Chicken Roosts: What Are Perches and Why Your Hens Need Them

chicken roost

Chicken Roosts, you would think that there isn’t much to write about regarding roosting perches, right?

As ‘seasoned’ poultry keepers, we sometimes are surprised by seemingly simple questions that new folks ask – but keep on asking!

We take for granted things that we have found or worked out, maybe second nature to us, but it is important to share this knowledge because it is not found quickly or easily in books.

So in this article, we have put together some guidelines for you about roosting perches, including:

  • Why does a chicken need to roost?
  • How much space does a chicken need to roost?
  • Common problems with roosting perches
  • And how to build your own chicken roost.

Chicken Roosts: Why Your Chickens Need Them, Problems, and How to Build Your Own

What is a Roosting Perch?

A roosting perch is somewhere the bird will be all night with their flock mates up close and personal, especially in the winter months!

The subtle difference between perches and roosting perches is the amount of time a bird will spend on the perch.

A general perch is somewhere to sit, have a quick nap, watch what’s going on, keep out of the way, etc. Examples would be the top of a gate, fence, barn rail, or similar.

How High Does a Chicken Roosts Need To Be?

Roosting perches should be around 1.5 – 3 feet high, depending on your flock.

I like to put a small lower perch in also for the ‘old ladies, so they don’t have to jump down too far, an important consideration arthritic hens.

Bantams and smaller birds enjoy high roosts, so you can put roosts further up for them as long as they have enough room to fly up to them.

Some folks will put the roosts up really high, like 4 -5 feet in their coops – as long as you can clean them and the birds use them, it’s ok.

Chicken Roosts

Leg and foot injuries can be common if your perches are too high for your birds.

Example

A heavy large fowl such as an Orpington is more likely to get leg injuries from jumping down because of her weight, so think about lower roosting bars for heavier or larger fowl like Jersey Giants or Orpingtons.

Unlike most wild birds and smaller cage birds, hens sleep with their feet flat. They do not grip the perch but rest their feet solidly on the perch, so 2-4 inches is generally a good size for most chickens.

This also helps to prevent frostbitten toes in the coldest days of winter.

If you keep only bantams, a roosting perch can be reduced to around 1 inch wide if you wanted to, and a mixture of perch sizes, if you have a mixed flock, is not a bad idea.

Each hen will require between 8-10 inches of space on the porch. In winter, you will find them all jam-packed together for warmth, but in summer, they like to spread out a bit to get some cooler air on their bodies.

It is recommended to place your roosts higher than the nest boxes. Otherwise, you may have hens seeking out the nest box instead.

While sleeping in the nest box is not a huge problem as far as the birds go, it is more work for you – you will have to ‘muck out’ the box every morning.

Believe me when I say this will get old fast!

Chicken Roosts

Common Problems with Chicken Roosts Perches

When a chicken roosts at night, it will settle down with its’ keel-bone resting on the perch between its feet. So, pressure from the bird’s weight is concentrated in three small areas – both feet and the keel.

As you can see, a sharp, bumpy perch can cause problems in those areas.

Foot problems are generally labeled pododermatitis – meaning irritation or infection of the foot, specifically the sole.

Bumblefoot is a form of this where there is a break in the skin or a foreign body in the foot, setting up an infection.

This will cause the patient to be less mobile, resulting in pain and possibly being life-threatening if left without treatment.

The keel or breast-bone can suffer from a pressure sore or a break in the skin from rubbing against the uneven porch leading to infection.

Chickens can also break it from awkward landings on the perch – keel fractures usually result in decreased egg laying since the calcium is being diverted to bone repair.

Chicken Roosts Perches and Pecking Order

Roosting perches are an important part of the ‘pecking order’ too. Hens higher up in the pecking order will get the higher spots in the roosting perches.

The top hens will be in the middle of the line with subordinates on the outside.

The two end hens will sleep with one eye open – literally! They are the look-outs for danger.

They will turn around periodically to rest on the other side of their brain.

Subordinate hens will also get the lower (less desirable) perches for the night.

Hens should roost rather than pile on the floor. The henhouse floor is not a particularly sanitary place, and any little critters such as mice can nibble at chickens’ toes!

