickens prefer soothing melodic music over sharp and jarring tunes — think of the difference between easy-listening songs over punk rock.  Why chickens like music is inconclusive, much as why humans like music, although psychologists have plenty of theories.

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Surprisingly chickens are serving a role in trying to answer that question. It is impossible to determine whether human preferences are the result of nature or nurture. That’s because humans hear music in the womb, and prenatal exposure could predispose us to enjoy certain types of musical sounds.  

Day-old chicks however are the perfect lab animal to investigate the role of genetics and environment on musical preferences in humans, according to experts. That’s because you can eliminate the effects of prenatal sounds (other than their own peeps) by incubating chicken eggs in sound-proof environments and then test their preferences once hatched. It turns out that these preferences favour melodic music. And because chickens don’t sing (vocalization such as peeping, clucking and crowing isn’t singing) they aren’t predisposed to musical sounds.

But there is practicality behind the science too. A 2014 Bristol University study commissioned by a UK producer showed that soothing relaxing music directly affected chicken behaviour. Compared to no music, layers entered nesting boxes 159 per cent more often and classical music was what the hens preferred. While the study did not show an increase in egg production it did show that classical music reduced the number of floor eggs by six per cent.

Also in 2014, a science fair experiment by a Nova Scotia student found that eggs produced while chickens listened to classical music were significantly bigger and heavier than those that did not hear music. 15-year-old Thian Carman, Nova Scotia’s youngest registered farmer, heard some dairy farmers play music for their cattle in order to get them to relax and produce more milk. He thought the same principle might work for his chicken flock and decided to test that theory for his science fair project. CBC reported that his six week experiment compared results between no music, country music and classical music. Unlike classical music, Carman found eggs produced when country music was played, weighed more than the control but were not bigger in size.

Music seems to benefit broiler production too. Recently, Taiwan’s government backed methods developed in Australia and New Zealand to provide broiler birds with music as a way to increase growth rates and reduce feed costs. With government assistance, a chicken farmer in Yunlin County, is using music piped into his barn of 40,000 birds during feeding time. He has stated that the days on feed have been reduced 10 per cent amounting to a savings of over NT$100,000 in feed costs for each flock. Additionally, the owner said that not only do both the cocks and hens exhibit even temperaments, but his chickens produce better meat. The birds are certified as “raised with music and sold without pharmaceutical residues” and draw a premium price.

There are also anecdotal accounts of the musical benefits to chickens.  A British farmer claims that opera music has doubled the rate of lay for his two dozen birds.  An accidental discovery, he believes that the increase in production is because calm animals produce better.

At the commercial level, controlled studies are now underway to see if these calming affects can reduce aggressive behaviours such as feather pecking, a statistically significant problem in loose-housed layers in Europe where beak trimming is scheduled to be banned in 2018.

In response to these findings, Happy Egg Co. has produced a three-track CD, Top of the Flocks, composed by British composer Jack Ketch. Universal Music Group was reportedly hired to put together a compilation of tunes for broiler production in Taiwan.

Here’s the point: There are low cost ways to make practical improvements in production that improve animal wellbeing and farmer income. Some are as simple as plugging in a radio.