If you’ve ever researched this topic, then you’ll know that opinion on whether chickens should sleep in nest boxes is very much split between those who say ‘sure they should’ and those who say ‘definitely not’.
So, I wanted to put an article together to help demystify the reasons why chickens shouldn’t sleep in nest boxes and to help you decide on what’s best for you and your birds.
Read on to find out the full facts about why chickens may choose to sleep in a nest box, how to decide whether you should stop it, along with ways to make your birds more comfortable in the coop.
Why Do Chickens Sleep in Nest Boxes?
To understand if chickens sleeping in nest boxes is a problem, you first need to understand why your chickens are choosing to sleep in their nests.
In most cases, it’s the choice of the individual bird, but in some cases, there might be a problem which means the chicken has no choice but to sleep in the nest.
Here are the reasons why a chicken might choose to sleep in a nest box:
There are no roosting bars in the coop
This one might seem a bit obvious, but if someone is new to chicken keeping and their coop doesn’t have in-built roosting space they might not realize that it should be a coop feature.
Chickens naturally prefer sleeping in an elevated position because they instinctively know that being higher up can protect them from predators on the ground.
Although chickens are safe inside the coop, they still need to be provided with the option of elevated roosting space because this is where they will be most relaxed and comfortable.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be bars or poles, you can get inventive with roosting space such as logs, old ladders and furniture. As long as the chickens are happy, it’s safe and it’s not too high that they can’t get up.
There’s a problem with the roosting bars
Another reason that chickens sleep in nest boxes is that they might not want to roost on the bars because there’s a problem.
Chickens can be easily upset and sensitive to any changes or problems, so there could be an issue that can be quickly resolved.
Below are some of the reasons which could explain why there might be a problem with the roosting area:
- The bars are set too high and they can’t get up.
- They’re too narrow so chickens can’t comfortably perch.
- They’re caked with dried chicken muck, making them bumpy and uneven to stand on.
- There are red mites around the perch area that are biting the chickens as they roost.
The nest boxes are higher than the roosting area
If nest boxes are higher than a chickens perch, this might lead to them choosing the higher option because it gives them a greater feeling of safety.
If you think this might be the case then it might be worth either reducing the height of the nest boxes (if possible) or increasing the height of the perches, making sure that they’re not too high that the chickens can’t jump up.
They just prefer sleeping in a nest
This reason is the most common especially during the winter months or if the birds are of a young age.
Chickens might just prefer sleeping in the nest boxes because nests are comfy and cosy, and they can snuggle up close to each other for extra warmth.
Younger birds will often do this before they learn how to roost on perches, but it’s something you can see in older birds too.
We also keep older ex-caged birds and some of them choose the nest box because they’ve never had the option of elevated roosting before.
Is it a Problem if Chickens Sleep in Nest Boxes?
If you’ve checked the possible reasons why your chickens aren’t perching on roosting bar when they sleep and identified that it’s just the individual chicken’s personal preference then is it really a problem?
My answer to this question is, it can be a problem if there’s a reason why nest sleeping could directly impact the chicken’s health (see below for more information).
But, in many cases, nest sleeping isn’t a problem, in which case, a common-sense approach needs to be taken to assess that it’s safe to let them continue.
When chickens sleeping in nests is a problem
There are times when chickens sleeping in nests is a real problem where doing so could impact their safety, these potential issues include:
Excess chicken muck
Every coop set up is different, so the impact which chicken muck has in the nest area depends on the size of the nest and in what direction the muck is going.
In some cases the chicken’s bottom might be facing in the right direction for it to be dropped away from the body, which means the chicken isn’t lying in its own muck and therefore sleeping in the nest isn’t a major problem.
In other cases, sleeping in the nest might mean the chicken is lying in its own muck throughout the night.
It’s not good for chickens to lay in their own muck because it can get caked into their feathers and potentially lead to a build-up around the vent area.
If you feel that your chickens sleeping in their own muck is becoming a problem, see below to find out more about what you can do to stop them from sleeping in the nest.
Not enough space in nest boxes
In some cases, especially with younger birds who aren’t used to perches, chickens might all chose to sleep in the nest together.
This can become a serious problem because in limited space chickens might all squeeze in together and this can lead to a bird being smothered or could put them at risk of over-heating.
If more than two birds are sleeping together and there’s not much space in the individual nest, I would recommend removing access to the nests straight away.
Reoccurring parasite infestations
One of the most common parasites that become a problem inside chicken coops are red mites and many owners are in a constant battle with reoccurring infestations.
Mites can spread throughout the coop and can affect the chickens wherever they sleep, chickens roosting on a perch have more space around them to preen and shake their feathers out if need be.
Infestations should be treated as soon as you become aware of them, but they can be difficult to bring under control.
Should You Stop Chickens Sleeping in Nest Boxes?
If you’ve assessed the situation (based on the potential issues above) and you feel that your chickens can safely sleep in their nests, then it should be fine to let them continue if it’s what you want to do.
Over the years we’ve decided to let our chickens choose where they want to sleep, especially given that half of our flock are rescue hens and because some are very early layers.
Although most of them do sleep on perches, there are a few hens who just prefer sleeping together in the nest.
To keep things safe, we’ve provided more nest space so they have plenty of space around them and we also know that they stay side by side so smothering and overheating isn’t a potential problem.
The nights are pretty cold all year round, so it’s important for us to know that they can stay close to benefit from each others body heat.
I know there will be chicken keepers out there who disagree with our choice, but as hobby chicken keepers we want our birds to be happy as possible without the rigid constraints that they experience in the intensive farming world.
We’ve never yet experienced any issues through making this choice, but we do sometimes have to quickly clear off the top layer of the nesting material when we let them out in the morning.
Our hens have remained clean and healthy and so are the eggs when we collect them in the morning.
How to Stop Chickens Sleeping in Nest Boxes
Although I go for the soft parenting option and let my chickens sleep where they want, it’s really important that you only take this option if it’s safe to do so.
If you need to stop your chickens from sleeping in their nests then the only way to do this is by blocking off access to stop them from getting in.
The best way to do this is by putting a board between the roosting area and the nests which you can easily remove in the morning so the hens can go to lay.
This article was first published on March 29, 2021 by Pentagon-Pets.
If your chickens are early layers then you’ll need to give them access to the nest early on.
Omlet Eglu coops are particularly good in this situation because they come with built-in sliding doors – for more information on our recommended coop, click the link at the bottom of this page.
What if chickens don’t use the perches?
If this happens then you might have to help them to get used to them in the early days.
Chickens can’t see in the dark and will stay pretty still inside the coop once night falls, so you can actually lift the bird into position.
If you have more experienced birds who are already roosting then they will quickly get used to their new sleeping arrangements.
Keep persevering until it becomes second nature and if they’re struggling check to make sure the perches aren’t too high.
You might also want to try alternative perches, we’ve put a few log sections in our coop and some birds prefer this option to roost on instead of a narrower perch.
Letting Chickens Sleep in Nest Boxes
If you do decide to let one or two chickens sleep in the nest, then it’s important to skim off any muck and a top layer of bedding in the morning to prevent a build up on the following night and to prevent dirty eggs.
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Pentagon Pet is the owner of this article that was first published on March 29, 2021.
Our recommended coop
Chicken coop for different flock sizes and different weather.
This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on March 29, 2021.