Refusing to Roost in the Coop – Top 5 Solutions May 23, 2014

When your chickens are refusing to roost in the coop, it can be a big problem.

Rooster refusing to roost in the coop

This is not a safe place to sleep

A group of cats is called a glaring, which well describes the look cats give you if you try to herd them. This look is often bestowed from above, as out of reach as possible… or from beneath the couch or some other more or less unreachable place. Chickens do not care for being herded, either. They are much like cats in that way. In our book, we call herding chickens about “the goofiest thing you’ll ever do.” We say that with good reason.

refusing to roost in the coop

This is really not what you want to be doing every night. Herding chickens is NOT one of the top 5 solutions!

Chicken owners know you don’t normally need to herd your chickens. Chickens instinctually come home to roost on their own—most of the time. But there are some situations where refusing to roost is what makes sense to your chickens. If that happens, you’ll be reduced to herding them.

I’d suggest that the world needs a new group noun for chickens when they’re being herded. Your chickens are no longer a convenient flock. Perhaps they are a “drift” of chickens, arrayed in small, haphazard groups in low branches. Or–more akin to the descriptive “glaring” of cats—a “gawking” of chickens, or a “complaint” of chickens. If your chickens are refusing to roost in their coop at night, you’ll want to take care of the issue in short order; you wan’t want to have to try to herd them every night.

Here are the top 5 solutions for when your chickens are refusing to roost in their coop.

1. They haven’t learned where “home” is, yet.

Of course, we as humans know we have prepared a lovely coop for our pet chickens. We have food, water, nests, roosts, and perhaps even chicken toys. But when you move your young chickens from the brooder to the coop, they won’t automatically understand that they have a new home. To your young chickens, 5 or 6 weeks old when you move them, it’s not that they’re refusing to roost in their home. It’s that they think of the brooder as their home.

Solution? Show your chickens where their new home is. Keep them enclosed in their coop or 3 or 4 days before letting them out into the run or yard. Be sure, of course, that you do this in reasonable weather–you don’t want to keep them shut up inside a coop  during the heat of summer if the inside of the coop is going to get as hot as a car interior!  But once they get used to sleeping inside the coop, it will become home, and you won’t have errant hens looking to return to a brooder that has been sanitized and packed away.

2. Your coop needs cleaned.

Another reason your chickens may be refusing to roost in the coop at night is if you’re not keeping the coop clean enough. Despite the reputation of chickens as “dirty” birds, they are not stupid and will not willingly stay in an unhealthy environment. Don’t get me wrong; they don’t understand whether their nests or roosts are sanitized, of course. But when droppings build up without being cleaned out, they can produce ammonia. And yuck. If you smell it, your chickens—much lower to the ground and closer to the source—will have been suffering a long time. They’ll be refusing to roost in the coop when they can’t breathe in there!

Solution? Duh! Clean out the coop. And make a garden, while you’re at it. Chicken manure makes great compost.

3. Your hen is broody.

Whether we want them to or not, occasionally a hen will want to hatch her eggs. Even if you don’t have any roosters (and thus the eggs aren’t fertile and can never successfully be incubated into chicks), some hens will go broody. It’s a hormonal condition. Some breeds are more prone to this than others. Silkies and Orpingtons, particularly, are known for frequent broodiness. Normally, a hen will go broody in a nest in the coop, but occasionally you’ll have a hen who wants to hide beneath your porch or some other place that is not necessarily secure from predators.

Solution? Well, sorry. This one is rough. She is instinctually drawn to go back to the area she’s designated as her safe nest. You’ll just have to carry her back to the coop. Or failing that, you might decide to keep all your chickens in the coop for a few days until such time as your hen gets used to nesting inside, or your hen’s broodiness is broken.

4. There is tension in the flock.

If there have been pecking order disputes in your flock, sometimes the girl or girls lowest in the pecking order will prefer to stay outside the coop. Generally speaking, there will be little tension in an established flock that has enough room in the coop, and plenty of space at feeders and waterers. If you keep roosters, you also want to make sure you have enough hens per rooster so the hens don’t get overbred and the roosters don’t tussle. Otherwise, you may find you have a hen or two who wants to hide in the trees.

roosting tree

Come and get me–I DARE you!

