How To Get Chickens To Use the Roosting Bar

Chickens should use a roosting bar in a coop at night. Unfortunately, as experienced chicken keepers know, they do not always roost where they should.

To get chickens to use the roosting bar, first, you might just have to wait or place them where you want them. If this doesn’t work, you can try to block off other options like nest boxes. Another option is to raise the roosting bars higher, change the material they are made of or clean them better.

In this article, we’ll talk about some different things to think about or try. By the end of this article, you should have found out why your chickens are not using their roosting bar. And could very well know what changes have to be made or actions have to be taken. Then we’ll first take a look at some of the common reasons why chickens might not be roosting where you want them to.

How To Get Chickens To Use the Roosting Bar

Here are ten things that it could be a good idea to do to get chickens to use the roosting bar:

Simply Wait

The first thing to consider is that you may simply have to be patient and wait for chickens to use the roosting bar. Chickens may still be young and might not quite have worked things out just yet. They may be new to your property and take time to find their feet and get used to their new accommodation.

Young chickens will sometimes just take a while to enter into ‘normal’ adult chicken behavior, so if you think you’ve got everything else right, it may just be a matter of time.

However, if you wait too long, this can sometimes mean that chickens become accustomed to doing things ‘wrong’. So sometimes, you do need to take action to make sure you are not left with a flock that is difficult to manage and control.

Photo by Liz Lawley / CC BY

Keep New Hens in Their Coop for a Couple of Days and Nights Until They View It As ‘Home’

If you have just brought some new hens home, it is a good idea to keep them in their coop for a day and night or two until they view that coop as their new home. This process of acclimatization can help reduce the stress on new birds.

We regularly adopt ‘rescue’ hens from charities that re-home ex-battery farm chickens. And we close them in temporarily to make sure that they acclimatize before we let them loose to free-range. If they were to free-range right away, it may be that they will not make their way back to the coop at night.

Herd Chickens Into the Coop at Night So They Get Used to The Idea

In fact, we have found that you may have to chase and manually place them into the coop for several nights until they get the idea. Getting chickens to roost where you want them to roost may simply involve herding them into the coop yourself each evening until they get the idea.

This can be rather challenging with free-ranging birds – especially when you have to extricate reluctant hens from the back of prickly bushes (as I know from experience!)

This may also be true for chickens that have been with you for a while but have got into the habit of sleeping where you do not want them to sleep. You definitely have to ask yourself why chickens are choosing to sleep elsewhere (more on this below). But if you’ve ruled out other issues, manual placement in the coop each night may help you turn things around.

Pop Chickens Onto the Roosting Bar Yourself at Bed Time

Sometimes, chickens may happily roost inside the coop – but not on the roosting bar you have prepared for them. All else being correct, one thing you can do is place the chickens onto the roosting bar yourself at bedtime, so they get the idea that this is where they should be.

This could be particularly helpful for young chickens or chickens that have been reared in factory farm situations where they have not been wont to engage in typical ‘chicken’ behavior. Often, once you place a few hens there, others will follow suit.

Close Off Nest Boxes At Night

Chickens sometimes decide that they prefer to snuggle down in nesting boxes rather than doing what chickens should naturally do. If you find that your hens are snuggling into the nest boxes at night, then this can be a problem. It makes a big mess, for one thing. And for another, eggs are likely to be broken.

If you encounter this problem, you may wish to consider closing off access to the nest boxes at night (perhaps by placing a board over the front of them). This might encourage chickens to use the roosting bar – as long as it is right for them.

Raise the Roosting Bars Higher

Chickens will naturally roost up off the ground, on branches in shrubs or small trees. A roosting bar must be somewhat raised up off the ground in order to make chickens feel safe and secure at night time.

The roosting bar should always be higher up than nesting boxes, and if the roosting bars and nesting boxes are on the same level, this can sometimes be the cause for chickens not using the roosting bar or bars as they should.

If they are at the same height, or you think a low roosting bar could be the problem, simply raise it higher. But always, of course, make sure that it is still easy for chickens to reach (via a chicken ladder, for example).

Choose a Different Material For the Roosting Bars

Another reason why chickens are not using a roosting bar might be that the material that you have chosen to use is not suitable. Most roosting bars will be made of wood – and of course, this is the material that most closely mimics that of the chicken’s natural roosting sites.

Metal roosting bars might get hot in summer and be very cold over the winter months. So metal roosts might not be ideal and may be the reason why chickens do not choose to use them. Aside from the environmental concerns, plastic roosting bars might also be less than ideal and may not be favored by your flock.

Make sure you do not use the material for your roosting bar that has been treated with any harmful substances or which is likely to break under the weight of your hens. Both safety and comfort for your hens must be of paramount importance and should be a key factor in all decision making.

Make Sure the Roosting Bars Are Wide Enough

Another common problem is that roosting bars are not wide enough to comfortably accommodate your hens. Chickens, unlike many other birds, do not curve their feet around a branch. Instead, they roost with their feet mostly flat and just curl their toes around the edge of the thing they are on. This also means that their feet will be safer from frostbite in colder climates over the winter months since they will be able to sit on their feet.

