This Symphony is For the Birds

Music influences the temperament of chickens.


Nature, Wildlife

(Friends Stock /

On a drizzly Friday morning on a Hawke's Bay farm in New Zealand, members of the country's symphony orchestra donned their elegant black attire and assembled on the dew-covered grass, reported The Guardian. They were there to debut their latest composition before a sizeable and well-feathered audience.

The music bore the distinct characteristics of traditional baroque compositions. However, as the performance commenced, the instruments emitted a series of sounds more reminiscent of chicken coops than the revered confines of an auditorium. Surprisingly, this deviation from convention didn't perturb anyone in attendance. The audience, which had gathered to enjoy the concert, consisted of a couple of thousand chickens.

The unique piece of music, named "Chook Symphony No. 1," had been custom-crafted for these avian listeners through an unexpected collaboration between the orchestra and an organic free-range chicken farm. The farm was keen to provide its feathered residents with chicken-friendly music to enhance their lives.

"We've been serenading our chickens with classical music for several years because research has shown that it has a calming effect on them," Ben Bostock, one of the Bostock Brothers who owns the farm, explained to The Guardian.

Music for the birds
If you had to guess what type of music chickens liked most, you’d be surprised to find that they prefer classical music over rock, pop, and even bluegrass. That’s a no to the Dixie Chicks, Counting Crows, and the Byrds. 

In an era of intensified livestock production, livestock breeders and producers are confronted with the challenge of reducing stress among their animals, which significantly impacts their health and welfare, according to a study in the Animals Journal. As a response to this challenge, researchers have delved into the potential of various musical genres to alleviate stress in chickens, cattle, and pigs. The choice of music, duration, and intensity are key factors that influence the animals' relaxation and overall well-being. The practice of music therapy is increasingly being employed to enhance the living conditions of farm animals.

So, how does a chicken tune in?
In 2008, Charles Bourns, who was in charge of the poultry board at the National Farmers Union of England and Wales, looked after around 70,000 barn chickens at South End Poultry Farm in Charfield, Gloucestershire. And here's a quirky fact: he was a big fan of Classic FM!

According to The Poultry Site, Bourns played pop music to his feathered friends, but they didn’t like it. The birds seemed to prefer the soothing sounds of Classic FM over the chatty pop tunes, even though Bourns’ kids weren't too thrilled about it. He introduced music to his farm as part of a TV program to counter negative talk about chicken farming.

"Compassion in World Farming always had a go about leg weakness and so on, which I've never had on my farm," he told The Poultry Site. "So we decided to get our message over and did a film of the chickens dancing around a radio in the barn, and the local radio station took requests to play to them."

Bourns noticed a big change in his chickens after that. They loved the music so much that he couldn't introduce it to them until they were at least a couple of days old. If he played it to the super young ones, they just followed the noise and gathered around the radio.

Bourns believed the music, which played 24/7, drowned out other noises and kept the birds calm, and it helped them grow better too. "If the birds get startled they rush around and fight and don't eat, so it is bound to help,” he added. “Not being stressed is much better for all of us."

Benefiting the body and the mind
The welfare of animals, especially those raised in intensive production systems, remains a top priority in modern agriculture, the Animals Journal study revealed. This is driven by a commitment to maintain the animals' health, ensure high-quality end products, and meet the expectations of consumers, who are increasingly inclined to opt for organic goods. Consequently, innovative methods centered on sound have been pursued to alleviate external stress among livestock. 

Music therapy was originally thought to benefit both the body and spirit, the article continues. In contemporary applications, it has been used as a distraction from pain, a treatment for depression, and a remedy for cardiovascular disorders. Recent studies have even suggested that appropriately selected music can confer health benefits, such as enhancing the level and activity of natural killer cells. 

When applied to livestock, the choice of music genre, volume, and tempo becomes a critical consideration, claims the journal article. While some musical compositions promote relaxation and improve production, others yield contrasting effects. 

The consensus remains, that integrating music into the animals' environment enhances their overall welfare and may also positively influence consumers' decisions to purchase products from intensively farmed animals.

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