How to turn down a cockerel’s volume, by Grant Brereton
One of the most common questions asked by wouldbe chicken breeders is, are there cockerels that don’t crow or hardly crow at all? Everyone is, of course, mindful of upsetting their neighbours. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if cockerels weren’t so noisy,” is a remark that is often heard and, to be honest, I have often thought the same. I read one advisory article from America which claimed that a rooster will crow between 10-15 times a day. However, if that was true for all male chickens then there would be far fewer problems with noise complaints from neighbours across the globe.
When my wife and I lived on my in laws’ farm in 2016 while searching for our own home, we encountered some very noisy cockerels. One in particular would crow more than the rest and had a piercing and strident call. Early one humid morning, I counted his crows and they came approximately every five seconds. I stopped timing them after an hour, but did the maths and it worked out at over 700 crows in an hour alone. We called this male Old White and, while he may be the extreme example, in most cases 10-15 crows per hour would be far more realistic than the same amount per day; that would truly be heaven.
Pitch, length and tone
The good news is that the type of crow a cockerel has can be selected with breeding. I won’t personally use a cockerel in the breeding pen unless he has a relatively pleasant and velvety cock-a-doodle-do. Anything too piercing or disjointed doesn’t suit me — nor anything coarse, deep and bassy, which can drive one to distraction. Some Japanese Longcrowers can crow for up to 30 seconds at a time. Can you imagine that? I feel that you can get a sense of what may annoy the neighbours through the impact it has on you. I also always try to position my poultry pens so that our house absorbs the brunt of the noise, but this isn’t always possible.
Therefore one consideration is that the actual sound of a particular cockerel’s crow will largely impact on his chances of staying. It is not only the frequency of him letting it out to consider, but also, in a nutshell, how annoying it is.
Why more than one cockerel?
I keep poultry for the same reasons as many other people — I still get a buzz out of collecting fresh eggs, hatching my own chicks, as well as many other elements of the hobby. This makes it difficult for family, friends and neighbours to comprehend the need for more than one cockerel. But when you also breed poultry to show and are fascinated by the idea of aiming towards an ideal standard for a particular breed and breed preservation, producing and exhibiting quality specimens, then in all likelihood you will have stock that has had many years of selection in it, whether personally or by the person you obtained it from. A breeder will often have last year’s chosen male on site and he will likely have his father and possibly even grandfather as well. The grandfather will certainly be classed as the old boy and he may be a superb specimen upon which the whole bloodline is based.
The idea could be to breed each generation to the old boy with the aim of setting as many of his desirable traits as possible — one form of line-breeding. The reason to keep his son and grandson is perhaps quite obvious: because poultry are so perishable and subject to many threats, be it disease or natural predation. To not have backup in the event of any losses would be devastating for the breeder, with many years of work potentially gone. So the above is an example of why you need at least three males as a breeder for each variety kept. Of course, you can always keep just one male on site, but such a strategy is risky in my eyes, particularly because it is becoming increasing difficult to farm out birds to people who will breed them to the same standard as you.
Of course, experienced breeders can weed out the undesirable specimens in both male and female from an early age, but when you produce stock of a certain quality then subtle factors don’t become obvious until the birds are nearly fully grown. This means that many breeders have the current year’s crop of adolescent cockerels running together in a rearing pen, and they will create quite a crescendo until the breeder chooses which ones to sell on. But even if the breeder opts to keep only one cockerel, it means that he or she will now have four males on site and the whole process begins again the following year.
It is incredibly difficult to let go of older or younger birds when they are good specimens — or even just pretty birds — and breeders are generally tempted to keep as many as possible. Imagine keeping three colours of a certain variety or three different breeds — three or four males can soon become nine to 12 — and that is probably the reason a breeder ends up rubbing the neighbours up the wrong way.
Very often it is not simply a case of whether you can keep a cockerel, but whether you can keep that particular cockerel and, potentially, some of his friends or relatives. Of course, there are actions one can take to muffle the sound of crowing emanating from any coop or shed, but the need for ventilation often renders such attempts futile.
And remember, the sound of a cockerel crowing in the morning remains very beautiful — it is a noise Mother Nature intended.
A group can soon become noisy