There are many questions when it comes to having a roost (perch) in your chicken coop-where should it be? How many do I need? Is it necessary? Firstly, yes, to provide your chickens with the basic fundamentals of a good home you MUST have a perch.
Chickens prefer to be up high off the ground when they sleep. They are sound sleepers and this keeps them safer from the clutches of predators at night.
Chickens take their pecking order very seriously and those highest in the pecking order will grab the highest perches, leaving the lower (and therefore more vulnerable) spots to those lower in the flock order.
Roosting perches are an important part of the ‘pecking order’ too. Hens higher up in the pecking order will get the higher spots in the roosting perches.
The top hens will be in the middle of the line with subordinates on the outside.
The two end hens will sleep with one eye open – literally! They are the look-outs for danger. They will turn around periodically to rest on the other side of their brain.
Sleeping on the ground or floor of the coop also leaves them more susceptible to pathogens, bacteria, and external parasites such as mites and lice, so you want your hens to perch on roosts at night.
You may have seen your chickens asleep. They close their eyes, tip their head forward, and sometimes, particularly if it’s cold, tuck their beak under their wing to conserve warmth.
But have you ever wondered why chickens don’t simply fall off their perch when they’re asleep?
It’s because they have a special “locking mechanism” which makes their toes cling to roosting bars even when they’re sleeping. They don’t curl their whole foot around the roost, though – just their toes. The rest of the foot is flat.
Keys to providing the right perches for your flock:
Despite being able to fly, chickens tend to land heavily. If they have to jump too far from their perch to the ground, the heavy landings can cause bumblefoot and bone damage. Falls are common when hens are scuttling for roosting positions in the evening. Therefore, roosts should be close enough to the ground that unexpected falls won’t cause injury.
If you have a mixed flock then you can vary the height of the perches rather like a staircase or ladder configuration. Height-wise in a ladder configuration you could have perches at 15cm, 30cm, 45cm and 60cm. This gives your hens plenty of room and they can choose where they want to sit.
Tip: Put a small lower perch in also for the old ladies, so they don’t have to jump down too far, an important consideration for arthritic hens.
Chicken roosting bars should be around 4cm wide. Chickens don’t wrap their feet around a perch as wild birds do, they use their toes. They actually prefer to sleep flat-footed. This has the added benefit of keeping their feet protected from frostbite in the winter from below using the roost as protection and using their body as protection from above. Also, this protects their feet from mice or rats who will often nibble on chicken toes while they are sleeping.
Roost placement should be safe, sanitary, and convenient. Do not block entrances or place directly in front of ventilation points that might pose frostbite concerns in the winter months. Also stay clear of nesting boxes, feeders, and waterers. Chickens poop while they sleep, so you will want to place your roosts somewhere that it will be easy to scoop, shovel, or rake the droppings and soiled litter out of the coop.
In the wild, chickens roost in trees. So to give them a natural experience, use wood. Because chickens cling with their toes, the roost should be flat, but with slightly rounded corners front and back.
What type of wood should you use? If you buy your timber, it will need to be untreated wood. In this day and age, it is hard to know what chemicals are used on treated wood.
The edges of the wood should be smooth and free from splinters. Many sources recommend you sand off the edges, but 2x4s’ are rarely ‘straight-edged,’ so I leave them intact.
This depends on the size of your flock. Provide a minimum of 25cm per bird. Less space may be required for bantams. If in doubt it is always better to give them extra space on the perches so that they can spread out and flap their wings without knocking their neighbor off the perch.
Whichever kind of roost you use, make sure it’s easily removed for deep cleaning.
As well as scraping off poop, which should be done every day, you need to check periodically for mites.
Red mites love to hide during the day, and come out at night. The joint between roosts and the wall is a favourite place.
- When new roosts are added to an existing coop, it can take a while for chickens to break old roosting habits. To speed the process, chickens may be moved to the roosts by hand after dusk for a few nights until they have adjusted to the new accommodation.
- When raising baby chicks, providing a small roosting bar within the brooder will help to encourage roosting habits that will carry over when juvenile chickens are moved into the coop.
- Some hens will refuse to use the roosts. This is a problem that usually occurs with young pullets. They will need to be placed on the perches to show them where to sleep. You may have to do this several times. Having more than one roosting bar is very helpful here as the youngsters may not wish to be next to the older hens.