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Chickens in the City: Urban Homesteading Etiquette

This week Chow.com's "Table Manners" column tackles the thorny issues of "urban homesteading" vis a vis your neighbor's complaints, rights, and expectations.  I'm going to skip the bit about bunny slaughter because A) gross, and B) bunnies aren't my thing.  Instead, let's home in on a point the article makes, in oddly veiled terms:

"[Chickens] sing an egg song when they lay an egg. It can be just a couple clucks or a real 'ca-caw' that is audible over several yards."

Ah yes, "The Egg Song."  So it has been dubbed on several online chicken forums, including the venerable Backyard Chickens.  It sounds cute, doesn't it?  "The Egg Song."  One imagines Snow White twirling through her kitchen, tidying up the dishes while her little bluebird friends trill and twitter at her shoulders.

But rest assured, "The Egg Song" is just a euphemism for a very un-pretty noise.  It's like calling a female bulldog a "beautiful pretty princess."  It's only funny because it's so untrue.  Here's some video I found of The Egg Song in action.

When a chicken lays an egg, it marks this event by issuing forth an alarm call.  This is the same noise they will use when they are being pursued to the death by dogs, or when a hawk is perched ten feet away and giving them the evil eye (ask me how I know).  It is a noise that is meant to alert the flock and get the attention of any bystanders.  

No one knows why they announce the laying of an egg with the same noise they use to signal mortal danger.  Personally I think it's just the noise they make when they're in a very emotional state, like "WHOOOOOIEEEE!!!!"  Because they certainly don't seem scared after they finish laying an egg.

"It can be just a couple clucks".  It CAN be.  But it usually isn't.  I assume my four chickens are representative of chickenkind.  In any given day, I will hear three out of four eggs being laid.  The fourth egg is laid with just a little bit of burbling good cheer; nothing audible from more than ten feet away.

So yes, sometimes eggs get laid quietly.  But don't count on this happening very often.

"Audible over several yards."  Now that's an interesting way to put it.  First of all, I'm sure he means "parcels of property owned by households," and not yards in the sense of "three feet."

In some neighborhoods, a conversation at regular voice levels can be "audible over several yards."  So that isn't really a very useful metric for judging the volume levels.

I wish I had a decibel meter handy.  I can tell you that I hear it clearly from inside my house when the chicken tractor is at the far end of the yard, at least 100 feet away.  It's about as loud as a car alarm.  It will make your ears ring if you're standing too close when they let 'er rip.

So before you get city chickens ask yourself, are your neighbors going to put up with the equivalent of a car alarm going off in your back yard an average of once per day per chicken, for between five and ten minutes?  Because I love my chickens, but that is pretty much what happens.

Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks