Monday, September 1, 2008

Our noisy urban chickens get busted

We live in a typical urban neighborhood: lots of babies, kids and dogs contributing to the soundtrack of families growing up. The traffic is light, and we can hear the sounds of the Caltrain as it pulls into Redwood City station about a mile away. In all, it's a pretty quiet place with the few odd punctuations of nuisance sounds: sirens, loud car mufflers... our chickens.

It seems one of our chickens, Sophia, has fallen in love with the sound of her own voice. And I'm not talking about her soothing little cluck-cluck-cluck sound. I'm talking her alarmed-hen sound as if she's trying to warn others that some threat is near by: a loud "Caaaaaaaw!" And it's never just one Caaaaaw!, there's got to be a whole series of them one after the other after the other.

Depending on how much energy she's got, she could go on belting out a caw every 10 seconds or so for minutes on end before finally getting it out of her system. I've found I can help short-circuit these loud sessions by walking down to the coop let her see I'm near, but I'd rather not have her learn to call me to her coop by doing this.

And unlike prior fears that she was just making a ruckus because she's cooped up instead free-ranging the yard, Sophia's also stopped in the middle of the yard while I'm out there with her and raised her head up to belt out a couple CAAAAWs for no particular reason.

So I've learned to just let her go at it, even though it seems that about three mornings a week, just after dawn, she'll starting belting them out in the crisp morning air. No doubt to the extreme pleasure of our neighbors trying to sleep in. Heck, even I'm bothered by it some mornings.

Over the summer, we've noticed there are a couple dogs in the neighborhood that bark and bark and bark until past midnight. Laying awake in bed one night, after cursing the dogs I told my wife that I was sure our chickens were going to get in trouble with the neighbors well before those dogs were hushed. And wouldn't you know I was right?

Last week, a city zoning inspector showed up unannounced at our door to check on our chickens. Left Coast Mom was the one home at the time to receive this visit, and she let him down into the backyard to show off the girls and even pulled out two eggs from the nest (thank goodness it was a double-egg day!) to underscore the point that we're well within code here in Redwood City (four hens per household, no roosters).

The inspector asked if the chickens fought with each other (no), if they had enough room (yes), regularly tended (yes).

And so we were deemed completely in compliance with code. Thank you. Have a nice day.

It's taken me so long to write this post because there are several issues this brings up and I'm still wrestling with how to deal with them:
  1. Why didn't the neighbor come knock on our door to talk to us about it first? Or is this the same passive aggressive person who left a note on our door about our own dog barking too much last summer (we got him an anti-bark collar after that). Wow, they must be going friggin nuts with the way those other dogs are carrying on at night this summer.
  2. Sure, our chickens are legal, but it seems they're a noise nuisance. I think part of why we got "busted" is the fact that folks aren't used to hearing chickens in their neighborhood (not just ours, but any neighborhood). In running down the list of "sounds you'll hear from your backyard" I don't think "chickens calling" makes the top 40 responses for most folks. It'll take a while to get used to the chickens being acknowledged as part of the 'hood
  3. What can I do to quiet my chickens? As mentioned above, Sophia's content to sound off whether she's inside the run or out free-ranging the yard. It seems like she's telling off the squirrels that run rampant around her or the jays or crows that fly over, but I can't tell the source of her perturbation. I really just think she likes the sound of her voice.
And finally, why is it that the dogs are getting the free ride where my chooks are not? There seems to be no consequence to their barking and barking and barking at all hours. As the Mrs was walking the city code inspector to the door after we scored our "meets code" rating, she asked if he was the same one who got called in to deal with incessantly barking dogs.

"No," he said, "for them you have to call the police."

Talk about busted!


Kathi D said...

It really makes no sense whatsoever. I'm sure the dogs, not to mention lawn mowers, are far noisier than your hens. You are probably EXTRA-sensitive to the hen noises, and I doubt that most neighbors pay much attention. There always seems to be one sourpuss, though, doesn't there?

