Getting chickens back into the coop at night is one of the key things you’ll need to do as a chicken owner. Being in the coop once the sun sets helps them to stay warm and safe from predators such as foxes which come out under the cover of darkness.
In most cases, chickens will return to the coop instinctively and away from danger once it begins to go dark, but getting new chickens to know the coop can take a bit of work upfront to get them used to where they should be roosting.
In this article I’m going to share with you five ways which we have tried and tested with our own chickens, which will guarantee they return back to the coop at nightfall, these are:
- Make sure that new chickens get used to the coop and surrounding run before you release them for the first time.
- Develop a call or whistle that your chickens can identify with.
- Treat them when they come back so they know they’ll get rewarded when they return.
- Make sure the coop is inviting and is clean and pest free.
- Ensure the coop is warm enough in the winter months.
- Make the coop predator proof so the chickens feel safe.
- Have the right internal coop fittings so they can roost.
Read on to find out more about each of these seven steps and how you can make sure your chickens return to the coop every nightfall without fail. These steps will work for chickens at any age, it’s just a case of getting them used to a routine.
1. Get chickens used to their new coop before you release them
When you’re introducing new chickens to a coop or introducing existing chickens to a new coop, they need to get used to it before they fully understand that this is the place they’ll be coming to roost.
The best way to do this is by keeping the chickens in and around the coop for the first few days or even longer.
Now, just to be clear, I don’t mean keep them locked in the coop during daylight hours, you will need to release them into a run which is attached to the coop during the day so they can go in and out of the coop when they want.
This way the chickens can get used to the coop and it’s easy to get them in at dusk which they should do instinctively.
The time it takes for them to learn may depend on the chicken type and also their age, but we have found this works well for around two or three nights, but I know some chicken keepers prefer to wait longer.
If a chicken is very flighty, I would be tempted to hold them in the coop area for a bit longer.
They will probably make you feel bad, but a bit of short term pain is worth it in the long run.
2. Develop a call or whistle that your chickens can identify with
You might think this sounds a bit silly, but having a way to communicate with your chickens so they know you’re calling them really works when you’re trying to round them up in the evening.
This could be anything you choose, my husband has a whistle and every time they hear it they drop what they’re doing and come running up the path.
It’s pretty amazing how quickly they can get used to a certain call when we’ve had new chickens we’ve found it only takes about a week or two for them to come at a call.
3. Treat your chickens when they return to the coop
Step two works really well if you include a call with a treat for returning back to the coop, they will get used to your call and they will come running if they know there’s something to eat.
This could be a handful of chicken pellets or some of their favourite leafy greens, whatever you prefer to use, they will come running back for it and back to the coop area where you can close them in for the evening.
I recommend that you start the ‘call and treat’ process from day one even before you let them out of the coop. Some of our chickens can wander pretty far in the day and we like to get them back around the coop in the evening and this tactic works all the time.
We’ve also brought in much older rescue hens who get used this very quickly.
4. Make sure the coop is clean and pest free
If chickens don’t feel comfortable in their coop, they may be put off roosting in there. You don’t have to clean it every day, but little and often is good to at least remove droppings from the coop floor and nesting areas.
When it comes to pests, one of the main issues faced by chicken owners is red mites which are parasites which feed on chickens while they sleep.
Red mites can become very difficult to get rid of and can affect the chicken’s wellbeing and even result in death if the infestation is very severe.
By identifying and keeping on top of any infestations you can make the coop a more comfortable place for chickens to roost. It’s also good to consider preventative methods even if there is no evidence of red mites before they become a problem.
5. Keeping the coop warm in winter
Chickens are fairly hardy and they will snuggle together when its cold as they roost inside the coop. But for very cold nights there are some things you can do to make their roost time more comfortable:
- Line the coop floor with plenty of sawdust and then straw.
- Ensure nest boxes are filled with plenty of straw.
- A small coop heater is a good option in very cold conditions and if you have power to the coop.
- Consider using insulation boards on the coop wall and roof to keep more warmth in.
- Give the chickens some pellets soaked in warm water before they go in to roost.
6. Make the coop predator proof
Making sure the coop is predator-proof is something that should be done before chickens are introduced to the coop.
This article was first published on October 6, 2020 by Pentagon-Pets..
Foxes are a common predator in the country and in urban areas and once they get the scent of a chicken they will go to any length to take the chickens. They will then go through a flock systematically and even if they don’t need the chicken they will hide somewhere for later.
It’s not just foxes who can kill chickens in the UK, other predators in the list below have been known to kill chickens:
- Mink – a mammal which is related to Weasels and Ferrets who are small enough to get in through small holes.
- Stoats and Weasels – again are small enough to get in through small gaps but can take down a chicken if they’re hungry or have young to feed.
- Badgers – have been known to take chickens for food.
- Large birds of prey – less common but in areas which have large birds of prey and owls it’s possible they could take a small chicken and especially chicks if they’re out in the open.
- Rats – as well as being a pest who will look for chicken feed, they can also take chickens if they’re desperate enough and can fit through the smallest of holes.
Even if an animal like a rat is getting into the coop and not causing physical harm, this can cause the chickens to become restless and stresses.
Many of these animals can get through the smallest of holes, so it’s important to make sure any gaps or holes are patched up securely. This includes the coop floor, walls and roof.
It’s especially important that you close the coop door once the chickens have gone in to roost for the evening. Also, remove any uneaten food at the end of the day so it doesn’t attract predators and pests.
7. Make sure chickens can roost inside the coop
Chickens like any birds like to roost in a safe place above ground where they feel safe from predators and can huddle together.
The chicken coop should have roosting bars in place before the chickens are introduced to the coop.
Don’t worry if you have younger birds and they don’t use the bars at first and choose to huddle in nest boxes instead, this is something which will come in time and especially once they begin producing eggs.
Chickens can’t see in the dark
So by completing these seven steps, getting chickens to roost at night will be easy, especially if you call and given them some food each time – they will come running without fail.
If the worse comes to the worse and they don’t come back, they can’t see in the dark and will just stop where they are and so are easy to pick up and place in the coop.
Pentagon Pet is the owner of this article was first published on October 6, 2020..
In my experience, I’ve never had this issue because we got them used to the coop, so they always instinctively come back to safety when it starts to go dark.
Try not to worry too much about releasing your chickens into your garden, backyard or open land because once they’re used to the coop area they probably won’t go far to begin with and will know it’s a place of safety.
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This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on October 6, 2020..