What is a chicken roost?
A chicken roost is a place for chickens to perch that is elevated off the ground. A ledge, a ladder, or even large sticks will work. Chickens have a natural instinct to be safe after dark and will look for a place to sleep that is elevated off 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 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.
We have had this happen on more than one occasion. Finding hens roosting in the oddest places. This is something to be aware of if you
. They will make a home wherever they feel the most comfortable. That can be in a tree, a fence, or even the barn on your fresh-cut hay for your goats. free-range your chickens
SLCG PRO TIP: If you are free-ranging 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. I like to say a few words like “Chick-chick-chick.”
This will teach your flock that food is coming each time they hear this routine. Do the same at night, calling your girls in and 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; you may find a few stragglers running up to you. Ladder Roost
For years, we used a ladder style 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 that our flock was growing and needed more space inside of the coop so I decided to remove the ladder roost and find another option.
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 a few hens easily.
Another reason I was not a fan of the ladder roost was that it was difficult to clean underneath each morning. To keep our coop cleaner, I prefer to spot clean a little each day, and this was difficult to do with this type of roost.
Here’s a tip if you are new to chickens, they poop….a lot. 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 they work great to keep a coop cleaner. Each morning, you can remove the boards, take them to your compost pile, and scrape them clean. This will eliminate the smell and mess inside your coop for a longer period of time, allowing you to keep your full coop cleanouts to twice a year.
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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.
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. Unlike most birds, chickens do not use their feet to grip their roosts. They prefer to sleep flat-footed rather than wrapping their feet around the bar or branch. Small Roost Options
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. You can also use a 2×4 board set in between two cinder blocks.
You can opt for a perimeter style if you need more room in your coop. You can DIY this option using scrap wood and a few basic pieces of hardware.
We used a 2×2 board for the base of our roost, giving our hens a nice wide area to walk and perch on. Once we widened the perch area, we found our hens took to it quite naturally.
Most of our new roost was made with scraps of wood lying around our property. As homesteaders, we always try to reuse items from home before heading out to buy. Repurposing is a large component of a homesteader’s lifestyle. Yes, it may take more work to convert something old into something new, but the money saved is worth the extra effort.
How high should a chicken roost be?
There is no set requirement for the height of a roost. The purpose is to get your chickens off the ground so they feel safe while sleeping. This can be anywhere from 6 inches to 6 feet and will all depend on the room inside your coop.
You can make your roosts at any height; 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.
In the beginning, we found many of our hens used the ladder to get up to the roost, but as time wore on and our hens got used to the new layout, they preferred flying up and down rather than using the ladder.
To build the access ramp for the new chicken roost, we used the old ladder roost to create the steps on a board we had in the barn. The runs gave them a bit of security as they walked up the ladder that took them to the top, where we had a small platform for them to turn around on.
Each individual board was screwed onto the mainboard to create steps up the ramp. The ends were then trimmed off, and we filed down any sharp points.
Once finished, we had a ladder-style ramp that the girls could use to gain easier access to the new chicken roost.
SLCG PRO TIP: To encourage our chickens to use our new DIY chicken roost ladder, I sprinkled scratch onto the individual steps. This taught a few to walk up, pecking at grain 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. Hubby did this to make it easier for the hens to move around once at the top. Since we have quite a few chickens in our coop, ensuring plenty of room for everyone was important. (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 prefer to snuggle up. In the summer, however, chickens 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 setup you have. This was the case for our roost, as it was all on one level. Chickens have a hierarchy that is established on a multilevel roost.
The top hens get the top location, while the lower-ranking hens are at the bottom. In our case, we added 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 one hen that refused to use it. Rather than try to force her, I added a small step ladder to our coop. She now prefers to roost on the ladder and is no longer on the ground where she is not safe. Another advantage to having the ladder is 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 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 were 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 through reinforced training rather than forcing them to do or learn 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, while using food as a positive reinforcement.
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 for your entire flock to use the roost comfortably.
This is true not only in the chicken coop but also outside in the run and yes, on the roost itself.
More Chicken Care Resources:
For this reason, the ladder-style DIY chicken roost is the most commonly found in most coops. Ladders will give each chicken in your flock a spot to roost safely from predators and other aggressive chickens. If you try the one-level roost that I talked bout above and find hens sleeping on the floor, you can add a step ladder to give everyone a place to roost safely.
Where should you place your chicken roost?
You will want to put your DIY chicken roost in the coop area where the weather will not get to them. If you live in a cold area, the wall away from the wind will give you a warmer spot for your flock. If you live in a hotter climate, you may want to put your roost close to a door or window to allow some cool air.
Since we live in northwest Pennsylvania, the cold and wind can be brutal in the colder months, so for our setup, that means our roost is best 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 cannot believe the piles I am greeted with each morning. Keep this little tidbit in mind when you choose your chicken roost location.
As mentioned above, I like keeping a “scrape board” below my roost for easier cleanup. A scrape board is simply a small piece of scrap wood under the roost meant to catch any debris that falls. It is best to clean any scrape boards 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. As you scrap the board, take the time to inspect what you are scraping. Runny, slimy, or sticking manure is a sign that a
and a clue that you will want to investigate further to see which hen or hens are acting off. hen is sick
SLCG PRO TIP: Do not put fresh manure next to the plants in your garden because it will burn and damage your plants. Let it sit in a pile or 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 door frame, 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 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 much easier than treating a sick chicken or flock.
With our newest roost, I found my hens did not 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 a “good thing.” That ladder now doubles as a scraping board and gathers up the mess nicely from the previous night. 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. I cut a “V” in a plastic bucket to clean the ladder. This “V” allows the bucket to fit up snugly with the ladder making scraping from each rung much easier. Less falls on the floor, meaning more mess leaves the coop.
No matter which scrape board you use, a
paint scraper this one is one tool you will want to have in your coop.
With so many families trying their hand at homesteading, raising chickens is a wonderful way to start. If you are new to chickens, you will need more information besides setting up a roost.
Backyard Chickens 101
Yes, a lot 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 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 to prepare 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 to raising chickens that lay loads of eggs.
Do you have a
DIY chicken roost in your coop? Leave me a comment; I would love to hear from you! More Chicken Guides: