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If there is one golden rule that should be shared with all new chicken keepers, it is that your birds must be secured at night. However, if you have chickens that insist on roosting in the trees outside, you might be wondering can chickens sleep outside at night?
Chickens should never be allowed to spend the night outside their coop, especially if they are free-range birds. There are many predators that will happily take a chicken at night, even if they are high in trees, including snakes, skunks, birds of prey, and even Bobcats. Chickens should always be locked securely in their coop at night.
Where is the best place for Chickens to sleep?
There is no doubt that a secure coop or hen house is the best place for your chickens to sleep at night. Their coop is (hopefully) dry, warm and draft-free. It should also be a place where the birds are safe from predators.
From personal experience, I can tell you that if chickens are left to their own devices at night, they will eventually be taken by predators.
A few years ago I lost a pair of birds that insisted on sleeping outside in a tree. I thought they would be fine as they were so high. Unfortunately, they were both killed during the night, almost certainly by a fox.
A chickens coop should feel like home to your chickens. It should be a place that is warm, clean, and inviting. Chicken coops should have ample roosting places, plenty of soft bedding in the nest box, and ideally, be regularly cleared of droppings.
A chicken coop doesn’t have to be an expensive purpose build space. Plenty of homesteaders successfully convert sheds or outbuilding into coops and some even build their own from pallets or scrap timber.
Providing the place where your chickens’ sleep is strong, dry, draft-free and the birds are safe from predators, it will be fine as a chicken coop.
Why should chickens sleep in a coop at night?
Chickens must sleep in a coop at night if they are to be safe from predators, warm, and protected from the worst of the weather.
Unfortunately, just about every predator out there finds chickens irresistible. If you allow your birds to sleep outside, there will come a day that a predator takes them.
The list of predators that will happily take a chicken roosting outside at night is almost endless and varies depending on where in the country, or even the world, you live in.
Foxes, Bobcats, skunks, snakes, birds of prey, stoats, coyotes, rats, badgers, and even dogs will all kill and eat a chicken if they have a chance.
By far the best way to protect your chickens from predators is to keep them in a secure coop at night.
Chickens are hardy birds and they will happily live even in some of the coldest areas of the country. With that said, there are two things chickens absolutely hate. 1, being in a draft, and 2, getting wet in the rain.
If your chickens are allowed to sleep outside at night, they will have no protection from the weather. When chickens get really wet from the rain or are roosting in a draft, they quickly become stressed.
Chickens that are stressed are especially susceptible to illness and diseases. Pests and diseases can soon take hold of a bird whose immune system may have been compromised due to stress.
Reasons A Chicken Might Be Reluctant To Go Into Their Coop At Night?
I recently wrote an article addressing the issue of why chickens won’t go into their coop at night, which I titled Why Won’t My Chickens Go In The Coop At Night (9 reasons with solutions).
There can be many reasons an individual chicken or even the whole flock refuses to go into their coop at night. Some of these reasons include;
Bullying by other birds
Chickens are mean! The phrase ‘hen pecked’ comes from the fact that chickens will peck one another, sometimes relentlessly. This pecking is an essential part of establishing the pecking order within the flock.
Occasionally, however, one bird becomes the target of the others and they will hound that bird day and night.
If a chicken is being pecked at night, blocked from using the roosting bars, or even refused entry to the coop altogether, it may decide to sleep outside instead.
The coop is too small
When chickens go into their coop at night, they like to sleep holding onto a roosting bar. These bars simulate the chickens holding onto a tree branch. Each bird needs its own space.
Sometimes, when a coop is too small for the number of birds living in it, there may not be enough roosting space for every bird, and one or more of your chickens may decide they would rather sleep outside in a tree than on the floor of the coop.
Providing additional roosting bars or reducing the size of the flock may solve this problem
Mites are the bane of chicken keepers’ lives. These tiny creatures spend their days tucked in cracks and crevices within the coop, then come out at night and crawl all over the chickens, biting them to extract small quantities of blood.
If chickens are kept in a coop that has mites (and many coops do), they may decide to sleep outside rather than have interrupted sleep night after night.
Fortunately, if you believe your coop may have mites, there are a number of different treatments on the market. I have good success with Davis Pure Planet Poultry Spray which I normally just order from Amazon.com.
Regularly treating your chicken coop with mite spray is an essential part of routine maintenance, and I try to treat my coops at least once a month, and more often if I suspect my birds are being bothered by mites.
A Dirty Coop
Having a dirty coop is another reason chickens may decide they would rather roost outside at night.
Chickens drop a surprising amount of poop at night, and a coop floor can quickly become covered. Chicken droppings are very high in ammonia (which is one reason they are so good for our compost piles), and the smell given off by the droppings can start to affect the chickens breathing.
High levels of ammonia in the coop can even burn the chickens’ throats and lungs.
It is essential the floor of the chicken coop is cleared on a regular basis, otherwise the chicken may start to refuse to enter the coop.
Coop has been moved
As strange as it sounds, moving a coop from here to there can confuse your birds. Even a surprisingly small move can be enough to cause absolute confusion in your flock.
The best way to move a coop is when the chickens are all safely locked in it. I have seen firsthand a group of chickens standing where the old coop was located, completely dumbfounded by the absence of their home, even though it is only 50 yards to the left!
What to do if your chickens refuse to go into their coop at night?
Having one or more chickens that refuse to go into the coop at night can be a real pain. Assuming you have looked at the list above and ruled out or addressed any issues, what can you do to encourage your chickens to go into the coop at night?
In my experience, there are a couple of things we can do to encourage our birds to return to their coop at night. One which has always worked well for me is to throw a couple of handfuls of mixed corn into the coop around dusk. This is a sure-fire way to get the girls into their coop before they roost. Usually, once they are in they will choose a roosting spot and settle down for the night.
Another way, which can be a little hands-on for some people, is to round up your birds at dust and physically put them into the coop, closing the door after adding each chicken if necessary to stop them from coming back out. After two or three nights of dong this, they usually get the ideal and head into the coop of their own accord.
It is extremely important that chickens spend the night in a secure coop away from predators and cold, wet weather. If one or more of your chickens refuses to go to bed at night, you must find the reason why and rectify the problem ASAP, otherwise, you may lose your chickens to a predator, or to illness brought on by stress.