“The chickens have come home to roost” is a saying based on a very real fact. Chickens are creatures of habit and they will return every evening as the sun is going down to a place that they feel safe and comfortable. You would like that place to be the inside of your coop but often chickens will choose a different place such as the branches of a tree. Here are some things that you can do to encourage your birds to come home at night so that you aren’t spending your time chasing and herding the chickens in.
Chickens do not have night vision. They can’t see in the dark. They use their pineal gland to sense whether it is light or dark out. The pineal gland is located right behind the chicken’s eyes. It also allows the chicken to sense the changing seasons. As it begins to get darker out the hens will sense that it is time to go home and find a place to sleep. A coop that is warm and safe is a good place to go to.
If they habitually sleep in the coop, they will return to it every night. You may need to teach them this habit but once they have it, it would be very unusual for them not to return each and every night.
The first step towards building this habit is to lock them inside the coop for several days so that they learn that this is their home. This is best done when it is not extremely hot outside as you don’t want them to overheat inside of the coop. Place food and water inside of the coop and have roosting poles available for them to roost on at night. They even have heated roosting bars for winter if you so desire.
Next, let them out so that they are in an enclosed area such as a chicken run before you let them free range. This way you will still know where they are and can get them back into the coop at night without having to search for them. Once they are used to that and hopefully understand where home is you can let them free range on their own.
Put a little light inside the coop to help them find their roosts in the evening. It doesn’t need to be very bright. A 25 watt light bulb will do. Just turn it off when you go to lock them up when they are all inside.
Food and treats work very well for coaxing them in at night. Put the food in the coop so that they will want to go inside. Birdseed mixed with mealworms is a motivating treat. Make sure that it is something that they only get in the evening before roosting. Don’t leave it out or use it for other things as it won’t be special anymore.
Use a distinct call to summon them. It can be your voice or anything else that makes a sound like a whistle. Choose one consistent call. Not your regular voice. I use a high pitched call saying “Come, come, come” or if I have a treat like cracked corn, I will say “Corn, corn corn”. When they hear the “corn call” they stop what they are doing and come running. Use the call and then toss the treats into the coop. They will see you and the treats and will associate the two together with coming in at night.
Be patient. If one chicken figures out that there are treats to be had, the rest will copy her to get some treats as well. Soon they will be going into the coop every night on their own even if you stop giving them treats.
Young birds and new birds seem to have the hardest time with returning to the coop in the evening. They simply have not learned that the coop is home yet. New places and new experiences can be bewildering for new birds. They will watch others and learn, but for awhile you may have to scoop them up and put them on the roost at night.
Older birds may not want to return to the coop because there are pests inside it that are bothering them. Mice and rats can cause problems for birds. Red mites can hide in the wood during the day and come out to bother the birds at night biting them as they roost. A predator such as a snake could have gotten in and is stealing the egg supply. This will scare any hen from wanting to go home because she doesn’t feel safe there.
Chickens that are lower on the pecking order will delay going in at night if they are being bullied by other hens. Some hens will block doorways or peck birds as they enter the coop. The number two rooster will often delay going in as well because he knows that the head rooster will be giving him a peck as he goes in.
If a broody hen has chosen a nesting spot outside of your coop, it may be difficult to get her to come in at night. Use ceramic eggs and make a new spot for her inside of the coop if possible.
A dirty coop that is full of droppings produces an ammonia smell. This is harmful and can cause respiratory issues with your birds. They may be refusing to roost in the coop because the air quality is so bad that they can’t breath.
Tension in the flock can also cause birds to not want to enter the coop in the evening. Too many roosters can be unpleasant for the hens and they may want to just stay outside and hide in the trees. Too many roosters can also lead to battles between them where others could be injured in too tight of an area. Do not have an overcrowded coop or they may stay outside where they have more room.
If you can’t always be home at dusk to lock the chickens up at night, you may want to invest in an automatic chicken coop door. There are many to choose from but the ChickenGuard seems to be a good choice. You can put it on a timer or it can be light sensitive to close. You always want to lock up your chickens at night so that predators cannot enter.
For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com . VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.
Victoria J. Peterson