Drawing by Judith Wolfe

SUE ROBERTS

Exchange Poultry Farm


I applied for a job through the local paper, and it was situated at a local poultry farm collecting eggs. I rang up first beforehand. After speaking to the man at the opposite end of the line, the job seemed reasonably straightforward, and not complicated, there-fore I agreed to go along to see the premises, and to view how the job routine was done.
There was no interview, I showed up in the early morning, with the first light and I started before 8am. From first impressions I saw the place was a very lonely and semi-isolated plot of land. There was long, tall grass blowing strongly in the wind and strewn about on either side, along the gravel almost bald driveway. The driveway was about 200m long. The owners house was at the end of this long driveway, two-storey, and the business was on the left hand side situated adjacent next to, and following on behind the house. I met the guy and his dog, and he first introduced me to his wife and daughter, doing the sorting under the house in the double garage.
They had a small assembly routine going, with the eggs being sorted and graded, as they came along the conveyor belt, and flicked gently out of the top chute. The job seemed easy, with their small group camaraderie chipping in and assisting one another. There were posters on the walls about eggs and nutrition, and there were yellow heavy-duty raincoats hung up on the same wall. There were black, and white coloured gum-boots underneath. And there was a big disarray or assortment of equipment strewn about in the corners, and against one concrete wall of the garage.
A few minutes later, he directed me towards the back of the house where all the several long white sheds stood erected, that contained several rows upon rows of chickens laying eggs. Before being shown into a shed, I could hear the miserable monotonous droning, or pecking noises of the birds. Inside one of the first sheds I saw that they were Battery hens. It was a real eye-opener for me, as this was the first time I had seen anything like this, and my eyes were wide open with utter disbelief, and shock. I was shown the chickens cramped in cages, in row upon endless row (domino effect) that filled up a whole shed. I tried to look closer at some of them, and there was three or four crammed in a cage at a time. I moved closer, and saw one in particular that was really battered in a physical sense, because her beak had been chewed away at. Or she had been either bullied by the other chickens in the cage, or out of complete frustration or boredom had chewed its own feathers off. As it hardly had any feathers left on its thin, small, destitute and pathetic body. I felt very sorrrrrry for it. The place was just miserable.
I saw there was just adequate light and ventilation, as at the top there were mouldy partially open or slit ventilation windows. But the smell of the place really hit you hard for the first time, especially if you are not used to the concentrated, and pungent smell of ammonia on the floor, (concentrated chicken droppings), which collected in small cone shaped heaps under the tables holding the cages. I was feeling so unnerved, and uncomfortable by now, the small hairs on my arms and legs stood on end.
I needed to go out for some fresh air. It was difficult to breathe in there. He said in a matter of fact, business tone, 'If you want the job, you can start now ... by using a trolley, and collecting the eggs in trays, as you walk along the rows.' His head nodded at the same time, looking directly at the work trolley. He was pragmatic about things, dismal with no emotion at all. I really needed the quick cash for the holidays, and I was a student. I decided I needed the money, and would give it a try. He left me on my own, and I started to think efficiency as my mindset. I began steering the trolley eagerly in front of me, but the wheels at the bottom were really stiff, and the trolley was old, and heavy.
I had after a short time, very quickly filled up a whole trolley-load of eggs. Eggs that were stacked up high, upon several rows and rows of plastic trays, and the trolley weighed a massive ton by now. I felt a personal satisfaction with myself, that I could pull things off smoothly, without any problem at all. Eventually I realised I didn't have strong upper arms, so I ascertained that I was not naturally big or a power-lifter type for this job. But I took a few deep breaths (at first, outside of course!), and remained calm, and thought to myself, I can eventually build up some muscle power in my arms for just a few days or weeks, over the holidays and finally chuck the job in. And earn some money at the same time, the whole cause of why I was there was to earn money! above anything else.
I was hoping that I could eventually buy some cheap eggs (or help the chickens in some way). I tried not to let the job get me down. About half an hour later, the trolley was very heavy and full. Looking back on this situation I realised that because I was lacking practical experience at this job, that I should have filled up only half the trolley. But the employer never told me this, and it was really his fault, and my inexperience that caused the eventual disaster that was about to occur.
I was trying to push the trolley out the exit side-door, and the trolley was so stiff and archaic that it would not budge. I tried to turn the wheels around a corner, but they jammed instead. The trolley would not move at all. I was at this split moment becoming increasingly frustrated, and really flustered by now, the sweat on my forehead was just dripping off. I was puffing away, and breathing heavy. I was trying to be patient, but didn't want to waste anymore time, so I pushed very hard, and the unfortunate crash occurred. There was the sound of cracking eggs, and yolk spilled on the floor in a really big, and disgusting mess, and I realised that I was not going to keep this job for much longer. My hands were hot, blistering red, and sweaty, and my whole body was by now sweating, and shivering like a leaf.
After a few moments when I had taken stock of the situation, I sat down on the floor, and then got up again, there was no one to help me clean up the mess, everyone else seemed to be busy or somewhere else doing their own job. I had become confused and very upset. The place became very quiet, as I then went and told the employer, who did not say a word, about the spilled eggs. He never paid me for that day. And never said a word to me, just gave me a foul, bitter look in his eyes, like I was unfortunately wasting his time and money.
A few days later I decided to go back to collect my wages in the form of a cheque. It was a lonely mid-day, as it was cloudy, overcast weather, with the wind blowing strongly. There was not a soul in sight. I was approximately half-way down the driveway, when the owners dog approached me. I think it was a Labrador. I ignored it and walked steadily towards the house. But it wouldn't leave me alone, it circled me around and around for some minutes, and then eventually without warning it bit me hard on the lower shin of my leg. I screamed out in pain, much agonising pain. I was for up to a minute in a state of shock, and became frozen and stiff.
The idea the dog had bitten me hadn't really sunk in ... I still couldn't believe that an innocent looking dog was capable of biting me like this ..... Not over the shock, I staggered blindly straight to the house, but no one would answer the door when I knocked loudly, and more than once. So I went and sat down, half falling on the ground by the storeroom shed adjacent to the house, with some blood trickling out of the wound. And with a constant stinging, and prickly feeling of pain in the open sore. I began feeling an overpowering sinking feeling of dizziness and tiredness. My body was slumped down by the outside shed wall, in the corner. After some time, about fifteen minutes later to half an hour, his young, teenage daughter came out with a plaster and a tube of Savlon antiseptic cream, 'Are you all right?' she said 'No, I said, it hurts.' A few minutes later, the dad, with shifty dark eyes, and brows came out slowly and cautiously, and then took me up the road in his old work vehicle to the Accident and Emergency Clinic in Lincoln Road, Hendertown. I was seen by a health professional, and was given another clean, and sterile dressing. I was all right, but I never went back to that job ever again, and sometime later he posted out my cheque, for wages owing. I was feeling myself in extremely low spirits, and a bad way but I was glad to see the back of that place.

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