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 his or her 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 Roost 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.
Leg and foot injuries can be common if your perches are too high for your birds.
For 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!
Common Problems with Roosting 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 hen to be less mobile, results in pain, and possibly can be 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.
Roosting 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.
There are, 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 will power between the hen and you – oftentimes, the hen wins!
How to Build a Chicken Roost
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.
To make your ladder, you will need two ‘uprights’ and several rungs depending on the size you wish to make. 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!
Metal has been used but is limited by a couple of things:
- 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.
- 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.
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? Please share your ideas with everyone in the comments section below…