The chicken keeping fraternity is sadly quite sexist. The general opinion when keeping chickens is no boys. ESPECIALLY when you live in a residential area, which is most of us. The main reason being that you risk falling out with your neighbour when your cockerel finds his voice. So with that advice, most of us never take that path. But what if? What if our neighbours were fairly relaxed, and we weren’t too bothered about a little extra work and no eggs…? I took that risk and this is what happened.
Bear in mind I live in the UK. There is no law in the UK banning us from keeping cockerels or roosters, but there is a law about reasonable level of noise. This may be different in other countries and in some areas (particularly in some US states), the council are not keen on the keeping of any poultry of any gender(!) Roosters crow randomly throughout the day, but its those dawn choruses that will have the council enforcing removal of your pet. The same reason why we don’t start up power tools or let off fireworks in the early hours.
You may have seen in my earlier blogs that I ended up with 3 cockerels one year – not ideal in a suburban cul-de-sac! But with a planned routine, I was determined to keep my boys while making sure everyone, including myself, has a good night’s sleep every night. The answer lies in shutting the boys away in a darkened box for the night and putting them indoors where they are not likely to disturb anyone. I have found designs online for building a soundproof box, but I prefer a good old cardboard box. Bedded with newspaper and straw and closed over the top to stop your birds flying out, its a cheap and hygienic option that can be easily replaced periodically. The box itself does not need to be particularly big, as you will notice your own hens do not move much once they are roosting for the night. My 3 boys were brought up together and were happy to sleep together in one box, but this depends on your individual birds. I now have just Tarquin, and my crowing hen, Mabel (her story is http://furandfeatherpets.co.uk/index.php/2017/03/30/mabel-my-crowing-hen/ ) They sleep in separate boxes as they don’t get on. Every night my crowers are brought in to their sleeping quarters in the garage and let out in the morning after 9am, where any crowing was less of a disturbance. This has to be a commitment and it means if we go away, even for one night, we have to get a pet sitter in to bring the boys in at night and let them out in the morning.
During winter, my roosters are quite happy to sleep indoors. There is the occasional heatwave when it may be kinder to upgrade to a larger box, or separate the birds if they are sleeping together. I have also put in cool mats which can be wiped clean – these should only take up half the box, so the bird can move to wherever he feels comfortable.
Some people have asked whether a shed would be suitable or shutting them in the coop with the hens and not letting them out till 9am. I don’t think this will be enough to keep the noise down. Your own house will have enough insulation to prevent sound from being heard, but you also need to be able to shut your roosters away from you to avoid being woken yourselves. This is why garages are particularly good, and especially converted ones as they will have wall insulation as part of the conversion. Failing that, the room furthest from your bedroom may do the trick – and close any doors. Also bear in mind that your roosters are not directly next door to your neighbour’s bedrooms if you have a semi-detatched or terraced house.
Each boy chicken will have their own voice and how they use it. Oscar was fairly shrill and he crowed more frequently. Siegfried was the last to find his voice and only really crowed when the others started him off. Tarquin doesn’t actually crow much and is not particularly loud. Ironically, the loudest (and probably most annoying) crower is Mabel, who technically is not even male! This is largely because she refuses to wear a collar, which is my second tool for reducing crowing noise.
I was quite reluctant at first to use the anti crowing collar because when I researched these, there were comments saying they were cruel and dangerous. I have used them on all my four crowers and they are none of those, but their effectiveness varied with each individual. As mentioned, with Mabel, she removes the collar with her long legs within an hour of putting it on, so it was as good as useless! Siegfried occasionally got his collar off and I would find it later in the evening but most of the time he got on well with it. Unlike the 2 Silkie boys who would sulk and protest each morning after putting the collars on, Siegfried would get on with his duties with no complaints. Being fairly loud, I needed to fit it fairly snugly for him and the same went for Oscar. I found that Oscar’s volume lowered noticeably more than Siegfried’s, which was desirable as Oscar was more likely to crow. Tarquin was the one who protested the most at wearing the collar, walking backwards and in the early days, even throw himself about and lie down. However, he wasn’t as loud or frequent as his brother, Oscar, so I allow him a bit of leeway and I can get away with fitting his collar a little looser. During the winter, when he is less hormonal, he doesn’t wear the collar at all!
