Why did the chicken cross the road?
Perhaps to escape government regulation.
But in tiny Madisonville, where crowing roosters have been part of the town's identity for decades, efforts to pass restrictions on chickens are proving complicated and controversial.
Two proposed ordinances — one of which would have limited roosters to properties of over an acre and another that would have limited the number of chickens people can keep — have gone nowhere.
After a lengthy and spirited debate at a Town Council meeting last week, with most people coming down in favor of the chickens, Mayor Jean Pelloat told the council to go back to the drawing board.
But Madisonville isn't the only area municipality getting its feathers ruffled over roosters.
In New Orleans, feral rooster populations are growing, and ever since Hurricane Katrina, some neighborhoods have been invaded by chickens and roosters that were either abandoned or escaped from people who once kept them as pets, according to Beth Renfro, an officer with the Louisiana SPCA.
Roosters have been illegal in New Orleans since 2012, when they were deemed “wild and exotic animals,” in the same group as monkeys, panthers, venomous snakes and a whole host of other noxious and rare breeds that cannot be kept as pets.
But the "rooster raids" that the LA/SPCA used to conduct as part of an animal-control contract with the city have been eliminated because of budget cuts.
Now people like 69-year-old Irish Channel resident Willie Crain are hearing something that they never before experienced in decades of city living: crack-of-dawn crowing.
"I was just so surprised when I heard it!” said Crain, who has lived on her street for 42 years. “I said, 'Roosters, now that’s something new.' ”
In Madisonville, chickens aren't new, but the idea of regulating them is.
When a resident complained about a raucous rooster in the late 1980s, popular opinion was decidedly pro-bird. Town officials were inclined to treat the complaint as a joke, and they even staged a show trial for the offending rooster.
But Pelloat said that complaints about roosters arise about once a year. This year started off with one from a prominent citizen: Councilman Chris Hitzman, who said his neighbor's rooster keeps his family up at night.
Feral chickens are an issue in Madisonville as well, and town attorney Bruce Danner offered a draft law that would have forbidden owners of roosters or other “domesticated animals” from allowing them to roam at large. It also would have prohibited roosters on properties of less than 1 acre.
Hitzman also took aim at fowl that are running at large, and he drafted language prohibiting "habitual squawking or other noise” that unreasonably disturbs the peace, plus “disagreeable odors.”
And he wanted to limit the number of chickens to 10 hens and one rooster per home.
That limit didn't sit well with his neighbors, David and Susan Burke, owners of the rooster that has disrupted the councilman's sleep.
Ten hens don't produce enough eggs to feed a family of seven, Susan Burke said. Her family made that argument at the council meeting, prompting questions about how many chickens are a reasonable number. Her husband, David, suggested four hens per person — which would be a smaller flock than the 36 the family currently keeps.
Some council members seemed to view the situation as an isolated problem.
Councilman Tim Bounds chided David Burke for his noisy rooster. "We don’t need a plethora of rules in this town," he said. "Your rooster’s a problem. You’ve known about it, and it was supposed to disappear. I was hoping it would, and we could all go home and enjoy ourselves.”
Susan Burke said the family had held off on getting rid of their rooster to see what the town was going to do before giving it away or killing it for the dinner table.
She said that the matter had become "very, very personal," and she wished that the neighbors could sit down and find a solution.
"We're fearful this is just the beginning," she said of the proposed chicken regulations.
But the family is pursuing other options, including the possibility of giving their rooster to a friend who is rebuilding her chicken coop.
Failing that, Burke said, she found a "no-crow collar" online that's supposed to make the rooster's call less loud.
Her husband was ordering it, she said. "I'm going to tell him to overnight it," she said.
Bill McHugh and staff writer Della Hasselle contributed to this report.