Roosting bars should be at very least 2 inches wide – but four inches is better. In our coop, we have a 2×4 inch plank (4-inch side upwards) with smoothed and sanded edges as a roosting bar. That 4-inch platform means that chicken can roost with flat feet.

Make Sure The Roosting Bars Are Comfortable

So, using the right material for your roosting bars and making them wide enough is essential. One other thing to think about is how comfortable the roosting bars will be in other ways. As mentioned above, we have smoothed and sanded the edges of our wooden roosting bar to make sure it is comfortable.

You also need to make sure that chickens are not exposed to negative environmental conditions when they are sitting on their roosting bar. Make sure there are not any drafts, for example, and that there are no issues with damp. Make sure you are also in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ temperature-wise and that the temperatures are not too hot, not too cold, but just right for your flock.

Make Sure the Roosting Bars Are Clean

Did you know that your chickens poop when they are asleep? Well, they do. In our coop, we have a ‘poop deck’ underneath the roosting bar to catch the droppings and make clean up easier.

However, exactly you set up your coop, it is very important to make sure that you keep it clean. If your roosting bar is dirty, that could be another reason why your hens are reluctant to use it.

Chickens are usually pretty adaptable and will put up with quite a lot. But they will not want to sleep somewhere that is particularly unclean. It won’t only be unpleasant for them. It could also, of course, cause problems with pests and diseases, which is why good coop hygiene is always very important.

Poor coop hygiene is not only a reason why chickens might not roost where you want them to. It could also cause a whole range of other issues for the welfare and safety of your flock, and potentially the safety and wellbeing of you and your family.

Check for Mites or Other Such Problems

If chickens were using a roosting bar but have suddenly stopped doing so, they may have done so because they are being bitten at night! If your chickens are shunning a roost that they previously used, it is important to take a very close look for mites and other biting pests. Of course, it is important always to remain vigilant for such problems.

If you do have a mite infestation, make sure you take the appropriate action. You can use diatomaceous earth, for example, to keep them away and kill them off in your coop. Put some in your chickens’ dust bath areas, too, to get rid of their parasites.

Check for Chicken Bullies

Certain chickens may not be using a roosting bar because when they try to do so, they are bullied by hens higher than them in the pecking order. It is important to understand that hens are hierarchical and will develop a pecking order. Higher ranking hens will tend to grab the highest, choicest spots to roost. Lower-ranking hens will be relegated to lower (and therefore theoretically less safe and secure) roosting positions.

There is a fine balancing act between the need for plenty of roosting space (to reduce squabbles) and the need to keep hens warm (which is easier when they roost closer together). Always make sure that you have allowed enough space for all your chickens to roost, so there are not too many fights over positioning.

One other thing to note, however, is that hens may bully another member of the flock and drive them away from the roost if they are unwell. Before determining that there are just some bullies, it is important to make sure that there is not a sickness in the flock. Check an individual who is not roosting with the others carefully before you return her to the rest.

Chickens May Be Too Wilful and Contrary

If you have checked and you don’t think that there are any issues with the roosting bars or coop, and your chickens have settled in well on your property – but they still won’t roost – you might have just contrary hens! Chickens can be very characterful, and some just seem to revel in doing what they are not meant to do! Do all you can to make them safe, comfortable, and happy. But if they still persist in roosting somewhere unusual, don’t stress about it too much.

We had fourteen hens roosting happily at one point, but one hen who insisted on roosting on a branch inside a bush would not go into the coop at night no matter what we did. She was quite happy, so after a few nights of catching her and putting her inside (which she was very grumpy about), we simply let her do her own thing.

However, before deciding that you just have a ‘character’ on your hands, you should work your way through all of the above to rule out some of the most common problems. That way, you should be able to get most if not all of your chickens to use the roosting bar.

Why Won’t My Chickens Use Their Roost?

As you can see, there is a wide range of reasons why chickens are not roosting where you want them to. They might not want to roost in the coop you have prepared for them at all. You might find that they happily go into their coop but won’t use the roosting bar you’ve provided for them.

Here are some of the common reasons why chickens might not use their roosting bar:

  • They are simply too young and don’t yet know what to do.
  • New to your flock, they do not view the coop as ‘home.’
  • They’ve found another roost that they like better outside.
  • They find the nesting boxes more appealing.
  • The roosting bars are in the wrong location/ at the wrong height.
  • Roosting bars are not comfortable for the hens (perhaps they are too thin, too rough, or made from the wrong materials.)
  • You need to clean the roosting bars better.
  • Chickens may be being bitten or plagued by pests when they roost.
  • Hens may be being picked on by other hens.
  • Your chickens are just wilful and contrary! 

When trying to determine which of the above is the issue, you will need to consider a range of factors. First of all, it is important to think about whether it is all of your hens that won’t use the roosting bar, just a few of them, or just one.

Determining which of these is true could help you narrow down where any issues might lie. Obviously, if none of your chickens want to roost on a roosting bar, it is more likely that this is due to environmental factors or something wrong with the roosting bar itself. However, this is not 100% certain.

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