Lice, mites, and other ectoparasites also live on the floor litter by day and come out to seek food at night.

If your chickens sleep on the floor, it makes for an easy target.

However, some breeds that will not perch, such as Silkies, and occasionally an individual hen will decide that no way is she going to use the roost and will camp out on the floor.

You can encourage roosting by gently putting them on the roost before closing the coop door. Sometimes this will become a test of willpower between the hen and you – oftentimes, the hen wins!

How to Build a Chicken Roost

Chicken Roosts

Chicken Roost Ideas and Plans

Your imagination only limits the variety, shape, and type of wooden perches!

Most folks who build their own coops tend to use a non-treated 2×4 inch piece of wood placed with the ‘wide side’ on top.

Using it in this manner gives the bird a larger area to perch on, and in colder weather, they can sit down over their feet, thus avoiding frostbite.

Another type of perch is the ‘ladder.’ You can literally use an old wooden ladder or make your own.

If you are using an old ladder, make sure the rungs are smooth. If there are any rough areas, smooth them off with some sandpaper until they feel smooth.

Why? A splinter can cause ‘Bumblefoot,’ which takes time to treat and heal.

You will need two ‘uprights’ and several rungs depending on the size you wish to make to make your ladder.

The rungs will be leveled to horizontal while the uprights are leaning in place. You can use the rungs either on the wide side for large fowl or the narrow side for bantams.

If you decide to use a ladder or staircase design, make sure the ‘steps’ are far enough apart (about 12-18 inches) that the birds below don’t get pooped on!

If you wish to be more naturalistic, you can use tree branches. You will need to ensure the wood is sturdy, without sharp points, and strong enough to hold several hens.

For example, a perch that holds 6 standard birds carries around 36lb of weight – as you can see already, the roosting perch needs to be sturdy!

Unsuitable Materials

Metal has been used but is limited by a couple of things:

  1. The first being temperature. In winter, it gets so cold that birds’ feet can literally ‘stick’ to it, and in summer can get hot enough to cause discomfort.
  2. The second thing is that it is smooth and can be difficult for a bird to hang onto, especially if it is round.

Plastic is quite frequently used in some of the cheaper store-bought coops. Do yourself and your birds a favor and rip it out if you can. Replace it with wooden bars.

Plastic can warp if it gets too hot or and can actually shatter if it gets too cold. Chickens can eat plastic shards, or they can walk on them – neither is desirable. Also, the birds cannot grip the smooth plastic very well.

Most Suitable Material: Wood

Wood is probably the best material to make perches from. It is durable, you can make them to your own specifications, and you can use what might be lying around the house or yard.

What type of wood should you use? If you buy your timber, it will need to be untreated wood. In this day and age, it is hard to know what chemicals are used on treated wood.

The edges of the wood should be smooth and free from splinters. Many sources recommend you sand off the edges, but I find that 2x4s’ are rarely ‘straight-edged,’ so I leave them intact.

While chickens are domesticated birds, they still have many of their instincts instilled in them. Roosting is an important part of what a chicken would do in the wild to remain safe while sleeping.

A sleeping chicken is a vulnerable chicken. And since our chooks are at the bottom of the food chain, sleeping on the ground could be fatal for them.

If you’ve ever picked up a sleeping chicken, you probably noticed how lethargic and sleepy they are. If a predator came upon them in that state, they would have an easy meal.

Aside from the fact that chickens don’t want to sleep in their own droppings, they also sleep on roosts to protect themselves from predators on the ground.

A chicken might roost amongst the trees in the wild as high as they could get to conceal themselves from any impending doom.

A wild dog would snatch up a sleeping chicken on the ground with ease, but it may not be able to reach it among the branches.

So while your chickens may not be in any immediate danger, they instinctually prefer to sleep off the ground.

Summary

As you can see, the roosting perch or bar is a straightforward thing. You can make one in a couple of hours – an easy DIY project for you!

If you have bought a ready-made coop, check on the roost bar. If it is not your liking, you can usually replace the original fairly easily with basic tools.

You should be aware that mites love nooks and crannies, so either makes your perches tight-fitting or removable.

Removable is ideal since you can take them out regularly and dust the crevices well before replacing them.