I had THREE roosters for a while, until I found a nice ranch home for two of them. I thank my lucky stars that we are far enough out, and have rural-enough neighbors, that they didn't even blink at three roosters squawking. In fact, one neighbor took in the two extra roosters to keep them from being picked on, while I found a new home for them.

For what it's worth, I offer my solidarity! And hold your heads up high! You are in compliance with the law, and with all the noises there are in the burbs, a chicken squawking should sound like music.

Granny Annie said...

Maybe she craves a visit from a rooster?

Linda said...

I know what you mean about having a noisy hen. Maisy, the hen at the top of the pecking order, is a regular squawker. Nearly every day, she does this nagging "squawk, sqwawk" sound. On a really bad day, Betty (the number 2 hen) will join in. Oh, and every once in a while Betty starts really belting out loud "bug-aw, bug-aw, bug-aw" noises. I mean REALLY loud. If a neighbor makes a comment, I tell them that she's commenting on egg-laying process is. (She does this only around their typical egg-laying time in the mid-morning). Today, all of the chickens were very noisy as I tried to let the 4 chicks outside their Eglu run to mingle with the hens for the first time. My 3 lovely hens turned into incredibly mean bullies to these 8-week old chicks, which peeped loudly and frantically as a hen would peck at one or the other. It's a painful process to watch, but they have to work this out somehow.

Em said...

We have a dog grooming business (in home) as our next door neighbors - think about all of that yapping every other day - all day! Our own Town's Mayor said at the meeting the other night that chickens are 'much better than dogs, the way they make all that noise, and poo everywhere'... I wish I had the direct quote because it was hilarious! Now if they'd only go ahead and vote on the darn thing so I could get some little chicas here! said...

Great blog post! I too have noisy hens, and sometimes all 4 of them are "bock bocking" as loud as possible, in chorus with one another.

Yep- it can be pretty loud, I will admit, but usually it lasts no longer than 20 minutes of the day. And unlike dogs and kids, they make thier noise during the day, and not at night when people are sleeping.

Also, people who complain about noises in their urban neighborhood need to realize that 1) urban environments are by default noisy- as you live in close proximity with many people, and 2)chickens may be a little noisy sometimes, but the benefits far outweigh the slight noise distrubance.

If you want total peace and quiet- move to a rural area. Also, if you want a quiet sterile environment, you can find a gated community that is very restrictive and will supply the illusion of urban living that is so desired.

Kateri said...

When I got my chicks this spring, one of my neighbors asked if one of them was a rooster. I said no. She said, "Oh, you should get a rooster. It would be so nice to hear a rooster crowing every morning." At least I have one neighbor who won't be complaining about hen noises!

My hens are about 3 months old and are still really quite. I guess we will see what happens when they start laying.

sugarcreekstuff said...

I have a noisy hen, Lola. Her screech is so awful I have considered making her into soup. The only thing that saved her is her beautiful green eggs. I'm rural and the neighbors don't seem to mind, I do though.

shellywoman said...

i have installed a radio in my hen house and keep it on the classical channel. it seems to calm the girls quite nicely.

you could put it up for a try anyway...

Mo said...

I think sadly that some people like to spoil things. :( Shame they couldn't have just popped round for a cup of tea and a chat, (and I am sure some eggs), rather than running off to the city.

I am glad there is nothing they can do because you are in code but it is still no fun knowing that someone out there is complaining about you and the chooks. Don't let it get you down though, it's totally not worth it!

Dina said...

That is so frustrating! I'm sorry about that brush with the law. At least in your city it's legal to have chickens at all. I'm determined to have some chickies and Medford, MA (my town) says no way. I've asked again and again, and I think I'm just going to go for it anyway because my neighbors are all cool with it.

Any advice about quiet breeds?

Thanks again for your great blog. I have it linked on mine (

All the best,


Melanie K said...

@shellywoman: I never would have thought to put a radio in the eglu! Unfortunately for us, Hannah (oldest daughter) would be running down there to change it to Radio Disney every chance she got. And it makes me cringe to think of the racket poor Sophia and ZsuZsu would have to make to drown out the Jonas Brothers. :-D


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