Chicken Bedtime

The other day, right at dusk, it was pouring rain. It was getting dark and the pullets were still outside. My barn boots have big cracks in them, but I shoved my feet in them anyway. I put on my raincoat. I went into the run and, slipping and sliding in slick muck, I tried to catch the girls and put them inside. I wasn’t successful. All I succeeded in doing was giving them a pre-bedtime bit of exercise. At least I didn’t fall. I gave up, went inside, and changed my now muddy socks, all the while muttering, “fine, get soaked and die.”

Of course, they didn’t get wet to the bone. Or die. Of course, when it was really bedtime, they went right into the coop on their own. I should have known better. I do know better. Chickens will put themselves to bed. You don’t have to do anything.

They don’t all have the same schedule. The Old Girls make their way onto the roost well before the young hens even consider going inside.

old hens roost


Eventually, as dusk falls, the pullets slow down. It might even look like they’re going to spend the night outside.



They won’t. Before it is too dark to see their way, but not a moment before, they’ll go find their places on the roost. (I had to turn on the light to take this photo.)

all roost


If your hens aren’t going inside to sleep, my guess is, that like me on that rainy night, you set the bedtime too early. Have a bit of patience and they’ll toddle off to sleep, inside, on their own.

If they are sleeping all night outside, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is it too dark in the coop for them to see the roosts? Chickens do not have night vision. They can’t see in the dark. If your coop doesn’t have windows, by the time they think about going inside, they can’t find their way. Some coops have ramps underneath the raised floors through which to enter the coop. Hens will get stuck there, in the dark, unable to see where to go.
2. Is the coop too hot? In extremely hot climates, it might have cooled off outside, but it hasn’t yet in the coop. A hen will not willingly walk into a stifling hot box.
3. Is there enough roost space so that the hens can choose their sleeping partners and jockey for roosting position?
4. Can your older hens get up to the roost? Buffy needs a low roost, but others want to be up high.
5. Is there good ventilation? Does the air smell fresh? Decomposing manure gives off ammonia. No one wants to sleep over the fumes.
6. If there’s a sudden change in your flock’s behavior and they refuse to go into the coop, perhaps there is a predator lurking.
7. Have your young chickens learned how to roost? Even if you didn’t teach them as chicks, they’ll naturally want to be up on a roost at night. Once in awhile, a young bird hasn’t figured that out. Three of my pullets stayed on the ground while the others found their places on the rungs. I gently picked them up and set them on a low roost. I did this for two days and by the third they were going up on their own.
8. If your hens are going inside, but sleeping in nesting boxes, read this.
9. Do you have free-ranging hens that prefer to sleep in trees? They will be taken by predators. They’ll need to be retrained.

For more about roosting, see the next post.

Rabbits do not have a bedtime. Unlike the hens, they see just fine in the dark, and like an evening romp.



But, Phoebe needs to be kept safe from predators, too I’ve been picking her up and carrying her to her hutch, where, like her predecessor, she gets a reward of one banana chip for being closed in for the night. Phoebe is beginning to catch onto the routine.


  1. Our bantams go to bed well over an hour earlier than the ex-batts, usually while it’s still light!

  2. This info couldn’t have come at a better time. It has been a chaotic week at roost time here. First nite, girls went into coop about thirty minutes before dark. I thought this was going to be easy. Next nite, again they went in and huddled tightly in a corner. Hubby found this and asked if it was ok. I didn’t know, but hoped they would find the roost. Last nite , they didn’t want to go in at all. We had a scuffle trying to get them all in. Then they started that tight corner thing, again. I was stressed. I have become so attached to our baby chickens. At eleven thirty, my daughter and me went out to check on them. They were in the corner. I decided I will put them on the roost. I got three on, and one jumped off. Then got four on, two jumped off and back to corner. They were very aggravated about us interrupting their sleep and let us know it, loudly. I gave up. I was afraid I was going to step on one of them. It will take time, but I will work this out. Maybe they just need to mature a little. They still might have nesting mode in. I will check all the numbered suggestions above and hope the problem will go away. Our temperature at nite in running between 60 and 65 degrees. Heatlamp is a little to warm and no lamp is a little cool. Maybe that’s it. Thanks again for info, Terry.