Some folks take the perches outside and spray with Neem oil, set them to dry on a good, sunny day before replacing them.

However, if your perches are fixed, you can be diligent about dusting the small spaces between the perch and wall.

Well, there you have it, the ‘skinny’ on perches. As always, no one idea or model fits all – you can modify to your own specifications and the comfort of your flock.

Have you used anything unusual for perches before? Would you please share your ideas with everyone in the comments section below?

Read Next: The Simple Way to Tell How Old Your Chickens Are

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Chicken Roosts- What Are Perches and Why Your Hens Need Them

55 thoughts on “Chicken Roosts: What Are Perches and Why Your Hens Need Them

  1. Hi Claire,
    I’ve been told the roosting perch needs to be rounded. Is this so, or is a flat piece of wood OK?

  2. I have 6 hens .. 2 buff oringtons 2 welsummers and 2 sex links. Non of them will roost on the 2×4 I put in the coop its only about 12 inches off the floor.. I do use a layer of saw dust then a thick layer of straw. zI also have a small coop heater that I put on when the temp get really cold. Not sure why they won’t roost. They seem happy enough though, and their feet and feathers are clean.

    1. Have your chickens learned to roost yet? If not, you should consider the temp in the coop. Remember that heat rises and it could be too warm up on the roost bars. Also, in regards to the heater. Adult chickens do not need extra heat unless you live in an area that stays below zero for multiple days.

    2. I thought roosts need to be higher off the ground than 12 inches. Is there a reason you didn’t put your roost higher? I’ve heard chickens poop the most when they are sleeping so they need to get higher off the ground and situate their roost over a poop board so its easier to clean than the floor.

  3. I adopted an injured Rooster that has had frost bite this winter and lost his right foot totally and so far one toe on other foot. I found a fake foot I may be able to make a prosthesis out of for the one stub, is this worth a try should I put him down? He is very healthy, eating and pooping good. Keeping him warm& safe now, any suggestions. Vet not option.

    1. I would keep him if he is generally healthy. Of course, he won’t be able to perch, but I’m sure he will figure it out 🙂

  4. Our year old chickens, who happily put themselves into their omlet coop at night seem now to have collectively (except for 1 or 2) decided to roost outdoors on their perches in their covered run. They are safe, but I’m a bit concerned/anxious. I know they are flock creatures and like to copy, but it’s still cold and damp here in south east england

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I would encourage them to roost in the coop again by using some well placed treats/food as the sun starts to go down 🙂
      Claire

      1. We started off with two 12 week hens.Rhode Island Red and an Americauna. We keep putting them inside at night. The Americauna sees us coming and puts herself in the coop. Will the RI Red eventually learn to go inside at night?

        1. Yes, all of mine learned from the others season after season. Though, if you have a ramp, it may take a few days to train them up the ramp.

        2. I started my hens at a young age to “kennel up”. I used a fan rake as a shepherds hook to make my arm extended if you will. Now they kennel up with not much effort. My Wyandotte knows the words and she leads the way. The rest follow, including the new roo we just got from a friend. Bedtime is now easy as we turn in about 7pm and it’s still light till 9pm. So getting them in when they aren’t ready can be challenging. That’s why I decided to train this batch of girls. Love them and they are happy and content being in the kennel for a few hours before bedtime for them.

  5. Newbie to chickens here. We have 8 hens about 8 weeks old. In the evening we find them all huddled and piled on top of one another in the same corner of the run. For a few nights we put them inside the coop and closed the door. Last night I just let them figure it out on on their own but only a couple of them made it inside. Is there a reason to be concerned that they don’t want to go inside? I left them inside for 3 days before letting them out so they would be familiar with the coop.

    1. Hi Will,
      Nothing to be concerned about, they just need a little training. Don’t let them roost outside, keep picking them up and placing them in the coop and they will get the hang of it 🙂
      Claire

    2. Are chickens are almost a year old. They have always been good about going into the coop at night. All of a sudden they are wanting to roost on top of the chicken coop. Not sure why. The coop gets cleaned every other day.

