Stone the crows!

Cock­erel guide

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It was eggs-cit­ing to rep­re­sent Your Chick­ens on na­tional ra­dio! I was asked to talk about cock­erels af­ter an ag­grieved neigh­bour took re­venge on the own­ers of a noisy cock­erel by play­ing Ra­dio 2 at full vol­ume! The dis­pute had es­ca­lated and ended up in court, with the own­ers of the cock­erel com­plain­ing of ha­rass­ment. In­ter­est­ingly, the an­gry neigh­bour claimed it wouldn’t have hap­pened had the bird been a Bri­tish cock­erel. He’d been told our na­tive breeds only crow in morn­ings and evenings, un­like their rowdy for­eign coun­ter­parts!

Some­one had ob­vi­ously been pulling his leg, but I loved the im­age of Mr Re­fined Bri­tish Cock­erel who wakes at a sen­si­ble hour and rouses ev­ery­one with a re­strained crow. He then goes se­dately about his busi­ness un­til it’s time to an­nounce bed­time, af­ter which he pre­sum­ably set­tles down in his coop with a cup of co­coa and a copy of Your Chick­ens.

If only! As I ex­plained to Jeremy Vine, all cock­erels crow, and do so through­out the day. Some­times they crow at night too. Na­tion­al­ity, size and breed makes no dif­fer­ence, ex­cept that some long-crow­ing breeds can sus­tain their vo­cal gym­nas­tics for up to a minute. To prove the point, I per­suaded my cock­erel, Tweetie Pie, to

come out from un­der the trees. He put in a per­fect per­for­mance. Hav­ing ap­peared in Your Chick­ens a few times, he’s al­ready a diva. Now he’ll be im­pos­si­ble.

The is­sue of crow­ing cock­erels clearly arouses strong feel­ings. Lis­ten­ers had mixed views: some loved the sound… and some didn’t. One caller de­clared that ‘cock­erels ruin lives’, which is maybe a lit­tle dra­matic.

Cock­erel fact­file

So, why do cock­erels crow? Is there any­thing that can be done to keep them quiet, and, come to that, why do peo­ple keep cock­erels any­way? Let’s start with the last one first:

WHY DO PEO­PLE KEEP COCK­ERELS?

For breed­ing. As we all know, a cock­erel isn’t nec­es­sary for hens to lay eggs, but he will be re­quired if the eggs are to hatch into chicks.

Beauty and char­ac­ter. It’s not only hens who are at­tracted by the cock­erel’s glo­ri­ous plumage and charis­matic per­son­al­ity. To look af­ter the hens. An at­ten­tive cock­erel is like an old-fash­ioned gentle­man, charm­ing the hens with tasty tit­bits and stand­ing back while they tuck in. He’ll also watch over them, sound the alarm if dan­ger threat­ens and keep the flock in or­der. Free-range hens may be more re­laxed with a cock­erel on look-out duty.

As a re­sult of hatch­ing eggs. As there are usu­ally a high pro­por­tion of males in a hatch, it’s best to de­cide what will hap­pen to them be­fore in­cu­bat­ing eggs. An ac­ci­den­tal pur­chase. Some­times it’s hard to iden­tify males un­til they start crow­ing. A re­spon­si­ble breeder will ex­change a wrongly sexed bird – which is a good rea­son to be care­ful who you buy from.

THE NEG­A­TIVES

Apart from crow­ing, are there any other rea­sons not to keep a cock­erel? They can be ag­gres­sive. This

It was eggs-cit­ing to rep­re­sent Your Chick­ens on na­tional ra­dio!

shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated, and a hos­tile cock­erel can be very nasty in­deed. Some­times a friendly young bird turns against hu­mans when he ma­tures, be­com­ing es­pe­cially danger­ous if he’s free-rang­ing in the gar­den or there are chil­dren around.

Hens don’t al­ways ben­e­fit. If the flock is too small to keep him busy, or he sin­gles out one hen as his favourite, the cock­erel’s at­ten­tions can cause dis­tress and in­jury. Not all cock­erels are cour­te­ous with their hens ei­ther.

Cock­erels eat more – loutish types will push the hens out of the way to get at the food.

Cock­erels fight. Some will bat­tle to the death. Un­less there is plenty of space and enough hens to go round, keep­ing more than one cock­erel is un­likely to work well. Fer­tile eggs. Al­though fer­tile eggs are fine to eat (pro­vid­ing they’re cor­rectly stored and in­cu­ba­tion hasn’t started) some peo­ple are averse to the idea. If eggs are of­fered for sale, cus­tomers should al­ways be told if a cock­erel is kept with the hens.

To chal­lenge other males. A cock­erel will crow more fre­quently if he can hear a ri­val. ‘I’m-bet­ter-than-you-a-doa-do.’ They can keep up this con­ver­sa­tion for some time.

To tell ev­ery­one how clever they are. When a cock­erel has done his duty with a hen, he likes to an­nounce it.

When dan­ger has passed. The cock­erel’s warn­ing noises are quite dif­fer­ent from crow­ing. Once the prob­lem has gone, he’ll sound the ‘all clear’.

To an­nounce day­break. The cock­erel’s tra­di­tional role - but dawn comes early in sum­mer, and bed­room win­dows are likely to be open too.

Dis­tur­bance. A light or noise can set a cock­erel off at night. Just be­cause they en­joy it! Not re­ally but… It may be pos­si­ble to de­lay the wake-up call by keep­ing the flock shut in a dark, quiet coop un­til a rea­son­able hour. The cock­erel could be housed sep­a­rately from the flock at night, and kept some­where he can’t be heard.

GLOBALP/ISTOCK/THINKSTOCK

Crow­ing... some love it and some hate it!

ABOVE: A Nor­folk grey with a mixed flock

I’m the boss! A proud cock­erel.

Wakey, wakey!

A Buff Or­p­ing­ton cock­erel

Anne Perdeaux’s Tweetie Pie crowed on na­tional ra­dio!

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