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

Chicken Roosts What Are Perches and Why Your Hens Need Them Blog Cover

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!

What we take for granted, things that we have found or worked out may be second nature to us, but it is important to share this knowledge as much of 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:

  • What 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

What is a Roosting Perch?

Chicken Roosting Bar
Here is my roosting bar for my girls!

A roosting perch is somewhere the bird is going to 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.

Chickens Perching on Fence PostLeg and foot injuries can be common if your perches are too high for your birds. As an 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 frost bitten 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 perch. 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

Chickens PerchingWhen a chicken roosts at night, it will settle down with its’ keel-bone resting on the perch between its feet. So, pressure from the weight of the bird 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, most specifically the sole of the foot.

Bumblefoot is a form of this where there is a break in the skin, or a foreign body in the foot which will set 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 perch leading to infection. It can also be broken 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 the other side of their brain.

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

It’s preferable for hens to roost rather than pile on the floor. The floor of the hen house 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 in 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 try to encourage roosting by gently putting them on the roost before you close 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

Ladder Chicken Roosting PerchChicken Roost Ideas and Plans

The variety, shape and type of wooden perches are only limited by your imagination!

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 then 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 you can make your own.

If you are using an old ladder, just 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 levelled 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 is carrying 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. Plastic shards can be eaten by chickens 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 natural 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. In the wild, a chicken might roost amongst the trees, 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 very simple 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 to 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 make your perches tight fitting or removable.

Removable is ideal since you can take them out regularly, and dust the crevices well before replacing. Some folks take the perches outside and spray with Neem oil, set them to dry on a good, sunny day before replacing.

If your perches are fixed however, you can just be diligent about dusting the small spaces between perch and wall.

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

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

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  1. Traci says

    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.

  2. Kathy says

    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.

    • sue norris says

      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 🙂

  3. Kathy says

    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

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      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 🙂


      • Richard Carrillo says

        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?

        • The Happy Chicken Coop says

          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.

  4. Will says

    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.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      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 🙂


    • Tricia says

      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.

  5. christina turner says

    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

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Christina,

      It will depend on the breed, but generally anywhere from 20-26 weeks old.

      Best of luck,


  6. John says

    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?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi John,

      You should remove the roosts outside until they get used to roosting and sleeping inside 🙂


  7. Helen says

    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.

  8. Marykaye says

    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.

  9. Jennie says

    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?

  10. Kristen says

    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!

  11. Linda Bray says

    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.

    • HappyChicken says

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


  12. Richard says

    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.

  13. Lesley Parker says

    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?

  14. Rachael says

    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.

  15. Holly says

    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…

  16. Charles says

    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.

  17. Tatiana Andreli says

    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!

    • Tatiana Andreli says

      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

      • Jana says

        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…

  18. Ruth Harvey says

    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.

  19. Olivia says

    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 ?

  20. Gina says

    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?

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