Sound Bites

Country Smallholding - - Inside this month -

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

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