‘I don’t hate chickens — I’m doing this for a job’
David Burrows is stood over a cage of seven trapped chickens when the phone goes. The woman on the other end must have read about the imminent cull and wants to save as many of the feral birds as she can.
Alas. Even if we all agreed to keep two chickens each, it still wouldn’t solve the problem.
Mr. Burrows, who has been catching the birds for nine years, reckons there are at least 100,000 feral chickens out there, a staggering number, but with no natural predators and a wealth of bush-land to roam freely, it’s not improbable.
It’s an admirable quest by the woman on the other end of the phone, but essentially useless: The Government wants a total wipe out.
It’s starting off in St. David’s and Spittal Pond and it’s using Mr. Burrows’ company, Custom Services, to help it.
It’s a massive task, which, extended island-wide, could take years to complete.
Contrary to some news reports, the cull is not designed to stop the potential threat of bird flu —?consider that a handy bonus. It was being talked about well before that started making headlines. Besides, feral chickens stay in their own little areas and never mix with neighbouring broods: Bird flu? We’d be better off killing the crows! The real reason for killing the chickens is that, well, they’re nothing but a bloody nuisance.
Mr. Burrows, 37, has a simple method. Lay the traps, come back the next day, empty the traps and wring the chickens’ necks. He says it’s an instant, stress-free, humane death.
“One time I had a chicken in my hand and this woman was asking me how I was going to kill it. She was concerned it was going to have a painful death. I wrung its neck right in front of her and she didn’t even notice,” he said.
On the chicken trail
To get a photograph for this story, Mr. Burrows took us on a quick trip around Devonshire. There’s a rooster and two hens in the first trap. The property owner who has cooped hens wants the feral ones gone. Others are spotted in the distance, pecking away at the abundant vegetation.
Another man down the road called in Mr. Burrows, too. He’s trying to maintain a little vegetable garden and banana patch but the chickens have got to it, destroying the fruit. There are four hens in this trap, others scurry away when we approach.
Mr. Burrows charges $100 per trap per week, which includes setting it, emptying it and killing the chickens. Catching them by hand costs $35 an hour.
“I’ve been out in the pouring rain sometimes until 2.30am catching chickens,” he says. “Whatever I can’t catch in the traps, I go out late at night and catch them in the trees. One time I caught 40 in an hour.”
You can hear the chickens crowing all over the place at Orange Valley Road, some you can see, others are in the bushes. Few sounds could be more annoying when you’re trying to get some sleep.
“They’ll crow if something disturbs them, if they see a light come on. That rooster over there will crow at 4am because a rat ran across his branch, this one over here hears it and starts crowing, too,” Mr. Burrows said. As many of us know, it can turn into a living nightmare.
He continued: “There’s always some bleeding heart liberals who want to save the chickens, but they think nothing about picking up a can of Baygon and killing a damn cockroach. But to the people the chickens are being a nuisance to; they’re pests, just like a cockroach. Don’t be fooled by the feathers.”
Chickens are just one of Mr. Burrow’s moneymakers. He’s a full-time fireman and does this on his days off. He also catches pigeons and ducks and will take your dead cat or dog away for the right price. He’s dealt with whatever’s in the vets’ freezers and can also be found digging and cleaning out graves. “Someone’s got to do it,” he says.
Mr. Burrows grew up around animals. “I’m an animal lover. My family kept goats, horses, cows, chickens, pigeons, ducks and pigs. We ate the pigs, kept the goats for milk and the chickens for the eggs,” he said. “I learnt to kill them from my dad. Today I’ve got 12 sheep, a goat and eight racing ponies —?but the sheep are going to get killed very soon for meat.” He says: “I don’t hate the chickens. My father’s got 200 of them and 100 ducks. I’m doing this as a job.”
Government aims to complete the first phase of the cull in St. David’s and Spittal Pond by the end of May. By that time it will have evaluated the effectiveness of different capture techniques and figured out how much it’s going to cost to extend the cull island-wide.