When you’ve got chickens, it always seems there are some interesting questions that pop up, like why do roosters crow? You may automatically dismiss this as a beginner chicken question, but have you really stopped to think about all that crowing? And what about your backyard swimming pool; is that a place your chickens might like to visit? So many questions! Here are our top five questions along with the answers.
1. Why Do Roosters Crow?
The short answer is that roosters crow to announce and define their territory. If you think hearing a rooster crow while you’re inside your house is loud, that’s because it’s meant to be heard, not by you, but by other roosters in the area. We live on about 13 acres in the country. There are roosters living about a quarter of a mile down the road in both directions. On a good day, I can stand outside and listen to my rooster, Hank, crowing and then hear the roosters from the other houses responding to him.
Interestingly, most people think that roosters only crow early in the day to announce the sunrise. While chicken keepers with roosters know that they will crow all day, there is something to the sunrise theory. Studies have shown that roosters will crow in response to light stimuli but they also crow according to their own internal body clocks. Crowing also happens according to social rank. The highest ranking rooster in a flock will crow first in the morning with the lower ranking roosters waiting their turn.
On a personal note, I have noticed that if you have more than one rooster in your flock, you’ll have more crowing. You may think this is a given considering it’s a numbers game. But what I mean by that is when I had more than one rooster, they would crow back and forth to each other all day long. My yard was loud! Recently, we lost a rooster and are down to just one. My yard is a much more quiet place, in fact, it’s downright quiet. Hank rarely crows except a few times in the morning. This suggests that he doesn’t feel the need anymore to compete for territory, so he’s quiet. Aggressive rooster behavior is nonexistent.
2. Can Chickens Swim?
The short answer is not really. They can paddle for a short distance to get out of shallow water should the need arise. If you think about it, chickens come from jungle fowl. These wild birds live in a jungle environment and do have the chance to encounter water. They can maneuver through small, shallow streams and water areas.
The better question here is should chickens be swimming? No. They are not adapted for swimming. Ducks, geese and other water birds like penguins, all have adaptations that make life in the water easy. Their feathers are covered in oil that makes them waterproof. Yes, chickens also have oil on their feathers but it’s much lighter than on a true water-dwelling bird. It’s meant to help with water resistance but does not shed water. After some time in the water a chicken, especially a heavily feathered breed like Cochin chickens, will become water soaked and tired. If they can’t get out of the water, they will drown.
A quick internet search will show pictures of chickens swimming in pools. These are cute to see but also notice people are always around the chickens to help them. Also, think about the high chlorine level in a proper swimming pool. That’s not helpful to a chicken’s feathers. The better option to cool off your chickens in the summer is to provide them with a small wading pool with just a few inches of water so they can soak their legs but always have their feet on the ground.
3. If Your Chickens Eat Meat (Scraps), Won’t They Turn into Cannibals?
This topic usually comes up as people are trying to figure out feeding questions like what can chickens eat as a treat. Chickens are omnivores which means their natural diet consists of both plants and meat. When chickens free range, they can be seen eating everything from insects to mice, snakes, and frogs along with grass and other plants.
Feeding your chickens cooked meat scraps will not turn them into cannibals. It can provide a nutritious treat, especially during a molt as increased protein during this time can help with new feather development. For extra protein, you can also cook your excess chicken eggs and feed them back to your flock. I like to feed eggs to my chickens during the winter. That’s when it’s hard for them to pick up extra protein through their free ranging. I scramble the eggs with no seasoning and then give them to my birds.
Cannibalism in chickens is a behavior and not something caused by food. Often it’s an innocent behavior that starts when one member of the flock has a cut or broken feather that’s bleeding. Exposed areas on the body draw attention and unwanted pecking and that can lead down a path of cannibalism. If you find one of your chickens with a cut, make sure to treat it promptly. If necessary, separate the bird until it heals.
4. What are Those Chickens with Red Things on Their Heads? They Must be Roosters!
This is a funny question that so many people ask if they don’t have chickens. As backyard chicken owners know, the red thing on top of a chicken’s head is a comb and the red thing hanging from the throat is a wattle. Both hens and roosters have combs and wattles. Roosters have much larger combs and wattles than hens.
The more in-depth follow up to this question is what purpose do the combs and wattles serve? For roosters, their comb is used as a way to attract females. Hens are specific when looking for a mate. A large, bright red comb with tall points (given the breed) and evenly formed wattles is desired. This makes sense because this is a sign of a healthy bird that can carry a strong genetic link.
In both sexes, combs and wattles are also used to help keep a bird cool. Hot blood is carried to the extremities where it is cooled and then recirculated into the bloodstream. This is why you see breeds from warm weather climates like the Meditteranean-based Leghorns with large combs and wattles versus cold climate breeds like the Buckeye with much smaller combs and wattles.
5. Don’t Your Chickens Just Fly Away?
Many people don’t know this, but chickens can fly. They don’t fly as well as wild birds. But depending on the breed, some are actually pretty good fliers. Lighter, more sleek birds like the Leghorn can easily fly over fences. Heavier breeds like Orpingtons and Cochins can’t fly as high or as long.
Flying is necessary because, in the wild, chickens roost high in the trees at night to escape predators. Backyard chickens can fly away if they are not kept in an enclosed coop and run. If you have neighbors close by, it may be a good idea to have a really tall fence or a really good relationship because chickens don’t respect boundaries. If something looks good in a neighbor’s yard, they’ll go for it.
Chickens are smart though. They know their coop is safe and where they get their food and water. So even free ranging chickens will return to the coop at night to grab some grub and a safe place to sleep. If for some reason they get caught out after the coop is closed for the night, they will generally try to find a safe roosting spot and settle in for the night.
So now you have an answer to why do roosters crow. What other questions have you heard from new flock owners?