CHICKENS, CHICKENS, CHICKENS
When you pull off the Yellowhead highway into Wynyard you were greeted with a large sign declaring Wynyard to be the “Chicken Capital”. The sign has since been replaced with an LED sign displaying various messages. The original sign was not unexpected as Wynyard is a major player in the poultry industry including egg hatcheries, chicken and turkey barns and a large poultry processing plant. The plant was originally called “Crawford’s Food” and is now called “Lilydale” a poultry brand I am sure you are aware of from the grocery store.
I was exposed to chickens early in life as we would, on a daily basis, chase chickens in the elementary school yard during recess. These were escapees from the adjacent poultry processing plant. Yes, my elementary school was just next to “the plant”.
The Lilydale chicken plant just off Main Street, Wynyard SK circa 2018
As a pre-teen I caught chickens and turkeys. They were housed, by the thousands, in huge barns that had small windows along their length.
We would catch three chickens per hand (one claw between each finger) and carry them to the side windows where handlers would stuff them in cages. This meant that each chicken had one claw free and you can image what my hands looked like by the end of a shift. Did you tell you about the smell? The soup of chicken poop we waded through? That “I fell into “it” at least once per shift” incidents? Ya, when I got home after a shift I had to change outside and hose-off with the garden hose before going in the house.
Once, a chicken went wild on me and I could not take the scratching, so I tossed him aside. Unfortunately I was near a huge ventilation fan….. one of the outdoor handlers came in caked with gooey chicken bits and demanded (expletives omitted) to know who the "smart ass" was.
Turkeys were a different story. They did not smell as much, and the ground was dry. We grabbed one turkey per hand considering they weighed 10 to 20-pounds (Toms) each. We could grab both legs on each turkey preventing them from scratching, but this did not stop them from hitting us with their wings.
Another thing, turkeys are really stupid and skittish. We literally had to “tip toe” around while gathering them. If spooked they would all rush to one end of the barn and create one huge pile-on suffocating those on the bottom. This was frowned upon by management.
Wynyard is so into chickens that they have incorporated them into their annual festival. During the annual Community Festival you can catch the famous “Chicken Chariot Races”. Tiny chariots are attached to each chicken who run down a caged sloping track (I kid you not) .
The races are epic, the competition is fierce and the awards are treasured. Wynyardarians are very serious about their chickens! You can check it out for yourself at:
Enough about chickens other than to say that I am proud to have worked in the industry growing up. Great character building.
A snap shot of the famous Wynyard chicken chariot race (used with permission from the Town of Wynyard website).