If you have ever gone into a chicken coop at night, you might notice that your chickens are very sound sleepers. You can literally walk around and even pick your birds without much fuss at all. For that reason, they like to be up off the ground while they are sleeping, especially at night, to keep more safely away from any predators. To help provide a safe sleeping area for your girls you can and should add a DIY chicken roost to your hen house.
What is a chicken roost?
A chicken roost is a place for chickens to perch on that is up off of the ground. A ledge, a ladder, or even large sticks will do the trick. Chickens have a natural instinct to be safe after dark and will look for a place to sleep that is up off of the ground at night. And if you don’t have one, they will find one because that instinct for safety is so strong.
I realized just out how important this was one night when we could not find one of our hens. We spent quite a bit of time searching for her and as the night got darker I became more worried for her safety. After a bit, we finally found our escaped beloved hen perched in our apple tree.
Her natural instinct told her to get up and out of harm’s way. I was so happy to find her safe and sound and quickly returned her to the coop with her gal pals.
SLCG PRO TIP: If you free range your birds teach them to come when called. This is easy to do and something you can train them quite quickly. Each time you are out feeding your chickens, shake the bucket and call to them. This will teach your flock that food is coming each time they here this routine. Do the same at night calling your girls in offering a sprinkle of mealworms or chicken scratch as a reward. This can be so helpful if you have a missing hen. Walk your yard, shake, and call and you may find a few stragglers running up to you.
For years we used a ladder as our chicken roost with smaller skinnier boards for the hens to stand on, but I knew I needed to fix what we had. Those ladders although nice, did take up quite a bit of room in our chicken coop. I also later found out that the rungs were not the correct size for our chickens to roost comfortably. (Read more on this below)
Another issue we had was our flock was much bigger now than it was before and we needed to give them more space to move around without the risk of fighting. That meant finding a different way to build a roost up high so we could free space down low.
If you have a small flock you can easily use the ladder roost in the picture below. It is simple to build and will hold quite few hens easily.
I was not a fan of the ladder roost because it was difficult to clean under each morning. This is important if you want a cleaner coop or if you use the deep litter method in the winter. Here’s a tip if you are new to chickens, they poop….a lot. and in order to keep cleanup easier, no matter what roost you choose you will want to put a board of some sort below them to catch any debris they leave overnight. I call these “scrape boards” and each morning you can remove and scrape the debris right into your compost pile. This will eliminate the smell and mess of a coop for much longer allowing you to only need a full cleanout 2 times a year. When we had the ladder roosts, I had a board under each and that meant I needed a bit of tricky maneuvering to get each board out without spilling its contents. Just something to keep in mind before you settle on a roost design for your setup.
Let’s go over the basics and what you need to build a roost for your flock.
Chicken Roosts – Building a DIY Chicken Roost
What size is best for the rungs on the chicken roost?
Chicken roost bars or rungs should be at least 2″ wide, but 4″ is better. Chickens are not like most birds meaning they do not use their feet to grip their roosts. What that means is, they prefer to sleep flat-footed rather than wrapping their feet around the bar or rung. If you have a small number of birds, a simple step ladder will work just fine since the stairs are the perfect size for roosting, however, you will want to make sure it is secure to the coop floor and there is no risk of it toppling over.
For our latest roost, Hubby used a newly purchased 2×4 for one side and a plank of scrap wood from the frame of our old chicken roost for the other side. This size was just right for our hens to stand on comfortably.
As a homesteader, we are always trying to reuse items from home before heading out to buy. Repurposing is a large component of a homesteader’s lifestyle. Yes, it may take a bit more work to convert something old into something new but I feel the money saved is worth the extra effort.
How high should a chicken roost be?
There is basically no set requirement for the height of a roost. The purpose is simply to get your chickens up off of the ground so they feel safe while sleeping. This can be anywhere from 6 inches to 6 feet. You can make your roosts at any height, just know if you choose to do a higher roost you will want to give your chickens easy access up and down.
Since our roost is over 3′ high we made a ladder made from repurposed materials that we got from the old chicken roost to build a ladder to our new one.
Eventually, your hens will learn to fly up to the roost and fly or simply jump back down but there will still be a few hens that prefer the ladder.
To build our ramp up to the new chicken roost, we used the old ladder to create the steps on a board so our chickens could just walk up to the top.
Each individual step was screwed on to the mainboard to create steps up the ramp. The ends were then trimmed off to keep things more contained.
Once finished, we had a step up ramp that the girls could use to gain easier access to the new chicken roost.
SLCG PRO TIP: To get my girls to use the ladder I sprinkled scratch onto the individual steps. This taught a few to walk up pecking at treats along the way. Eventually, as with most flocks, the other hens followed the leaders. Today all the hens use the ladder without hesitation.
Finally, the ladder needed to have a landing. The reason Hubby did this was to make it easier for the hens to move around once at the top. Since we have quite a few chickens in our coop it was important to ensure we had plenty of room for everyone. (read more on this below)
Remember the more room you have the less you will have to deal with bullying and henpecking of smaller and/or weaker hens.
Since we have quite a large flock, we needed our DIY chicken roost to span two sides of our coop. With the little landing, the hens can now climb to the top and choose which way to head off and roost.
How much spacing do you need for your hens on a chicken roost?
When you build a roost you should try for at least 8″ per hen. In the winter you will be amazed at how they like to snuggle up. In the summer, however,m my gals will spread out and use most of the space available. If you are housing a lot of chickens in your coop you will need a roost that allows for plenty of space for each hen.