Solution? Make sure you give your flock—or gawking—of chickens plenty of room. Expand your coop, or run, or reduce the size of your flock. In some cases, they may have plenty of everything, but you keep aggressive breeds, or one of your birds is just, well, a jerk. If there is one troublemaker, you may consider rehoming him or her, or housing that bird separately.

5. There are predators or pests bothering them in the coop

If most or all of your flock suddenly refuses to retire to the coop, it’s possible they’ve been visited by a predator at night while they’re trying to sleep. Another possibility is that the coop is infested with mites or some other pest. Some types come out at night to feed on your birds while they’re trying to rest. It would be like trying to sleep in a lice-ridden bed. You wouldn’t want to do that either! You might choose to pitch a tent in the yard, instead.

Solution? Make sure your coop is secure from predators, and treat for any pest problem.

chickens refusing to roost in the coop

You don’t want your chickens sleeping outdoors where they are vulnerable to predators–and you don’t want them sleeping INDOORS, if they are vulnerable to predators there, either.

One final note: after you’ve dealt with whatever issue is causing your birds to dislike roosting in the coop, you may need to ALSO follow up with solution #1, too: keep them enclosed for a few days. Chickens are creatures of habit, and they may have to relearn where home is, so they’ll know where to return to roost.

 

 

 

 

30 Comments
Viv May 23rd, 2014

Mine sat on the ground for nearly3 years until I introduced another hen .

Alan November 3rd, 2014

I have one hen who won’t return to the coop at night. She’s only started doing this. We only had 2 hens when this behaviour began but got 3 new hens a couple of days ago. I got her in last night (hilarious herding method) by getting her into the enclosure where she could make her own way into the coop. She clearly wasn’t happy, stayed out for ages then reluctantly went in. By the time I got hm=ome tonight, all the other 4 hens were settled in the coop for the night, but Rita, the rouge was absent. We have a huge garden and have not yet worked out where she spends the night. Any tips or advice most welcome,

Thanks, Alan.

Lissa November 5th, 2014

It’s tough to offer advice when we don’t know for sure what the cause of her behavior is. The first three possibilities that come to mind in your situation (with just one bird refusing to go in):
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1.) She’s broody, and has a nest outside where she thinks she wants to hatch eggs. (She can be broody whether the eggs are fertile or not, and whether or not there are any eggs in her nest!) 2.) She’s lowest in the pecking order, and is getting picked on when enclosed in the coop. 3.) She’s smart. If there are mites in your coop, some types like to come out at night to feed. She may have figured out that when she goes inside, she gets bitten! There may be other possibilities based on your situation that we may not be aware of.
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If it’s problem #1, you might keep her enclosed in the coop for a few days, which will either break her of broodiness, or at least tranfer the broody area to inside the coop. If it’s #2, you may need to expand coop space, expand feeder/waterer space, expand roosting space, add distractions to the coop and so on, to reduce aggression. If #3, you’ll need to treat the entire flock for parasites.

Brenda Cannon July 5th, 2015

We have an automatic hen door which can cause problems during time changes. The coop is outfitted with two coop-cams for doing the all important “head-count” after dark. More than once I’ve found more than one hen roosting on the coop door step! Silly girls 🙂

Lissa July 6th, 2015

That makes sense, Brenda! Our automatic door isn’t on a timer that we have to update throughout the year; instead it works on a light sensor. We love it, but I have worried that the door will close during the dark skies of a thunderstorm (so far no problems, though).

Susan July 6th, 2015

One other reason is that something is different in the coop. I was making room for a flock of little, closing off one area of the coop for them , putting some lower boosts in Etc. My one year old hen was not having any part of that and was having a fit squaking and bocking apparently she didn’t like my decorating. Lol, took a few days

Lissa July 6th, 2015

That’s a good point, Susan! Chickens aren’t big fans of change, so sometimes if you’ve changed something–even something very small–they will rebel for a few days.

Kristen E. Martin July 6th, 2015

When do chicks, about a month old, learn if the broody abandons them without teaching them where to roost? They keep piling up in on the floor UNDER the nest boxes.

