What You Need to Know About Chicken Roosts

Chicken roosts are a vital part of any chicken coop. Chicken roosting bars or perches give chickens a place to sleep, relax, and feel safe from predators. Sleeping on perches also helps chicks stay healthy by helping to keep them away from chicken poop and mites. Usually, chickens return to their roosts in the evening, where they line up together to spend the night. Although having a few roosting perches in a coop may seem straightforward, there is much to learn about roosting spaces to care for your chickens’ well being.

Chicken Roost

New chicken keepers usually have many questions about setting up nesting boxes, the best type of perch, and general chicken health. This article answers all your questions about roosts for backyard chickens and how to ensure that the roosting space is ideal for your flock.

What is a Chicken Perch?

A chicken perch is a bar or branch secured off the ground. A common type of perch is a simple wooden plank that is 2 inches by 4 inches. However, any flat surface or sturdy branch will do as long as chickens can stand on it.

Some chicken keepers install a ladder-like structure leaning against a wall for the roost. In addition, many chicken coop kits come with pre-installed plastic perches or wooden bars to give chickens a place to sleep at night.

Why Do Chickens Need to Roost?

Chickens roost when they sleep, want to take a nap, or get away from the rest of the flock. It’s in a chicken’s instinct to roost or sleep off the ground to stay clear of predators. You’ll find that the chick on the lower perches sleep with one eye open to keep on the lookout.

Another reason for having roosting bars is to keep order. There is a distinct pecking order in a flock. So, you’ll find the alpha hens on the higher bars with the other perches available for the hens lower down on the pecking order. It’s also common that different breeds of chickens prefer being different heights off the ground.

Roosting perches is also necessary for backyard chickens to keep the flock healthy. If chickens don’t have roosts, they will sleep in nesting boxes. However, this puts them at risk of contamination from bacteria. So, perched up off the ground minimizes exposure to poop, chicken mites, lice, and external parasites.

It’s vital to provide roosting space for chickens because it helps to keeps them warm in the winter. Staying off the ground prevents frostbitten feet, and the chickens can keep themselves warm with their body heat.

Also, roosting prevents mice and rodents from nibbling on chicken toes as they are sleeping.

What Material are Roosting Perches Made From?

Chicken roosting perches are commonly made from wood. Any type of untreated wood is suitable for making a perching bar. However, the wood should be smooth, without any splinters. An easy way to make a DIY wooden perch is to use an old wooden ladder. Or you could use a long sturdy piece of lumber to create a roost bar.  

If you buy a plastic chicken coop, there will usually be suitable plastic roosting perches. However, if you want to add more, it’s best to avoid plastic pipes. These are too smooth and don’t allow chickens to grip them.

What Size Should a Chicken Roost Bar Be?

The best size for chicken roosting bars a minimum of 2 inches by 4 inches (5 cm x 10 cm). The broader part of timber should be where the chickens stand. It’s good to remember that, unlike wild birds that wrap their feet around a perch, chickens sleep standing with their feet flat.

The roosting bar must be big enough for the size of your flock. The dominant chicken will command the best places on the roosting perch. If there’s not enough room, the chickens lower on the pecking order roost. This can result in sick chickens if they are exposed to bacteria, parasites, and rodents.

How Far Off the Ground Should Hen Roosting Bars Be?

Roosting bars should be at least 12 inches (30 cm) off the ground. But typically, the average height for installing perches is four feet (1.2 m). However, a chicken will feel happy roosting anywhere up to 10 feet (3 m) above the ground.

Suppose you install perches that are far off the ground. In that case, it’s a good idea to have staggered roosts at varying heights. This type of staircase system allows chickens to get up and down the roost without injury.

How Far Apart Do Chicken Roosts Need to Be?

To give chickens enough room to roost, the roost bars should be at least 18 inches (45 cm) apart. If you use a ladder-type of bird roost, then ensure that the bars aren’t above each other. This is to avoid chicken droppings landing on the chicks below. Also, roost bars should be a couple of feet from the ceiling to allow chickens to flap their wings before settling down.

A crucial factor to remember is that the roosting bar must be level. Unlevel perches cause fatigue in chickens because they have to use one leg more than the other. In addition, chickens could fall from the roost and injure themselves and other chickens.

How Many Chickens Per Roost?

Chickens Perching

Each chicken typically needs 12 inches (30 cm) of roost space on the perch. You can, of course, have more feet per bird, but you need at least one foot for each bird. Ensuring that roosts are wide enough for your flock helps improve coop hygiene. This results in a robust and healthy flock with fewer skirmishes between birds.

How Do Chickens Know When to Roost?

Chickens have a pineal gland that senses when it starts getting dark. This instinctively lets chickens know it’s time to roost. So, they will return to the safety and warmth of the coop. Usually, after juvenile chickens get into the habit of perching, they will continue going home at the end of the day.

Here are a few reasons why chickens may not return to the roost:

  • Age—New chickens in backyard flocks may need some training or encouragement to return to the roost.
  • Bullying—If a couple of hens are not roosting, then this could be a sign of bullying.
  • Broodiness—Some broody hens may just stay in the nesting box rather than perch on the roost bar.
  • Pests or predators—If there are pests such as red mites, mice, or rats, your hens may not want to go “home” at night. Using diatomaceous earth in the coop is an excellent way to keep parasites, mites, and lice away from your chickens.

What Age Do Chickens Need a Roost?

Depending on the breed, chickens roost between the age of four and six weeks. Therefore, it’s crucial to start training your chickens to use the roost from an early age. Roosts are vital for the health and stability of the whole flock. Generally, light breeds start roosting from four weeks old and heavier breeds from six weeks old.

To make roosting easier for younger chickens, ensure that the roost is between half a foot and two feet off the ground. This makes getting on the perch more accessible for young chickens. Additionally, they avoid breaking their feet if they fall from a height.

How To Clean Chicken Roosts?

To keep a backyard flock healthy, it essential to keep the roosts and coop clean. The cheapest way to clean and disinfect a coop is to use white vinegar.

After scraping out manure, old bedding, and savings, hose down the coop with water. Then dilute the vinegar with equal parts of water. Next, use a scrubbing brush to clean the roost bars and inside of the coop thoroughly. Then, after cleaning the coop with vinegar, hose down the inside again and leave the coop to dry.

It’s a good idea to clean chicken roosts at least once a month to rid them of lice, mites, and other nasties that can lurk in the nooks and crannies.

The Best Place to Put Chicken Roosts

The best place in a coop for the roosting bars is near the back. Make sure the roosting space is away from nesting boxes, windows, and doors. In addition, the roosting perches should be away from cold drafts, which can be detrimental to your chickens’ health.

Common Problems Chickens Have with Roosts

Problems with roosts such as uneven surfaces, splinters, lack of space, and poor hygiene are common issues with chicken roosts. Roosts should provide a comfortable and safe elevated place for chickens to rest and sleep. Poorly maintained roosts can lead to injury, infection, or refusal of chickens to use the coop.

Bumpy roosts or sharp splinters can cut a chicken’s foot leading to infection and disease. Bumblefoot is common if a bacterial infection gets into a cut. Also, sores on the chicken’s feet can be caused by rough and uneven areas. So, always make sure that roosting bars are smooth and even.

Not having enough space can happen as your backyard flock of poultry birds grow. Always make sure that chickens have enough room on the perches and you have an adequate number of nesting boxes. But it’s good to remember that birds will huddle together on perches to stay warm in colder weather.