    • P.S. Sorry if my alert caused the nite romp in the muck. Again, my gullibleness is showing. Someone told me chickens will drown if left out in rain. Silly I know.

  3. One thing I’ve noticed over my many years of keeping chickens is that the birds on the low end of the pecking order seem to go to roost earlier than the top birds. They try to secure the “best” roosting spots but more times than not to no avail. The top birds always getting the “choice” spots.

  4. Ever since the weather warmed up here, my girls have been happily all lined up together and sleeping on their outside roost. It is a secure run…predator proof and weather proof so I feel they know what they want. Their house is kept spotless and has windows and roosts and suited them fine all winter so I am assuming they will head back in there when the season changes? The only down-side is one of the Hens(not sure who), thinks she is a rooster and makes a heck of a racket every a.m. around 5. ;)

  5. I feel like we have so much going on with our flock right now. It was great to see this post.
    Now that there are only 4 pullets, they are settling in quite nicely and finding their way just fine. I still have a small wattage bulb in their side of the coop so that they follow the light when it starts to get dark and go right in. That being said, my older hens are literally waiting to the last second to go in at night. I thought that they weren’t very happy with their neighbors in the coop……..but I found out the other night that we also have an aggressive hen when it comes to bedtime. She’s pecking the other 3 if she doesn’t like where they decide to settle down. I’m thinking she is going to get her own little cage for a few days so she gets off her high horse. ;)
    The pullets that went to my brothers flock have been sleeping outside. They just haven’t learned. He’s fine with it. I, personally, think it’s going to become habit and they’ll never go in. What are your thoughts?
    Oh and btw…I have done the slipping and sliding in the wet muck myself. Not fun.

    • If they sleep outside, they will get taken by predators. There will also be issues at winter getting them inside. Personally, I don’t want the losses.

  6. My coop has windows on 3 sides but is still a bit dark in the evening. I’ve noticed that my girls will go in when I don’t install the highest roost in the run. If that roost is available, they always want to be there.

  7. I enjoyed reading your nice little bedtime story
    and I’m so glad you didn’t fall in the mud. Ewww Unfortunately I’ve had that pleasure.

  8. When i was in a beginner in keeping chickens, i had real big problem with their bedtime. once i was wondering, that they don’t want to go iniside. i thought that the want to fool me. but of course, at the end it was my mistake. the coop was full of millions and millions of mites.(hope it is the correct word)
    i built the coop double-walled with isolation between both walls. it was a paradise vor parasites. now, with one wall – they go to bed on their own and say “good night” to me before.

    Regards to all from germany. ;-)

    • I should have mentioned mites! They come out at night (hide in the wood during the day) so you might not know they are there until the infestation is really bad.

      • yes, I was going to add a comment about mites: this happened to me. Only Charlotte refused to go to bed, all the others went. I thought she was being bullied but nope, there were mites. I felt so guilty. After a massive blitz on the hen house – no more bed time problems.

  9. Terry, my pullets are now going into the coop every night. I had to put a light in though. But, they will NOT roost. They sleep in a pile right at the door. I can’t put them on the roost. The door I would have to use would let them out of the coop. Do you think they wiil eventually roost? Would it be a bad thing to leave a bright nitelite on all night long?

    • It is a bad thing to leave the light on at night, as it will keep them up, and they might become active at night. If they’re younger than 3 months, I’m sure they’ll start roosting later. If older, then look at the coop the way they see it – maybe there’s something that they don’t like about the configuration. Also, if they’re piled up together, perhaps they are seeking warmth?