Also on a completely different note, what are signs that your coop has mites or lice? Are any visible?

Lissa July 11th, 2015

It depends; most have the instinct to roost UP. It’s nothing they really need to learn, not exactly. However that instinct is reinforced with other roosting birds, because chickens also have an instinct to be a member of a flock and do what the flock does. Some breeds have a stronger roosting instinct than others. Game bantams, for example, often want to roost WAY high, up in trees! But silkies sometimes seem to have little roosting instinct at all. Sometimes they just sleep in piles on the floor of the coop. At four weeks, I wouldn’t worry too much. If they haven’t begun roosting by 10 or 12 weeks, you might make sure your roosts are a height they prefer, that they’re wide enough and so on.

Robyn November 22nd, 2015

GREAT HELP! Learned so much in just a few minutes 🙂 Thank you.

Michaela November 22nd, 2015

Hi i have 4 chickens, 3 are sisters and the other 1 is an older chicken. She goes in at night but the other 3 huddle in the corner under the coop also had them nearly 4 months and still no eggs, please help thank you Michaela

Lissa November 23rd, 2015

Michaela, have you tried any of the things suggested in the blog post? If so, what happened?

Rosie November 22nd, 2015

I have a broody hen with three younguns…. I have let them out into the area with the rest of the girls ( 2 brown shavers ) all good, but she is insisting on sleeping at night on the ground next to a wall! We have supplied her with a roost, bedding, boxes…. but every night she is on the ground! Last night she was disturbed by ‘something’ and was running around at 2.20 in the morning sqwaking her head off…. should we move her and the chicks into a safe area? Last time we did that she had a fit!!

Lissa November 23rd, 2015

Rosie–do you mean she is in the coop but refusing to sleep on the roost? When they are brooding chicks, they’ll want to nest somewhere with the babies, so the babies can snuggle under and keep warm. As to moving her to a separate area, if the other hens aren’t bothering them, there’s no need to bother. Normally we do recommend moving a broody with her eggs into a place where she can’t be bothered, because sometimes the other hens will attack the babies. That happens most often in a very small coop-and-run, where everyone is feeling a bit territorial. If there’s plenty of space (or if you have a very laid back flock), you may not need to provide that extra protection. I free range, and I have a half-silkie girl that sneaks off into the woods once or twice a year, and comes back with chicks. No one bothers them. To be fair, she’s so fierce, she’s even got my little spaniel giving her a wide berth. It’s pretty comical to see him equate the sound of peeping baby chicks with that-which-must-be-avoided. A few years ago, though, I had an RIR who would attack baby chicks if they weren’t safely separated. So it does depend a lot on your set-up as well as the personalities in your flock! But so long as you don’t have anyhen trying to hurt them, the chicks will benefit from associating with the flock in a natural way as they grow up. 🙂

Helen December 17th, 2015

My hen and her 2 x 3 month old chicks try every night to roost in our trees. If I do not chase them in to the run before 2pm they are ‘up there’ and its then a devil of a job to get them down! They have a hen house (albeit an old one)to themselves with lots of clean straw in it and I diatom it regularly – so why won’t they go in?

Lissa December 17th, 2015

Before I could make a guess, Helen, could you let me know if you’ve tried addressing any of the other possibilities I listed here? In other words, is there tension in the flock directed at your broody or her chicks? Have the chicks learned where home is, yet? Have you tried keeping them in the coop for a few days, etc.?

Banty May 13th, 2016

I am new to raising chickens but I cannot get my chickens back to their home I’ve tried feeding them towards the coop and I’ve gotten close bit no cigar. I’ve even tried to pick them up while roosting on a clothes line post but I always get flawged anyone have any advice I would appreciate ie

Lissa May 13th, 2016

If you’re having trouble lifting them while they’re roosting, you probably just need to wait until they’re settled down a bit longer. Do’t try to pick them up right after they’ve gone to roost; give them an hour or two until they’re sleeping. That should help! What was your result when you tried some of the other suggestions in the article?