  6. hi we have just started to look after 5 chickens .we love them and spend a lot of time with them as we are retired ,I would to know at what age do they lay eggs we have two roosters and thee hens .thank you christina

    1. Hi Christina,
      It will depend on the breed, but generally anywhere from 20-26 weeks old.
      Best of luck,
      Claire

  7. Hi Claire, I’m relatively new to chickens, and am finding they roost outside the coop in the rain, rather than inside on their roosting bars. Should I remove the roosting bar outside in their run to force them to roost inside?
    Thanks!
    John

    1. Hi John,
      You should remove the roosts outside until they get used to roosting and sleeping inside 🙂
      Claire

  8. I have silkies and they do roost, the main thing is to start them off doing it. I put them on quite a high roost, about 5ft and they stay up there that way and once you’ve started them off like that it soon becomes a habit.

  9. I no longer keep chickens butmlove reading all your queries and answers. I had a silkie. Rescued from a neighbours garden where she had always gone to roost in a tree. She kept the other birds in check and lived to be 14 yrs old.

  10. We have a small coop inside of a large run. My 4 chickens (2 orpingtons, 1 barred rock, and 1 Rhode island red) like to go up into their nesting box to roost. I have a 2×2 and a 2×4 in there for them. I am concerned they might not have enough space in there? Also, how high off the ground should they be? Right now I have the wood raised on a brick to give them a little lift.
    Should I try building something for them to roost on outside of the nesting box?
    Thanks!

  11. I’m enjoying reading all of these posts. We have four two-year-old Rhode Island Reds and introduced four Asian Blacks to our flock this spring. Last night three of the little girls went to roost high in our maple tree when the sun went down! We were able to get two down but one of them was too high for us to reach. I watched the video and tried to hoist a bar up to where she was so she would climb onto it and I could safely get her down but she wasn’t having it. She spent the night in the tree and came down this morning without issue. I think tonight I’ll try putting treats in the coop as someone mentioned above. That might coax her in. Thanks for all the great information!

  12. We had 8 hens, but have lost 2 recently. One was chased by something – trail of feathers from mailbox at the street through the yard into the coop – that”s all that we found – so could have been a neighbor’s dog. The other just disappeared @ noon. The next day we saw a black vulture roosting on a close telephone pole. I walked out close to it, it moved to a dead tree in the woods – I again walked toward it till it took off. I have an owl decoy I’ve moved more to the front yard now. Would a hawk decoy help, or not? We haven”t seen the vulture the last 2 days, but don’t want to keep loosing hens. We have a coop they go into for night time.

    1. Hawk decoy would definitely aid in keeping him away, if it is the reason for the loss of the hens.
      Claire

  13. New to your website. We use a simple 2X2 across two braces on the ends for perches. Two levels at 2 feet and 4 feet for the adult hens. For the baby chicks we put a 2×2 about 6 inches high on blocks. They seem to like it a lot. Total 26 hens, one magnificent rooster.

  14. My 4 girls roost happily at night on a block of 4, off the floor, 2×4 perches that fit the shape of their house. These perches get very soiled as the girls are in their house for a long time on a winter night. Although I clean them every day, they are wet with the droppings – so every 2 or 3 days I change the block of perches for one that has dried out. Can I treat the wood, safely, say, with worktop oil to make it waterproof and easier to clean. What would be a safe-for-my-girls wood treatment?

  15. We have quite a few chickens (Or roosters, we’ve had them since they were hatched, 4 months ago, and don’t know how to sex them) 2 are silkies (We had 4 but 2 died), 2 are Lavender Aracunas and 1 is a D’uccle. We’ve only got roosting bars in their house, which they use at night. Do you recommend a ladder style in their run? Some days they stay in their house all day and just come out for food. We have a sand pit for them, a water bath for extremely hot days, change their water daily and give them lots of fresh produce and scratch mix.

  16. Hi. So pleased to have found your site! I have a small flock of ageing auracana cross hens and 3 cockerels. All lovely and friendly and totally free-range, as in they roost on the water pipe (approx 7′ up) above some internal stables inside a thatched barn! They go to bed and get up as they please! I would really like to try and hatch some orpington, but wonder what I would have to provide them with to be safe at night. Would they manage to fly high enough to get up onto a stable door and also make the top of a five-bar gate to keep with the rest of the flock? If not, what other larger breed could you recommend for temperament and egg laying that is a little more agile?!? Thank you so much…

  17. How much space per chicken on a roosting bar? I have twelve chicks, they will grow to about 4 or 5 pounds and I have 108 inches of roosting space.

