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Chicken Keeping has increased massively in popularity over the last 20 years. Once the preserve of those with land, now even people living in modest urban homes can keep a few hens to supply them with fresh eggs on a daily basis.
I first kept chickens 15 years ago where I rented a small piece of land near my home to set up a very small homestead. From that day to this I have been totally hooked on these little feathered characters.
One of the many bonuses of keeping chickens over other livestock is that they willingly put themselves to bed each night. No matter how large their range, once the sun starts to go down they will all return to their coop to roost.
When chickens won’t return at sundown it can be worrying and you may find yourself wondering why won’t my chickens go in the coop at night?
It is normal for chickens to naturally want to return to their coop to roost at night. A chicken coop is supposed to be the one place the chickens feel safe enough to go to sleep without fear of predation. There are a number of reasons a chicken may refuse to return to the coop, and these include;
Nature has been cruel to chickens by making them so tasty! It isn’t just us humans that love the taste, it seems countless other predators will happily take a chicken given the chance.
Sometimes chickens may refuse to return to the coop at night if they know a predator has managed to access the coop.
The number of potential predators is long and varies depending on where in the country, and in fact where in the world you are. Foxes, dogs, skunks, and snakes to name but a few.
Large predators like foxes and badgers are strong and can take advantage of poorly fitted doors or ventilation points. Some may even be able to bite their way into poorly constructed or rotten coops. Small predators like snakes can take advantage of very small holes and gaps between boards or around doors.
If you believe predators might be the reason your chickens are refusing to return to their coop, take some time to look all around the coop and assess if there are any obvious access points. Large holes that may have been caused by rats in the past, will provide a perfect access point for a snake. Doors or ventilation windows that don’t secure firmly may act as flap doors that foxes or badgers can use to access the coop.
Sometimes I find myself unable to be home at dusk to shut the access door to the coop once all the chickens have gone in to roost, so I fitted an automatic door that opens at dawn and closes at dusk. It is a great piece of kit that has brought peace of mind when I am on vacation or away with work.
Unfortunately, rats are a part of chicken keeping. If you have chickens, at some point you will have rats. At this very moment, despite having bait boxes around my property, I have rats living in my compost pile.
Although rats will take and eat chicks and very young hens, they won’t usually try to take a full-grown bird. What they will do however is nibble on the chickens’ feet at night while they are trying to sleep.
I suspect the noise of rats scurrying around in the coop and digging through the bedding looking for food will also disturb the chickens whilst they are trying to sleep.
To eliminate rats once they have moved onto your property you are best to call a local pest control contractor and ask them to place some bait stations around your property or chicken run. Make sure the contractor comes back 2 to 3 times a year to check and replace the bait as required. It is also possible to take steps to reduce the chances of attracting rats in the first place.
Removing the feeder and emptying out the drinking water at night will make your chicken run less interesting to rats. Usually, rats are simply looking for a source of food and water and a chicken run usually provides both.
Strimming down weeds and plants that grow around your chicken run will also help deter rats as they like to travel undercover rather than out in the open, and remove anything they can use as shelter, like piles of rubbish or scrap material you are saving for future projects.
Many new chicken keepers are surprised by how brutal chickens are. Every chicken in the flock has its place and knows its place. You will have one chicken that is ‘top dog’ and leads the flock, and conversely, you will have one chicken that is a the bottom of the ‘pecking order’.
The term pecking order literally comes from the way the flock sorts out the hierarchy. They decide who fits where by pecking one another to assert authority. Occasionally a chicken can literally be pecked to death by the other chickens.
If you have a sole chicken that refuses to return to the coop at night there is a good chance bullying is the reason.
Bullying can be tricky to resolve as pecking to assert authority is deeply ingrained in the chickens’ DNA. The only solutions may be to rehome the bird that is being bullied or rehome the bird doing the bullying.
Another potential solution I have heard suggested in the past is to add more birds.
When a flock is disrupted by new chickens being introduced, they have to sort the whole pecking order out again from scratch.
To the untrained eye, the chaos that follows adding new birds looks horrific, but they are just sorting who fits where in the flock. The problem I have found with this method is the bird who was at the bottom of the pecking order often ends up there once again as they are just a weak hen.
Coop Is Too Small
When chickens go into their coop to roost, they like to be up as high as possible. The instinct to be up in the trees still holds true, which is why we have roosting bars in our coops.