Hannah June 17th, 2016

I have 8 chickens. 3 of them I inherited with the house I bought. 5 are new and younger 9 months old. Only the head chicken is laying and I am trying to figure out why the others aren’t. The new ones are blends of Aracauna, silky and shavrrs. Are they old enough to lay. We have a rat problem I am trying to handle. Would this be the cause? They don’t seem bothered whenever I’ve seen them and a rat together. Also only the egg layer roosts in the coop. The other girls roost in the tree in their enclosure.

Lissa June 17th, 2016

Hi, Hannah! It’s tough to know for sure what could be causing the problem, but it’s not likely to be age. Most hens start laying at about 6 months (some a little sooner, some a little later, but by 9 months they should all be laying unless there’s something else going on). Even so, I can give you a few things to check out that may help solve the mystery. One, as you point out, could be pests. Rodents will eat eggs–and if there are snakes hunting the rodents, snakes will eat eggs, too. Another is that it’s possible your other girls are laying, but not in the coop. If they are roosting outside, they may not feel that the coop is a safe place, so they could be laying elsewhere, too. You’ll also want to check health. Parasites like mites, lice or worms could be draining them enough that they don’t have enough resources to lay. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, it could be possible your girls are not laying because some breeds don’t lay well in the short winter days. Those are the first things I would check. I hope that helps you solve the mystery!

Hannah June 19th, 2016

Thanks Lisa. Think it might be a winter thing. Talked with a friend today who has 20 chicken and is only getting one egg a day. Might just have to hang in until spring!!

Mike June 27th, 2016

I opened the run this week for my 58 chickens and a turkey. They’re 4 weeks old, and were brooded right in the coop. About 2/3rds of the birds spend most of the day in the run now, and are roosting on a hay bale in the run. Every night at dark I have to pick them up and put them in the coop. Are they just too young to understand roosting in the coop or is something else going on? A space issue? I notice they tend to sleep in three distinct groups, but they have. The whole coop is about 180 square feet. About 2/3rds of it is available to them now. I moved the hay bale into the coop tonight, just because they like it so much. Maybe I should just leave them in there for another couple weeks?

Lissa June 29th, 2016

Hi, Mike! It’s difficult for me to guess what’s going on, because you haven’t noted if you’ve checked out the “Top 5” causes in this post. Have you checked them over for mites, for example? Some types come out at night to feed, in which case many birds would not want to go inside the coop where they’re going to be fed upon. As another example, are you offering them enough room? Generally we suggest about 4 sq feet (inside) per bird for most breeds, and 10 square feet per bird (outside in the run). That means you’re a bit short of inside space, about 60 sq feet. Then you say you’re only giving them access to 2/3 of it, meaning you’re short about 120 sq feet. I realize they’re young birds, but younger birds tend to be more active than older birds, so really this is about the age at which you’ll probably want to give them their full space. However, I don’t know how much outside space they’re getting.

You can sometimes get away with less space inside if you have a little more outside–particularly in northern areas, a smaller coop can help the birds stay warm in cold winters–but you have to pay particular attention to stress with a smaller coop. Some breeds don’t do well confined to small spaces. You’ll also need to make sure you have enough roosting space inside, enough feeders, enough waterers, enough nests and so on. When there’s not enough space, those lower in the pecking order will simply try to make their homes elsewhere.

If they were brooded in the coop, they have already imprinted on it as home–they don’t normally need more time in such cases, so there is something else going on. Check them for mites, make sure there are no rodents coming in at night, be sure you’re providing enough roosting space, etc. If you can identify the problem and take care of it–for instance, ridding your coop of mites, addressing any space-based aggression or tension–then after the issue is fixed you WILL need to keep them in the coop again for a bit, because the problem kept them from feeling safe in the space. Hope that advice will help you!

Jason August 2nd, 2016

We have seven young chickens, almost 6 months old. 5 of the 7 roost fine. The two silkies we have will sleep together right where the automatic door closes. They are so stubborn, that they will let the door close on their backs and get stuck rather than move. Every night I either push them back into the coop or carry them to the roost. I don’t mind doing this, however, we will be leaving for a vacation in a few weeks. I don’t want to set the automatic door opener for fear of it closing on them and hurting them, but this leaves a breach in the security of the coop. They are enclosed in a run that is protected all around with 2×4 fencing as well as a predator skirt. Wondering if there are any other suggestions to get them to clear the door space for bedtime?