The collars themselves are not expensive. I bought mine from various private sellers on Ebay and they consist of a length of nylon webbing with a velcro attachment, often in a choice of colours. I prefer to buy collars that have been sewn – a lot of them are offered on sale with the velcro glued on, but these separate after a while. Fitting them takes some practice and you may need an extra pair of hands to hold the bird. With the index finger and thumb, make a ‘ring’ round the bottom of the bird’s neck to flatten the feathers where the collar is going to sit, and arrange the feathers that are going to overlap the collar.
Wrap the collar around the neck, adjusting the feathers as you go. More than likely you will need to adjust the tightness of the collar a few times.
The collar needs to be fitted at the base of the neck and to be effective, it needs to be snug. The tip of your finger should still fit inside the collar, but initially I would fit it looser to allow the bird to get used to it. In the picture below, it is actually a bit loose as I can get more than the tip of my finger in
The theory around the collar is that the bird should still be able to breathe, eat, drink and continue with his daily duties. But his ability to take in a big breath is reduced so his crow will be less powerful than without the collar. So, in a nutshell, the anti-crow collar does not stop crowing, but reduces the volume.
You will find that roosters crow with more frequency and gusto in the summer as it is mating season and less in the winter. We lived with our 3 roosters using collars and bringing them in at night with no complaints whatsoever. In our favour, we have some brilliant neighbours who are all animal lovers and appreciated the complimentary eggs that sometimes came their way. In reality, no neighbourhood is silent. Our estate will sometimes have dogs barking, children playing and builders working, so some bird noises during the day should not upset many people. However, it is down to the personalities you live with, so check you know what your neighbours are like. I would not contemplate keeping roosters if they are already pulling faces about keeping hens!
Even if you have tackled the noise problem, testosterone in roosters can cause problems within the flock – and towards you! All my roosters have been brought up since chicks, but as they reach maturity, they develop a macho persona, and this again varies between individuals. I found Oscar was keen on squaring up to me whenever he felt like it, and he didn’t like to back down! Siegfried didn’t like it if I wore different clothes other than my normal outdoor clothes and wellies. He would do a double take and then fly at me! Tarquin is the least aggressive of them all and will only have a sneaky go at me if I wasn’t looking. Interesting to add that he has quite small wattles for a rooster and generally doesn’t crow that much, which suggests he has less testosterone and is therefore, less alpha male. They also work as a team; when I had the three boys together, if one asserted his authority towards me, they would all gang up on me!
This can all sound very scary and may put people off keeping roosters, but I have never been hurt by my boys, partly because they didn’t jump very high so my wellies protected me, and also because they are not big birds. It would be a different matter if it was a turkey stag as there is some serious weight behind turkeys! But yes, roosters protect their hens and environment, and although they know me well, they still treat me as competition, in the same way they will have little battles with each other to sort out the hierarchy. On the whole, my three boys got on well as they were brought up together (this is not always the case, but I can guarantee that bringing new roosters into a flock with existing boys is asking for trouble). When a rooster gets cocky and decides to have a go at me, I simply pick him up and carry him around in full view of the flock whilst I get on with my duties. Kind of reminding him in a passive way who’s boss! He will try his luck again in the future, but it usually deters him from coming near me for the day.
There is a golden rule that there should be one rooster to 3 or 4 hens to ensure no one gets over mated and that there are enough hens around to keep the boys happy. Mine’s was not an ideal situation as I had 3 boys to 6 hens. I survived this scenario as Siegfried seemed to be the only rooster that was successful in getting any action! For some reason, Oscar could never get near the ladies (maybe this was why he had an attitude) and Tarquin would get lucky occasionally, but only with either Molly or Bunty. Tarquin and Oscar often hung round together, to the point where I wondered if they were even that interested in hens! I sadly lost both Siegfried and Oscar to natural causes within months of each other, which left Tarquin to inherit the flock. This should be a dream position for any rooster, but the ducks remind him that he has no authority over them!
If you have been happily keeping hens for pets and are ready for the next challenge, do consider keeping any boys you hatch or take on one that needs rehoming. Sadly, far too many are disposed of because they don’t produce, or because we don’t want the hassle. Be considerate about your neighbours and manage your rooster, and he will look after your girls and keep them from arguing amongst themselves!