Often each bird will have its own place, and if there are roosting bars at different heights, the higher a bird is in the pecking order will determine how high they get to roost. When we have more birds than available roosting space, an individual hen may decide she is better off taking her chances outside the coop at night rather than inside it.
I currently have two Vorwerk chickens who are at the bottom of the pecking order and they sleep on the floor of the coop.
Although there is enough space, in theory, each time the Vorwerks try to fly onto a perch, they are pecked by the bird next to them. It isn’t ideal, but other than the fact they sleep on the floor, the birds are in fantastic condition and lay almost every day, so I just let them get on with it.
If one of your chickens is refusing to go into the coop at night because the coop is too small, there are only too realistic solutions. You either need to buy a bigger coop or reduce the size of your flock.
If your current coop is very large, it may be able to accommodate additional roosting bars, but must coops take advantage of all available space.
Chicken waste is very high in ammonia. Ammonia is what gives their waste that distinctive smell, but also what makes it such an amazing additive to the compost heap.
When we keep a large number of birds in a single flock, their waste can build up really quickly. Chickens poop a lot during the night, which is why we get those piles of poop under the roosting bars.
If the waste in the coop is allowed to build up, the smell it gives off can cause irritation to the birds’ eyes and can affect their breathing. Essentially, the things we find unpleasant about a dirty chicken coop, the hens will also find unpleasant. To maintain a healthy flock, cleaning the chicken coop on a regular basis is a must.
The solution to this problem is a surprisingly simple one. You need to clean the coop out more often. I clean my coops at least once a week and in the summer twice a week. It isn’t my favorite job, but it is just part of chicken keeping.
Adding or opening ventilation holes in the coop will also help remove the ammonia smell, but do remember chickens DO NOT like being in a draft, so don’t swap one reason they don’t want to sleep in the coop for another reason.
Mites, which are sometimes referred to as Red Mites or Chicken Mites are the main pest that affects chickens. The mites live in the nocks and cracks inside the coop and only come out at night when they crawl all over the birds and suck on their blood while the birds try to sleep.
Mites take advantage of the fact most of us use wooden coops, and wood, by its very nature, will have cracks and gaps no matter how well it is built. In recent times there have been more and more plastic chicken houses coming onto the market, and these coops have the advantage of far fewer places for the mites to hide. Plastic coops are also much easier to wash down.
Dealing with chicken mites can be tricky as we usually have to treat the coop rather than the bird. Almost all of my coops are large and wooden and have countless places the mites can tuck themselves during the day.
Every time I clean my coops I give them a quick spray with Mite Killer Spray by Premo Guard which I just order from Amazon when I need to. It has a natural formula and seems to do the job for me.
The video below has more suggestions on how to deal with mites in a chicken coop.
At first, broodiness (when a chicken decides she wants to sit on some eggs) may seem like the opposite to getting a chicken to go into the coop, but occasionally a chicken may decide she wants to lay her eggs somewhere other than in a nest box. I once found a dozen eggs between two straw bales. I have no idea which bird was laying them there, or how long they had been there.
If a hen has chosen a location other than the nest box for her eggs, she may be reluctant to leave that spot, even at night. She will be determined to sit there come what may. Chickens have very strong maternal instincts when the mood takes them.
When I had this situation arise in the past, my hen was utterly determined to sit on that one spot even after I had removed the eggs. In the end, the only solution was to completely rearrange the area she had chosen for her nest site. I literally jumbled the whole area and rearranged the straw bales, branches, and rocks so the whole place felt new.
Luckily it did the trick and she didn’t feel like it was her nest site anymore.
Coop Has Been Moved Or Replaced
Sometimes, when we move a coop or replace it with a new one, the birds no longer see it as home. They are so fixated on the old coop, or at least the old location, that they don’t see the new coop as home. Chickens are creatures of habit.
If you have moved the coop or replaced it whilst the chickens were out and about, they may go to roost and look for the old coop or look in the old location.
If you move or replace the coop with a new one, make the swap late in the day. Gather all the chickens and place them into the coop. Leave them there for at least 12 hours, but 18 or more is better. Make sure they have food and water in with them.
Next time you let them out they will know where home is, and they should all roost happily.
My Final Thoughts On ‘Why Won’t My Chickens Go In The Coop At Night?’
Chickens can be fickle birds and there are a few reasons they won’t go into their coop.
If you have either a single bird or a few members of the flock who refuse to go into the coop at night, take some time to observe your chickens to see if the reason presents itself.
Usually, whatever the problem, the solution is fairly straightforward.