When dusk falls, chickens head into their coop. At least, that is what is supposed to happen. But some evenings, you may find your hens perched up in a tree unwilling to come down and you may wonder: “Can my chickens sleep outside? Can I just leave them up there and go to bed?”
Let’s face it; not all chickens are easy to catch. Most chickens happily go to bed while other hens are so skilled at avoiding capture that they should be a spy for the CIA. What to do about chickens sleeping outside the coop? Read on!
Can Chickens Sleep Outside The Coop?
While backyard chicken breeds are typically hardy enough to sleep outside their coop it is not recommended if you want your hens to live a long life! There are predators in all corners of the world who would love to snatch up your chooks and will do so as soon as the opportunity arises.
Some backyard breeds have been bred to happily roost in trees and withstand cold temperatures and can live outside (at their own risk). However, if you have a rescued broiler hen, these chickens may need extra coddling. They often lack proper feather coats to keep them warm.
Why Do People Keep Chickens In Coops?
Due to local laws, many backyard chicken owners have to have a chicken coop. Some ordinances don’t even let people free-range them in their yard. Instead, folks are required to build large outdoor runs with roofs made of chicken wire or shade cloth to stay within the rules. Coops with nesting boxes also make it easier to find and harvest eggs.
But the primary purpose of chicken coops is to protect your flock from predators. Darkness is like a sleep drug to our friendly fowl. Thus, while your hens might easily evade house cats and other minor predators during the day, they are sitting chickens at night if your chickens sleeping outside coop.
Common chicken predators include:
So consider what predators are in your neighborhood when debating if it is worth keeping your chickens outside. Also, consider where your chickens have decided to sleep for the night. Roosting lower down is much more dangerous than if they’ve chosen a branch high in a tree.
Why your hens should sleep in their coop
When it comes to where your hens are sleeping, it’s a good idea to have a strong, secure coop that provides them with a safe, good night’s sleep.
Without a doubt, the main reason your hens should not sleep outside is that they’re an easy target for predators as I mentioned above.
The added security a coop provides is perfect for fending off predators, when many hens are all present together in an enclosed outdoor space it makes them an easy target for a hungry animal, if your hens have an encounter, trust us it’s not a pleasant sight. You want to minimize the risk of this happening.
Like I mentioned earlier, sleeping outside won’t cause any physical damage itself however, it’s not worth putting your hens at risk even if your run is sturdy and secure. I understand that it can sometimes be a draining task, especially when you are physically putting lots of hens in the coop however it’s defiantly worth it.
I found that once our hens had been trained they would go into the coop at sunset without fail, this meant our job was so much easier, lock the coop door, remove the drinker/feeder and that was about it.
Advantages of your hens sleeping in their coop
Our girls all got into the habit of going into their coop at sunset, I found that our shed conversion made the process easy for them to learn as well as made our life easier when it came to locking them up for the night. If you are interested in doing a similar conversion and want to know more about what it entails, make sure to check out our article on converting a garden shed into a chicken coop.
Here are some advantages when your hens sleep in their coops:
- You don’t have to worry about any predators getting into the coop
- You know they’re in a safe and secure place
- You can see them all together when locking up the coop
- A great chance to interact with your fabulous pets, their curious and quirky personalities are defiantly something to look forward too.
I usually take one look at our hens after locking up, this gives us a chance to feed them some treats before bed and check everything is how it should be. I would highly recommend doing this with your hens its a ton of fun, especially if you have kids.
When Can Chickens Sleep Outside At Night?
Chickens can be left to sleep outside if they are fully grown and have all their feathers. However, they need to have a place that is high up, such as a tree, to limit the danger they could encounter. For example, a house cat is unlikely to try to wrestle a large chicken in a tree. However, pouncing on one close to the ground might be highly tempting.
Chickens need to be fully grown to happily live outside as they control their temperature with their feathers. Without their full plumage, they can fluff or compress their coats enough to keep themselves from becoming too hot or cold. Thus, if you have a chicken molting, it should stay in its coop at night.
Can Chickens Sleep In The Cold?
Chickens are more likely to suffer heat stroke than die of the cold, as they do not have sweat glands. As a result, they are not happy in temperatures over 90 F (32C) and will need access to shade and lots of water. But chickens can stand cold temperatures reasonably well overnight. Some breeds will struggle once you get to freezing temperatures. But some cold-weather breeds can survive at 10F (-12C).