If you find some of your hens sleeping on the ground and not on the chicken roost you will want to find out why. It is either because there is not enough room on the roost or your chickens do not like the set up you have. In that case, you will either need to add a second roost to allow for enough room or another type of roost for the chickens to use.
For our newest chicken roost, we found 1 hen that refused to use it. Rather than try to force her I simply placed an old step ladder inside. She now prefers to roost on the ladder and is no longer on the ground where she is not safe.
Another perk to having the ladder is with our rooster. Some roosters prefer to sleep “below” the hens so they can better keep a protective eye on the flock. By having the ladder with the different levels our rooster can sleep on the bottom rung which helps him to feel safe while still keeping an eye on the rest of the flock.
SLCG PRO TIP: If this was a younger hen I would have worked with her to get her used to the new roost. How to do that is to put her on the roost after DARK (not dusk) when it is easy to pick up and move chickens. After a few evenings of this, she would have learned the workings of the roost and felt comfortable enough to use it on her own. However, since we plan to sell her in a couple of months there was no reason to do the training and the ladder solved the issue without stressing her out.
It is important to know your animals and work with them rather than force them to do anything. Once you begin forcing you will lose the trust of your animals. If you want to train any animal trust is always the first step.
Gain their trust no matter what type of animal they are. This trust will make it easier for you to touch them and pick them up which is necessary for first aid and other hands-on work.
How the pecking order in a chicken flock works.
As you probably already know there is a pecking order for chickens and nowhere is this more evident than on a roost. Usually, the more dominant hens will be on the highest rungs with the smaller, less aggressive birds down lower. The trick to keeping things calm and peaceful for your flock is to ensure you have plenty of room. This is true not only in the coop, but also out in the run, and yes on the roost itself.
For this reason, the ladder-style of DIY chicken roost is the most common found in most coops. Ladders will give each chicken in your flock a spot to roost safely from both predators and other aggressive chickens.
If you try the one-level roost that I talked bout above and find hens sleeping down on the floor, you can add in a step ladder to give everyone a place to roost safely.
Where should you place your chicken roost?
You will want to put your roost in the area of the coop where the weather will not get to them. If you live in a cold area, then the wall that is away from the wind will give you a warmer spot for your flock. If you live in a hotter climate then you may want to put your roost close to a door or window to allow some cool air to get in.
Since we live in northwest Pennsylvania the cold and wind can be brutal, so for our setup that means our roost is on the wall that is away from the wind and located as far away from the doors as possible.
Next up, we are going to talk about poo again. You may not realize it, but hens poo when they sleep. A LOT. And in the beginning, I was shocked at just how much, even today I just cannot believe the piles I am greeted with each morning.
Keep this little tidbit in mind when you choose your chicken roost location. As I talked about above, I like to keep a “scrape board” below my roost for easier cleanup. A scrape board is simply a small piece of scrap wood that you place under the roost.
All scrape boards get cleaned every morning at chore time. Simply go in and carry your boards as you would a pizza, being sure not to tip it knocking off your collection of pooh. You can then scrape it into your compost pile or a corner of your garden to be used later on.
SLCG PRO TIP: Do not put fresh manure of any kind next to the plants in your garden because it will burn and damage your plants. Let it sit in a pile or in your compost bin until it is ready to use.
Another tip is to be sure your scrape board is smaller than the coop’s door. Funny story….the first time I took my scrape board out to clean it off into my compost pile, I walked right into the jam, and (you guessed it) the board hit me right in the chest with all the pooh and mess. Not my finest moment.
Having scrape boards will really help to keep the coop cleaner cutting down on mites and other bugs not to mention the smell. Remember, a clean coop will keep your chickens healthier and promoting good health is so much easier than treating a sick chicken or flock.
With our newest roost, I found my hens preferred to sleep facing into the center of the coop. This surprised me a bit seeing that they preferred to roost facing the back wall. So when I saw our new ladder invention covered in poo that first morning I was pretty surprised to see it.
After a bit, I realized this was actually a “good thing”. That ladder now doubles as a scraping board and gathers up the mess quite nicely from the night before. Although my hens do use the ladder to get up to the high roost they do not use it to get down. So, there is no worry about them stepping in piles of poo the following morning.
Why is the chance of chickens stepping in pooh such a big deal? Dirty feet can lead to dirty eggs and the risk of dirty yolks if not cleaned properly. For that reason, always try to keep the coop clean so the eggs, in turn, stay clean as well.
To clean the ladder I cut a “V” in a plastic bucket. This “V” allows the bucket to fit up snug with the ladder making scraping from each rung much easier to do. Less falls on the floor and that means more mess leaves the coop.
No matter which scrape board you use, a paint scraper, like this one, is one tool you will want to have in your coop.
With so many families trying out their hand at homesteading raising chickens is a wonderful way to get started. If you are new to chickens you will need just a bit more information besides setting up a roost.
Backyard Chickens 101
Yes, there is a lot that goes into raising chickens but once you have an idea of what they need and how to keep them safe and healthy you are good to go.
Read the above articles for a pretty good overview and you won’t be caught off guard.
Chickens are a fun way to add livestock to your home and a great learning tool for children. Do your homework and ask questions so you are ready for a long and happy relationship with your hens. As with all animals promoting healthy livestock through safe and clean housing and healthy fresh food and water is the best approach.
Do you have a DIY chicken roost in your coop?