Roosting is an instinctive behavior, but some chickens may need to be trained to use a roost, depending on their history. Younger chickens, in particular, may take some time to get used to the perch if they’ve never had one before.
The basic process is to place them one by one on the roost for a week or longer, and they will eventually get the hang of it.
In this article, we’ll walk through the step-by-step process to train your chickens to use their roosting bar. And we’ll also explore the reasons your chicken may not be sleeping on their roosting bars and how to fix it.
Table of Contents
How to Train Young Chickens to Use The Roost
Young chickens, especially ones that were raised in a brooder, may not know how to roost until you show them. If there are older chickens, they will sometimes figure this out on their own.
But occasionally, they will need a little help and encouragement to get started. Here are the steps to teach young chickens to sleep on their roosting bars.
The Step By Step Process
1. Turn a light on in the chicken coop if it’s dark.
2. Encourage or gently place one chicken on the roosting bar.
3. Wait a few minutes and watch your chickens. You should see them looking up at the first chicken, like, hey, that’s a great idea! Often once one bird gets up, the others will start to do the same, but it could take a little encouragement.
4. If no one joins the first hen, gently pick up a second hen and add them to the bar.
5. Repeat this process, and the rest of the group will likely join the first few chickens.
6. Do this for several days, and pretty soon, everyone should be happily hopping up on the bar themselves.
The whole process may take just a few days or up to two weeks. Don’t force the issue. In the beginning, some may hop down while you are there, then go back up once you leave. Or it may take some longer than others.
Chickens have unique personalities, just like people. So it’s better to let them take to it on their own timeline.
Should Baby Chicks Be Given A Perch?
While not required, giving baby chicks a small roost can make it easier for them to transition to the roost in the adult hen house. And there is some evidence showing it can be better for their overall development.
In November of 1999, a study was performed by Applied Animal Behavior Science that tested the benefits of giving perches to day-old chicks.
Two groups were tested – The first had access to perches on day 1 and the second was introduced to their perches at 8 weeks of age. Both groups were roosting at night by 15 weeks.
The first group showed improved muscle development and bone strength. It also helped the chicks develop better cognitive skills to move about the chicken coop.
The conclusion of the study was as follows:
Rearing without early access to perches seems to impair the cognitive spatial skills of the domestic hen and the effect is both pronounced and long-lasting.
It affects how easily birds move about in an aviary system and this, in turn, has practical and welfare implications.Applied Animal Behaviour Science 67 2000 217–228
So if you have the space, giving early access to roosting perches can help your chickens later in life. A small bar, branch, or little jungle gym like the one below are good choices for your baby chicks.
Strong Wooden Chick Perch/Jungle Gym Roosting Bar
The Backyard Barnyard Shop on Etsy makes this little roosting trainer bar that can help your chicks develop good habits early on.
Tips For Getting Chickens To Sleep On A Roost
Here are a few tips that have helped others to train their chickens to roost.
Wait Until The Chickens Are Calm.
Don’t try to relocate them the minute they walk into the coop.
Go into the coop after they settle down. Then start the relocation process to pick them up and place them on the roosting bars.
Block Off The Nesting Boxes
If your chickens are sleeping in their nesting boxes, block them off at night. Your chickens will look for the next best place, which is hopefully their roost.
Overall, sleeping in nesting boxes should be discouraged since it leads to dirty eggs.
Add More Roosting Options
Experiment with different sizes and shapes. Some hens may like a flatter board, better gripping ability, or wider perch surface.
There are plenty of DIY roosting bar ideas to choose from, so experiment with a few different styles to see what your hens prefer.
Why Are My Chickens Not Using the Roosting Bar?
Even if you have enough space by the books (8-10 inches per bird), that still might not be enough for the size and dimensions of your hen house. You may find some of your chickens are still sleeping on the floor.
Let’s look at some common problems and how to solve them.
1. The Pecking Order
Some hens are sleeping on the ground because they can’t find a roosting place to sleep where they feel safe. Are your younger hens being intimidated by a few bossy ladies?
The chickens on the lower end of the social hierarchy may sleep on the floor because the “alpha” chickens are hogging all the space. They may not let the younger or more docile chickens up.
In some cases, this will resolve on its own as the chickens get used to each other. But adding more roosting bars can help the younger ones find a place where they feel safe and comfortable.
2. There Is Not Enough Light in Your Coop.
Chickens don’t see very well at night. They may not be able to see where the bars are. Add a light so they can see well enough to get up to their roost before bed.
You can put the light on a timer, so it turns off a few hours after they are all inside for the night. Also, set it to come on early morning, so they can see to jump down as well.
Solar rope lights or battery-operated lights on a timer can work if you don’t have electricity in your coop.
3. The Chickens Are Sleeping in a Big Chicken Ball In The Corner
If you purchased young pullets from another farm, they might not have used a roosting perch, so they developed the habit of sleeping on the floor out of necessity.
If your chickens are sleeping in a giant chicken ball every night, block off access to their favorite sleeping corner. Then follow the steps above to encourage them to start sleeping up on the roosts.
4. The Chickens Are Still Young
Young chicks raised in a brooder get used to huddling together at night in the corner. When you introduce them to the main chicken coop, it will take them a little time to pick up the habit.
You can also give them training perches to ease them into roosting above ground. Most chickens should be roosting by 8-10 weeks old.
5 – The Roosting Bars Are Too High
The chickens may be avoiding the roosting bars because there is a problem with the placement. Ask yourself these questions.
Is there enough clearance for them to fly up & not hit their heads?
Roosting bars should be at least 18 inches below the roof.
While hens can fly, they typically fly up above their roost, then back down. Is there enough roof in the coop for them to maneuver safely?
Giving them an alternate way to reach the higher bars can help test to see if this could be the problem.
What is the distance from the floor to the roost?
The maximum vertical distance between each rung is 3 feet, with 2-3 feet being average. This may be even shorter for the heavier girls.
If your spacing is wider, add a ladder or hopping bars for the chickens to get up on the roost easier and get down safely.
What is the preference for their breed?
Different chicken breeds roost at different heights.
Try adding a lower bar with more open space around it. And when in doubt, check with other owners that have the same type of chicken.
See this article for more tips on The Best Size, Shape, and Height of Your Roosting Bars.
The Roosting Bars Are Dirty
You may have a mite problem and not realize it. If there are mites that have taken a foothold in the wood, they could be biting your chickens at night.
Inspect the underside of the roosting bar since this is where they like to hang out. Clean the roosting bars to remove any mites and let them dry before nighttime.
Just like finding your favorite chair in a new house, your chickens may need a week or two to find their perfect sleeping spot.
When many chickens figure it out over time or with a good role model, it doesn’t hurt to encourage them along the way. And if the mother hen is not there to show them the ropes, then it’s up to you.
The good news is chickens have a natural instinct to sleep off the ground at night. It’s a matter of self-preservation. So you will have nature on your side when roost training and most chickens take to it fairly quickly.