Why Are My Chickens Awake At Night (and how to prevent it)

The most common reason for chickens to be awake at night is mites. Mites are a constant problem in chicken coops. Chicken mites live in cracks and crevices around the coop and come out at night when they bite the chickens to feed on their blood.

Why Are My Chickens Awake at night?

I have been keeping, breeding, and showing chickens for well over 20 years, and in that time I have kept hundreds of chickens.

In my experience, the main reason chickens are not sleeping at night is due to mites. Chicken mites (which are sometimes referred to as Bird Mites) live in the coop with the chickens. During the day when the chickens are out and about foraging, the mites are tucked into all the small cracks and crevices around the coop.

When the chickens come into the coop to roost at night, the mites come out and crawl all over the chickens looking for places they can bite the birds to feed on their blood.

Chickens can be disturbed by mites. Whilst having one or two mites on an individual bird will probably not cause your chickens any concerns when the numbers swell to the point the chicken is literally crawling with mites, it can stop your chickens from sleeping.

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How Do I Know if my chickens have mites?

When your chickens come out of the coop in the morning, most of the mites will have retreated to the cracks they hide in during the day. However, some mites will remain on the birds. This can be our best indicator if we have a mite problem.

To check if your chicken has mites, you need to look on the parts of the bird that are most vulnerable to mite bites.

Around the chickens’ eyes is a classic place to find chicken mites, as is around the birds’ vent. Another place we often find mites is under the chickens’ wings.

Mites move pretty quickly when disturbed, so you may just catch a glimpse of them scurrying under the chickens’ feathers when you disturb them. If you are holding the chicken when inspecting her for mites, you may also find one crawl across your hand or up your arm.

If you don’t see any mites on your chickens, try looking in the coop. Due to the mites’ nocturnal nature, you will need to look at night. After dark, take a flashlight and shine it into the coop. Look along the roosting bars to see if there are mites moving around. If you can, shine the flashlight into the chickens’ eyes to see if mites are biting the chickens on the face.

If you do not see any mites, but you still think you may have them, take a white piece of paper and rub it over the roosting bars between the birds as well as around the nest boxes. Inspect the paper with a flashlight. If you have red smears across the paper, you know you have mites.

How to Deal With Mites?

So once you decide mites are the reason your chickens are awake at night, you need to deal with the mites. From personal experience, I can tell you they will not go away by themselves.

The first step to destroying the sites is to remove everything from the coop. Water bowls, feeders, bedding, removable roosting bars, everything. If it comes out of the coop, you need to take it out. All these items will need to be thoroughly cleaned, ideally with a mild bleach solution to kill any mites that may be living on them.

Be aware that mites are masters at hiding, and they fit into the tiniest gap, so if you can soak everything overnight in the bleach solution, then you have a much better chance of killing every single mite.

With the bedding, I strongly advise you to burn it rather than adding it to the compost pile. If the compost pile is anywhere near the chicken coop there is a good chance the mites will return.

To eradicate mites from the coop you have two choices, the organic method or the inorganic method.

Organic Method

So I try and be an organic homesteader whenever I can. I always try and find the most environmentally friendly method to deal with my problems, only resorting to chemicals where there are no other options.

Over the years I have tried several different organic methods to rid my coops of mites. Some worked well, others not so much. It seems organic methods can vary from coop to coop, so each of the following may be worth a try.

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is something I have used to good effect when treating my coops for mites. Diatomaceous Earth is made of crushed fossilized remains that are tiny particles with very sharp edges (albeit at a microscopic level). The Diatomaceous Earth cuts and dehydrates the mites, killing them off surprisingly quickly.

I spread the Diatomaceous Earth all around the coop, taking care to make sure it covers every crack that mites could be hiding in. Really take your time so no part of the coop is left free of the Diatomaceous Earth.

Do take care when using Diatomaceous Earth and be sure to wear a mask so you don’t inhale any yourself.

Once I have dusted the entire coop, I leave it for a few hours before sweeping as much of the Diatomaceous Earth out of the coop as I can.

Herbs

There are many organic gardeners that swear by herbs to rid a chicken coop of mites. I have had mixed success over the years using herbs.

French Marigolds are well known to deter many pests around the garden, and mites seem to be put off by the strong smell of the marigolds. Dried pennyworth and peppermint are also both said to deter mites. These herbs are best dried, ground up, and then spread around the coop as well as in the chickens’ dust bath.

Wood Ash

Wood ash is another great, organic way to rid your chickens of mites. Unlike the Diatomaceous Earth, you don’t spread the ash around the coop, but rather provide a large bowl of it for your chickens to dust bathe in.

The chickens will cover themselves in the wood ash which will deter the mites from crawling on them and biting them.

The ash must be pure wood ash, not from treated wood, and must be totally dry. Ash that is damp can be caustic to chickens and may burn their skin.

Chemical Method

As I say, I am an organic gardener who tries his best to use organic methods whenever and where ever possible. However, mites can be incredibly stubborn, and sometimes you have to resort to chemical means to get rid of them.

Chemical sprays tend to be very effective at riding a chicken coop of mites. I have used Permo Guard Mite Killer Spray (Amazon.com) to great effect. It kills pretty much all mites, including bird mites.

To use this spray I squirt every inch of the coop, inside and out. It seems to do an excellent job.



Other Reasons chickens are awake at night?

If you have checked your chickens and coop thoroughly and you don’t believe mites are the problem, there are one or two other reasons your chickens may be awake at night.

Drafts

Chickens are hardy, but they hate being in a draft. If their coop has lots of holes or cracks, and it is windy out, it is possible that a draft is blowing into the coop, keeping the chickens awake at night.

To rectify this problem, carefully work your way around the coop, filling or covering any gaps or cracks where a draft may be entering the coop. One method is to line the inside of the coop with old pieces of carpet. Unlike plastic, which will cause the chickens to sweat, the carpet will allow the coop to breathe, whilst keeping the drafts out.

Predators

Chickens are vulnerable to predators. If predators like rats or snakes are entering the coop at night, the birds will be disturbed.

Not all predators want to eat the chickens themselves, they may well be searching for eggs or baby chicks. Ensuring your chicken coop is as predator-proof as possible will help your chickens sleep better at night.


In Conclusion

Chickens are diurnal birds. They want to be awake during the day and asleep at night. It is important for their long-term health and well-being that they rest well at night. Chickens that have disturbed sleep night after night may stop laying and can become susceptible to diseases due to the stress of not sleeping.

In my experience, mites are by far the major cause of chickens not sleeping. If you can eliminate mites from your coop, the chances are they will sleep soundly at night.


Aaron Homewood

Aaron Homewood is HomesteadSavvy.com‘s poultry editor. Arron has spent over 20 years keeping, breeding, and showing different poultry breeds, including chickens, ducks, geese, and quail.​
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