However, your chickens must have dry areas to roost off the frozen ground. Seeing your flock standing on one foot for prolonged periods is a sign that they are cold and trying to warm up.
Can Chickens Get Frostbite?
Frostbite can impact chickens with larger combs and wattles. The damage typically occurs when there is excessive dampness combined with wind chill. Chickens can handle the cold much more gracefully in dry conditions sheltered from the wind. Thus, even chickens kept in their coop at night can be susceptible to frostbite if the enclosure is damp and has a draft.
Chickens with larger combs and wattles can be helped out by coating these parts with a moisturizing oil (not water):
- Coconut oil
- Petroleum jelly
This hen-hack is best applied at night when they are most vulnerable.
What Are Some Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds?
Some chickens are like chihuahuas and need lots of pampering. Other chickens are like the fowl equivalent of a Newfoundland. Thus, if you are looking for an outdoor breed that can occasionally sleep outside their coop, here are three chickens to consider.
Dominiques are an old North American breed and a popular choice for people living in Alaska and Canada. These robust chickens have a “pea comb,” limiting the frostbite risk. Dominique weighs 5-7lbs. They are good layers, averaging 150-200 eggs per year. These chickens have a lovely temperament and are good at foraging for food.
Plymouth Rocks originally hail from New England, so they can do winter. They average 7-8lbs and are considered good layers, producing an average of 250 eggs a year. These chickens do best in a free-range environment as they adore being outdoors.
Wyandotte chickens are a good size with a calm personality. They average 6-8lbs and tend to produce gorgeous feathers. The breed does okay in confinement but loves to free-range and forage for food. Wyandotte is unusual as the younger adults lay throughout the year, with an average production of 200. In addition, they have a “rose comb,” reducing the likelihood of frostbite.
Can My Chickens Sleep Outside In The Heat?
Chicken coops can turn into ovens during times of high heat. Some pens retain heat to dangerous levels even as temperatures drop at night. Since chickens can’t sweat, hot enclosures can have deadly consequences. Thus, it is essential for coops to have proper ventilation and to construct shade.
However, altering a coop takes time, and not everyone can implement the changes instantly. Thus, if you have a safe place outside the enclosure, such as a shady tree, let them roost there until the coop can be modified. It is better for them to perch in well-ventilated shade than risk heat stroke in a stuffy pen.
Chickens Sleeping Outside Coop? How To Train Your Hens To Go In The Coop
Want to avoid chickens sleeping outside coop? You may need to train them.
This is something we found to be extremely useful, every few years when I replace our flock, training them to go to bed at sunset is one of the first things I try and install into them. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide of how I do it, this will work with any breed of hens, isn’t that hard to do but archives great results.
Step 1: Probably the longest step, this can work if you’ve just got your hens or if they’re a couple of years old. Start off by manually putting them inside the coop and locking the door, this may take some time.
Step 2: Once the hens are in the coop, start off by giving each one of them some treats.
Step 3: After you’ve given your hens their night time treat, lock them up for the night and repeat this process for a few days.
Step 4: After a week or so your hens will recognize you walking up to the coop and automatically link it with the treats, this is a form of classical conditioning that works on lots of animals. We like to shake the treats in a metal cup, the sound of the treats is a signal for the hens to go inside the coop in order to receive the treats.
Step 5: Your hens should now be trained to enter the coop at sunset, we understand everyone’s coops are different however applying the same principle as in these steps should ensure you get similar results. All you have to do is lock up the coop, and there you have it, your hens are in their coop safe and sound.
I found this method works for every single flock.
How to prevent any unexpected visitors
After going through the tedious process of training your hens and finally getting them into a good routine it’s also vital to make sure your coop is strong, secure and sturdy in order for it to be worthwhile.
Predators are unwelcome guests no chicken owner wants, however being prepared for a situation means you can prevent anything dreadful from happening. For a coop to provide sufficient protection to your birds it should have a secure locking mechanism as well as be made from good quality materials. A hungry animal may be able to chew through thin pieces of wood and chicken wire.
Not to mention rodents such as rats can also invade the coop, these creatures have the capability to cause harm to your lovely birds. If you want more information on how to keep rats away then check out my article on how to keep a coop rat free
We reckon a great way to prevent all this from potentially happening is by purchasing/ building a great coop, this will protect your hens at night and provide them with a great sleeping environment.
So there you have it a quick insight into why your hens shouldn’t really let your hens sleep outside. Chickens can sleep outside, provided they have a high place to roost, and your area has few predators lurking about.
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.