HOW TO GET YOUR CHICKENS TO RETURN TO THE COOP AT NIGHT
We had an email recently from Dana Farmer and it is a question that comes up again and again. It is about her “trouble getting the hens into the coop at night” and what you can do to train your hens to return at dusk and ensure they are safely inside the coop for the night.
Of course this is particularly pertinent for us at ChickenGuard. We are all about keeping your hens safe and secure from those pesky predators. That is the purpose of your coop and why it is absolutely key to ensure your girls return to the coop at dusk.
Once you know your chickens are in, ChickenGuard’s automatic chicken coop door closes them in for the night, safe and secure from predators, and then opens in the morning, without you having to get up or go out into the cold, dank morning.
That is why we want our hens to return, but what makes our hens want to return to the coop?
Chicken eyesight is amazing! They can see better in colour than humans, can detect and see light and colour shades better than humans, have three eyelids, can move each eye independently and have a 300 degree field of vision without turning their head. Chickens see in much the same way we do. However, chickens do not have night vision. They can’t see in the dark. But chickens can sense whether it is light or dark through the pineal gland. The pineal gland sits above her midbrain behind her eyes, and allows a chicken to sense daylight as well as the changing seasons. So as the day draws to a close, and it starts to get dark, the hens already sense that it is time to go home – to the warmth and safety of the coop.
Chickens are creatures of habit
It is true chickens are creatures of HABIT. Once they have in their mind that they need to return to the coop, they will do it like clockwork. If you have them in the habit of returning to their “home” (the coop), then it is unusual for the habit to be broken
So why do chickens NOT return to the Coop?
What is it that stops your chickens from returning to the coop? Well often it is that they are simply young and haven’t learnt to go into the coop at night. They haven’t learnt the habit. Many of the questions and enquiries on this come from new chicken keepers with young hens. Or you might just have bought 8 week olds and are introducing them to a new coop.
They might have moved from the brooder and the coop isn’t yet their home. You might have made it beautiful, clean, have nests, perches, some treats and even toys laid out for them… but to them it is new, and perhaps a little bewildering to your youngsters.
If it is older birds it could be that the coop has pests. Not the same, or as bad as a predator, but mice or rats or red mite in the cracks of the wood might be putting your hens off entering the coop at night. Who’d want to sleep in a lice ridden bed! It can make them a little scared and it will stop them sleeping. So they won’t want to go in.
If you haven’t installed a ChickenGuard, it might also be that your flock have been frightened by a predator. A snake, or even a raccoon, has got in without you noticing. They will associate being in the coop with the predator and not want to enter.
If it is one or two of the hens not going in, that’s an indicator that is is down to bullying. If you notice that it is the girls at the bottom of the pecking order who refuse to go in at night, then this is likely to be the issue. They understandably don’t fancy getting a pecking!
Broodiness – whether you want it or not, some hens will go broody. It’s hormonal. And so it doesn’t matter if you have a rooster or not, the hen can still get broody. Usually they will stay in a nest in the coop. But just occasionally they find their own spot away from the roost, somewhere they find comforting.
WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?
Make the Coop their home
Yes you can make it the most beautiful coop in the world and that is fantastic. It might have the perfect perch, nesting boxes to die for and be painted in the most idealic colour scheme, but that won’t convince the new flock that this is HOME.
So make it comfortable and make it safe. They are roosting there so provide everything they need. Then encourage them to use it. If they don’t then lock them in for two or three days. Make sure it is not in extreme temperatures and that they are safe and secure. They’ll get used to the coop and used to sleeping in it. It’s your number one option. Try this out first.
Use Food to encourage your chickens into the Coop
Lots of chicken owners recommend food or treats as a way of encouraging their flock into the coop at night. Just use feed in their coop in the early evening. The idea is that you do this for a while so that they get used to going into the coop and sleeping there. Then you should be able to stop the feeding and they have got into the habit, a habit they are unlikely to grow out of.
Give them a little Light
Another solution, particularly if your birds have been used to going into the coop and are now just being refusniks, is a little light. It is simple and has been proven to work. Don’t make it too bright, a torch or flashlight can do the job, or a 25watt bulb if you have electricity available. It doesn’t want to be too bright that they won’t go and roost. You just turn it on a little before dusk and (hopefully) they come running.
Dealing with Bullies
If you suspect bullying is the cause then you should consider whether you have enough space in the coop. Bullying issues are often caused by simply not having enough room for each hen. So if you can, get a slightly bigger coop – or build yourself an extension! Alternatively think about reducing the flock. If it persists you will need to deal with the bully and that’s a whole other topic!
Pests & Predators
If it is all the flock suddenly refusing to go into the coop, the likely cause is they have been visited by a predator at night or the coop is infested. First off, buy yourself a ChickenGuard and make sure the coop and run is fully secure from predators. See our article: Protecting Your Hens from Foxes. Now you need to give the coop a good clean. Despite a reputation for being dirty, chickens do have standards! So make it a thorough overhaul and make sure you keep it clean periodically thereafter, or your flock will let you know again.
We’d hope that one of these solutions will help you. It is crucial that your hens stay in their coop at night. Despite what you might think, there are almost always predators around, even in urban areas. So keep your flock safe and secure. Good luck.