  10. This was very timely for me! My baby (12 weeks old now) bantams have been integrated into the flock finally and except for a few pecks here and there they have been pretty well accepted, except for one hen crabby hen. They get chased a lot and hid under the coop frequently during the day, but so far (8 days into it) there has been no bloodshed. Settling down at night time has been a different issue. The crabby hen will stand by the door and peck at pullet trying to get inside. After a bit she gets up on her roost and the babies finally start going inside, with obvious trepidation, looking up on the top roost to see where she is. Like you Terry I have stood out in the rain (which has been pretty much non stop here in Vermont – 12″ in 4 weeks) and muck observing bedtime. I’ve tried not to intervene thinking that things would go much better that way as everyone eventually found their place. Initially the babies found their own roost, which is lower than where the big girls sleep. When I walk away I’ve heard a lot of squawking, but no one is getting really hurt that I can see. Lately all 5 pullets have decided to sleep in the nesting boxes – 3 crowd into one and two crowd into another – I expect because they feel safer there. I have 4 nesting boxes, so I had pretty much decided not to try to change that behavior and just clean them out every morning (only takes a few minutes to clean out poop and put in new pine shavings.)

    Perhaps this is the wrong approach? For now I have used all my energy trying to figure out how to manage the constant mud and muck in my run, which just hasn’t had a chance to dry out. I’ve had people come and give me estimates on a french drain and covering the 25’x35′ area with stone and sand – costs between $1000-3000! I have to keep asking myself WHY am I stressing and spending so much time on all this? Oh yeah, I love my chickens!

    • This is the problem when integrating young ones with mature laying hens. You can’t block them out of the nesting boxes, and that one crabby hen can make life miserable for everyone. If your nesting boxes are higher than the roosts, you try lowering them – usually hens want to be in the highest available place.

  11. What age do you typically introduce your chicks to the roosts? I just got 2 two week old bantams and wanted to know when would be the right time to introduce roosting.

  12. My older hens are creating a problem for this year’s new ladies. Where the older ladies used to cram onto a tiny length of perch, now they spread out so the younger hens don’t have room to roost in the main coop. I’m going to put up a wooden ladder on another wall and see if that helps the situation.

    This year’s younger hens, however, are darn cute. If I lean against the roost in the chicken yard in the evening, (usually, waiting for the older hens to come in from the extended yard) the younger hens all come and roost with me. When they lived inside our shed, and not in the adult hen coop, if I passed near their brooder they would hop on my shoulders and arms, anywhere they could hold on, to go to sleep with me! Yet, they are not tame and don’t let me catch or hold them otherwise. Silly, funny chickens!

  13. Terry, my pullets pile up and huddle even in 80 degree weather. They look cold. But that can’t be, right?

    • How old? If they’re not fully feathered out, they need the warmth. During the day they do social dust baths, jammed together.

    • At that age they should be roosting. Do they have outside roosts that they use? Did they have small roosts to practice on when chicks? If not, they need to be taught to roost.

  14. They roost in the run. And, I have seen a small amount of poo under the roosts in the coop. But not much at all.

  15. Ohhh, one banana chip. That sounds familiar.
    Dear little Candy.

  16. Hmmm! I’ve noticed over the years that on a dank, wet evening, my ladies stay out later (even with Bertie Rooster chivvying them along!) than on a lovely sunny one.
    You’d think they’d appreciate a beautiful sunset, but no! they hustle in early!
    Nowt funnier than chicken-folk! ;D

  17. If you have a bad infestation of red mite in the coop they won’t go in either.
    What’s Phoebe’s exact postal address? I seem to remember Candy getting TWO banana chips….. how much not to tell her?

  18. We teach our birds “Go to Bed!” from when they are first put in the portable pen. Some flocks have been better at learning than others. Last year, they were exceptionally good about going to bed. When the layers were selected, then finally moved to the layer pen and coop, the first night we told them “Go to Bed!”.

    They all gathered around, and said, ok, but where?? They had a ramp to climb to go thro the pop door and of course didn’t know what to do. One figured it out, and a few followed and eventually all went in. After 2 days, they had it down pat, and went to bed when told. Bedtime is right around 7 PM this time of year.

    Our coop has a large window and an exterior door that’s open all summer. When it hits 90’s it is hot in there, so we have a fan to move air. But when it darkens to rain, we seldom see hens out, especially in evening. They aren’t roosted, just inside. So we often close them up early on rainy nights.

    It really makes life easier to teach them Go to Bed! when they are little.