Cock-a-doodle-doo! Nothing encapsulates the joys of country life better than a cockerel’s crow. Or so I thought before my family moved to rural Norfolk in the summer of 2022. The converted barn that we would be living in came complete with 20 chickens, 15 ducks and two farm cats; we previously had zero pets.
We took to chicken-keeping well. The kids ran among them scattering corn and checking for eggs every five minutes. Names were devised for some of their favourites – Lulu, Dolly, Charlotte – and the less imaginative Cocker for the leader of the pack.
Cocker was a menacing fellow, with vicious spurs on his legs. Whereas the hens would make a run for it if we went near them – which was something of a disappointment, as we very much thought of them as familiars rather than future nuggets – he would brazenly swagger up to us in his quest for food. He was something of a bully: when the bird flu “flockdown” meant our birds were confined to their coop for the entire winter, I felt sorry for the poor hens trapped with him. And, oh, how he crowed – at dawn, when an egg was laid (allegedly), whenever he had something to say for himself.
I loved that sound until our first spring. It had been a tough winter. When the nights suddenly become longer, for the first time ever I felt afraid of the dark. It was one thing going on holiday to places like this, but living here was different. Everything needed meticulous planning – even buying a pint of milk was a palaver. And although everyone in the community was incredibly welcoming, I felt isolated. I had always struggled with insomnia, and now it started to spiral, as I woke in the early hours and worried that I wasn’t cut out for rural life.
But when the clocks changed and the nights finally started to get shorter, things got worse. The light mornings meant that Cocker’s crow announcing the new day got earlier and earlier – at its worst it was 4am. This meant I would wake in the night, get back to sleep, only to be woken again what felt like minutes later by a cock-a-frigging-doo, not once but many times – and I could never get back to sleep afterwards. As my sleeplessness increased, so did my anxiety levels. Leaving the farm for a trip at the end of May, I said to my husband, only half jokingly: “It’s him or me.”
By the time I got back, Cocker had been relocated to our kind neighbour’s smallholding. She planned to keep him in a dark barn at night to hopefully reduce his early morning activity.
Without him our hens were confused. Chasing them back into the coop as night fell, we realised what a tight ship he had run. We were messing with the natural order on some level.
Then, a couple of months later, Cocker dropped dead – probably from old age rather than a broken heart. Our neighbour asked if we would like him replacing. “No thanks,” I quickly replied. Later in the summer she showed us some chicks that he had fathered during his short stay there and, despite everything, it was good to see his legacy.
My sleep improved immensely, which I’m sure was due in part to the removal of my fine feathered alarm clock. I’d moved to the countryside for peace and quiet, after all.