Lissa August 3rd, 2016

Hmmm, that’s an interesting problem! I can provide a few ideas for you to check out, given this situation!

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First… it could be something as simple as the possibility that since silkies–with their unusual feathers–fly particularly poorly, they find your roosts to be too high but the threshold of the coop door to be just right! Of course this depends on your set-up, which I can’t see. But if that sounds like a possibility to you, you might try placing a block of wood at just the same height as your pophole threshold to serve as a roost for your silkies. If you do this, you may have to keep the birds shut in the coop for a couple of days (in mild weather–don’t keep them shut inside a bakingly-hot coop, of course) to get the silkies used to retiring all the way in, to their new roost.
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The second thing that comes to ming is that I had a silkie a few years ago who had trouble retiring at night. Eventually I discovered that she had problems seeing well through her large crest. I carefully trimmed the crest in front of her eyes, and that helped. Then I added a little battery powered light into the coop for a while so she could see better to get in and settle down.

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What I used was actually a solar light–something like what you would use in your landscaping–set in the window. It charged during the day and when light was low, came on at night for an additional hour or so past sunset. I used a yard light because I had one, and I had a nice window. Depending on your setup, you may want to get a solar light with a remote charger (to put on the roof)… or just plug something in on a timer (always be wary of fire hazards in the dusty coop, though).

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The other thing I would look into would be whether they are getting picked on. You don’t mention whether they are roosters or hens, but occasionally–usually when there is not enough coop or run space–a dominant rooster will try to keep any other roosters from entering the coop at night, or the dominant hen will try to keep out the lowest in the pecking order. If they feel the need to compete for resources or enough space, that can cause aggressive behavior, and perhaps the Silkies are roosting where they feel safe–halfway out of the “dangers” of the yard, and halfway out of the “dangers” of the coop.

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This would be a harder problem to solve before vacation, because you’d need to address the aggressive behavior first, and then get your girls into the habit of going inside to roost again. And addressing the aggressive behavior could involve a few different things, depending on what the problem is. You may need to add space–or just space on the roosts (silkies often don’t like roosts) or space at feeders and waterers. It’s tough to say based on the information you provided.

susan dennehy August 14th, 2016

I am in need of some advice. We have 4 hens 2 barred rock, 2 buckeyes. The are about 1 yr old. One of the hens was broody and was sitting on the others eggs every chance she got. We resorted to locking them out of the coop during the day. After a few days she is know broken of the habit. Now the other 3 hens roost on top of their coop. The brooded goes in the coop at nite. The coop iz fairly secure but they would of course be safer inside. It is very hkt here and i was wondering if this is a habit that will correct bt itself?? I have read some of the blogs and was wondering what you think id the bedt way to bandle this problem?? I read about the 5 most common causes and none of them seem to fit. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Lissa August 17th, 2016

Yes… I think in this case you created the problem by shutting out your birds. You don’t generally want to lock any of your chickens out of the coop, because–as you’ve discovered!–they will become accustomed to roosting elsewhere. The solution is to contain them inside the coop for a few days (in mild weather). But that might result in problems with the broody again. So you might deal with a broody by containing her in an area where she can’t get to anyone’s eggs, such as a little dog or cat carrier within the coop or in another secure area. Or simply gather the eggs promptly during the day. (If you’re away at work, perhaps you could find a responsible person in your neighborhood to gather for you until she is done being broody.) Sympathies to you, BTW! There is nothing more lovely than a broody caring for her chicks, but nothing more frustrating than a broody when you don’t have room for more chickens!

sherry Mcguire September 15th, 2016

I built a new coop but my. Chickens in for 3 days left them out they will not go in at night what to do

Lissa September 16th, 2016

If it’s comfortable and safe to them, you may need to keep them inside for longer, until they imprint on your coop as home.

sherry Mcguire September 15th, 2016

Chickens will not go in at night

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