  18. Hi. My question is not about perches but you seem to know a lot about coops so perhaps u can help me. This is my 1st time getting chickn, they were 14 weeks old when they arrived and we did the best coop we could and were so proud. But the chickens will not go in at night. They never did, since day one, and I cannot figure out why. I went thru the entire check list. It is safe, comfy, high, clean, food and water, etc. A comfortable ramp is there and they go in and out w no problem to lay their eggs and all, but at night they just sit on an elevated corner just outside the coop, in the caged run. Any ideas?? thank u!

    1. oh i forgot to say that at dusk we are gently putting each chicken one by one into the coop so they get the idea, but no luck

      1. We are new to taking care of chickens. To train our chickens to sleep in the coop my husband placed a bright flash light inside the coop at dusk- all the chickens went in by the light. The next night they went in on their own- no light needed. It might work for you…

  19. I’ve found slat-base from single beds make excellent roosts, or even ladders into the coop.
    Just saw off the length you need, and voila! Instant chicken roost.
    I was down-sizing in the house at the same time as setting up a chook pen (Australian for chicken run) in the back yard. Using the old beds was a no-brainer, and eggsellent recycling.
    The old wooden dog kennel lined with straw made a perfect coop, too.

  20. I’m new to having chickens and I’m loving having them and learning. Mine have a perch in their coop but they all congregate and sleep on the lid of a rubber bin. Every morning it’s caked in poo! I I have no where else to leave the bin. There’s is 6 of them but they all squish on. How do I encourage them to use the perch instead ?

  21. I have 3 wooden perches about 2-3 inches wide in my coop but My 16 week old chickens roost right at the entrance and halfway on the ramp to their coop all huddled together. Its the middle of summer here in Colo so I know they aren’t cold.. Any ideas on why they don’t use the whole chicken coop?

  22. Hi I have one little 9mnth hen sitting currently, my nest boxes are up off the ground about 18-24” and I’m concerned about when the chicks hatch…shd I move her and her eggs to a ground floor apartment ? They are locked up at night and coop floor covered in thick shavings but I’m fearful of the babies falling and being injured or picked at by the others.
    Thanks in advance,

  23. I have 5 hens. No roosters. A broody one hatched only one egg (out of 4 that I put under her) and it is a rooster. I probably kept them apart from the others too long. Mother hen had enough and left the chick in their own part of the coop by himself. He is 15 weeks old now and still sleeps on the floor of the seperate room in the main coop. I have a perch in there for him, but he doesn’t seem interested in using it. He has only just started going out in the yard with them recently, but usually wanders around by himself, then joins them later in the day for foraging. The hens pick on him and chase him away from food etc when they are free ranging. When will he take charge? And should he be sleeping in the coop with them?

  24. I use trex boards 6″ wide for my girls perches. They seem to love the space. Ez to remove, clean & dust with DE. Don’t forget the Brahmas, they too are big birds & appreciate a lower perch….except for 1, & she waits each morning to be lifted down 🐓

  25. Chickens prefer to be up high off the ground when they sleep. They are sound sleepers and this keeps them safer from the clutches of predators at night. Chickens take their pecking order very seriously and those highest in the pecking order will grab the highest perches, leaving the lower (and therefore more vulnerable) spots to those lower in the flock order. Sleeping on the ground or floor of the coop also leaves them more susceptible to pathogens, bacteria and external parasites such as mites and lice, so you want your hens to perch on roosts at night. Dust baths for chickens are also a way that hens ward off chicken mites and other pests. You can use sturdy branches, ladders or boards for your chicken roosting bars. If you use boards, check for splinters and sand if necessary. A 2 4 with the 4 side facing up makes a wonderful roost. You can round the edges a bit if you wish for greater comfort. Plastic or metal pipes should be avoided since they are too slippery for the chickens to get a good grip. Metal also will get cold in the winter and could cause frostbitten feet.

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