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THE COUNTRY LIFE: Why do roosters crow?

September 3, 2013 Updated: September 3, 2013 at 7:06 am
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photo - The colorful chicken at the right is a boy, cleverly named "the rooster." BILL RADFORD, THE GAZETTE
The colorful chicken at the right is a boy, cleverly named "the rooster." BILL RADFORD, THE GAZETTE 

Editor's note: Bill Radford and his wife moved from Colorado Springs to the countryside east of the city last fall, where they live on five acres with a menagerie that includes three horses, two goats, two dogs, two cats, two rabbits, two guinea pigs, two parrots and, as you'll read below, a half-dozen chickens.

They were supposed to all be girls.

We have six chickens, acquired in the spring in one batch of four and another batch of two a couple of weeks later. They were allegedly all pullets - baby female chickens, tiny balls of feathers that could easily be held in the palm of your hand. Our first home for them was a cage in our bathroom, finally giving our big garden bathtub that we never fill a useful function. Once the chicks outgrew that home, they moved to a larger cage in our garage. Later, as unruly teenagers, they moved one last time, to a grand, outside chicken enclosure.

It was then that we learned that one of the chickens was a rooster, as evidenced by increasingly frequent and confident crowing. (In the beginning, it sounded like he was perhaps just clearing his throat.)

While city code allows homeowners in Colorado Springs to have chickens (a maximum of 10), roosters are not allowed. There's no such ban in the county. But I can see why nearby neighbors might not appreciate the presence of a rooster. I thought, judging from old cartoons, that roosters crowed only to start the day. But our rooster seems to crow all the time. In the middle of the day. At 4:30 in the morning. At 10:30 at night.

Not helpful to my sleep pattern.

So why do roosters crow? There are several theories: protecting their turf, keeping the hens in line, reacting to other roosters. A study published in the March 18 issue of Current Biology found that predawn crowing - two hours or so before sunrise - is under the control of a rooster's internal biological clock (i.e., circadian clock). While external stimuli can cause a rooster to crow, the magnitude of that crowing is also regulated by the circadian clock, the study found. (I was actually more interested in the notation that while crowing is described as "cock-a-doodle-doo" in English, it's "ki-ke-ri-ki" in German and "ko-ke-kok-koh" in Japanese.)

So, putting the "why" aside," what can you do to stop a rooster from crowing? Suggestions I found at backyardchickens.com included putting a muzzle on the rooster, which I don't think our rooster would appreciate - or tolerate. Still, it's not as harsh as one commenter's solution: "I know only one way to stop a rooster crowing, involving a machete, a block of wood and a barbeque."

Others find the idea of trying to stop a rooster from doing what comes naturally to be inhumane.

"If you don't want a crowing rooster, don't own a rooster," another commenter posted. "Simple as that."

We didn't want a rooster, but he's part of the family now. So no machete for him (even though he's kind of obnoxious; he recently began attacking us when we get too close). So any solution looks to be on our end - ear plugs, perhaps.

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