Chicken roosts are a small but very important piece of furniture that your chickens just have to have.
You have a bed to sleep on and your chickens have a firm and comfortable perch.
It is not much for them to ask and it will keep them happy at night.
This article is all about the humble roost (or perch). Why do chickens need them, how to build them and common problems that you might experience.
So here we go, the complete guide to chicken roosts…
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What is a Roosting Perch?
A chicken roost is a place where birds regularly gather to rest or sleep.
If you ever notice wild birds you will see that they have regular places (usually in a tree) where they gather together at night. While you may not see or hear them you can discover them by walking under the trees and finding the poop trail.
It is the same for our chicken flock.
They need roosting perches to feel safe at night.
While there may not be predators in the coop, the behavior is ingrained in chickens and they will naturally seek out a high spot where they can sleep.
When chickens sleep they line up together on these roosts.
The low guys in the pecking order will be at each end of the line. These “end stop chickens” will sleep with one eye open (literally) to stay alert for predators. They will periodically turn around to rest the other side of their brain. The chickens in the middle can shut both eyes.
A chicken’s brain is capable of shutting down one side at a time so they really can be asleep but awake.
So when we build a coop for our feathered friends we must put in enough roosting bars for them to rest on and sleep on at night.
The height of the roosts will depend on the size of your chickens.
If you have a mixed flock then you will need to provide perches at different heights to keep everyone happy.
Why Do Chickens Roost?
Chickens will roost to avoid predators.
The highest members of the pecking order will seek out the highest chicken perches, while the lower ranking chickens will get the leftover areas. In the wild this makes them more vulnerable to attack as the higher up you go the safer you are.
Nesting on the floor also invites some of the smaller predators to take advantage of sleeping chickens.
Rats for instance will nibble and bite toes, legs and backs if they are hungry. Ticks, mites and lice are also found on the ground and they do not make for a comfortable night’s sleep. These tiny parasites will hide in the straw or litter and come out to feed on the chickens at night.
If your hens are reluctant to go to roost at night then there is a fairly good chance you have mites.
You should read our complete guide to chicken mites.
Another thing to consider about chickens sleeping on the ground is that they will likely be lying on poop or some sort of mess. Bacteria in poop and muck is not the most sanitary place to sleep.
Finally, roosting helps chickens to feel safe and this is important so that they can get a good night’s sleep and be fresh for the day ahead.
When a chicken is feeling poorly, or they are molting, they will sometimes take themselves off to a perch and quietly hang out until they feel better.
Chicken Roosting Perch Key Information
How High Does A Roost Need To Be?
Your perches should be at least eighteen inches off the floor while leaving enough headroom for birds jumping or flying up.
Heavier chickens should have perches at a slightly lower level (twelve inches) to try and prevent leg and feet injuries.
Bantams love to fly so you can put the perches up high for them if you want.
Old or disabled chickens may need a perch that is much lower to the ground. A perch that is two to three inches off the ground will be perfect for them.
If you have a mixed flock then you can vary the height of the perches rather like a staircase or ladder configuration. Height wise in a ladder configuration you could have perches at six, twelve, eighteen and twenty-four inches. This gives your hens plenty of room and they can choose where they want to sit.
What Should Roosts Be Made Of?
You will find most pre-made roosts are made from plastic.
These molded plastics can last for years, they are easy to clean and lightweight.
However eventually plastic can warp or break so unless it came with your coop then it is probably best to avoid plastic roosts.
The most common material used is wood.
It is long lasting, can be well cleaned and is sturdy enough to hold several chickens.
The most commonly used size is a 2x4inch length cut to size.
How Much Roosting Space Should Chicks Have?
Each chicken will need a good eight inches of roosting space.
While this number can change from coop to coop and season to season, eight inches is a good starting place. If in doubt it is always better to give them extra space on the perches so that they can spread out and flap their wings without knocking their neighbor off the perch.
Extra large chickens (like the Jersey Giant) will need a little more room while bantams will need considerably less.
What Size Should They Be?
Your perch should be wide enough to safely and comfortably let a chicken sit on their feet without having to do a balancing act.
Generally a 2×4 inch piece of wood laid wide side up is perfect.
Even large birds like the Jersey Giant can sit without wobbling.
When chickens settle down for the night the only exposed parts of their body are their feet and legs. When sitting on a 2×4 they can perch quite happily on a stable base and sit down with their feathers covering their toes.
On thinner roosts your chickens will not be able to balance as well and often do not sleep well at all.
Thinner perches (such as stout tree limbs) should only be used for lightweight breeds such as bantams. Care should be taken with these limbs to remove all possible splinters and rough areas to try and prevent Bumblefoot.
As far as the length of a perch goes the choice is pretty much open.
Chickens like to roost together so ideally they should all be on the same roost. With larger flocks (over 6 hens) this won’t be possible so you will need multiple roosts. If you are limited in terms of length by the length of your coop then you can build a ladder type of perch where you have several lengths of perch arranged in an ascending manner.
In a ladder type of perch you can use the bottom rung for any disabled birds you might have.
Where Should The Roost Be Located?
Your chicken roosts will need to be inside the coop but away from the nesting boxes and feeding stations.
Ideally they will be placed about a foot to eighteen inches from the wall.
If you have a ladder perch then the top rungs will rest almost against the wall. This way you can place your poop boards under the perch to catch the overnight droppings of manure. Make sure you can easily access the poop boards to clean them off regularly. If they are not easy to access then it will become a chore that you really hate to do.
Guide To Building Your Own Roost
This short video shows you how chickens sleep on the roost. It should give you some idea of how strong the roost needs to be and what size you may need for your flock.
There is a huge variety of materials out there, but which is the best to use and why?
Metal should not be used as it can be very cold in the winter and too hot in summer.
Plastic is popular with the ready-made coops but they can become brittle over time and break.
My personal favorite though is wood.
It is an enduring material, easy to work with and is readily available. You can used recycled wood as long as it has not been treated with toxic chemicals. Yellow pine wood is probably the most used wood in the US. It is cheap and can be used to build both inside and outside perches and roosts.
Chicken Roost Ideas and Plans
The first rules of building your roost is to build something that is comfortable and safe.
Chickens do not care if your design wins the Architectural Digest award of the year – it needs to be practical.
What you design and build will depend on your coop and how many chickens you have.
The internet has lots of ideas for roosting perches, though some are not so practical so make sure to check each idea carefully. You will find designs on YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook.
How To Build Your Own Roost
If you have basic carpentry skills and a plan in mind you should be all set.
Make sure you measure carefully for your perches as it can be very frustrating when you find out you are an inch short.
Remember: measure twice and cut once!
If you are not good with things like this then perhaps you can talk a friend or neighbor into helping out for a day.
Using fresh eggs as a bribe should cover it!
Common Roost Problems
There are a few problems that can occur with chicken perches.
1. Your roosts will need to be strong and stable.
If they are weak (or overloaded) they can actually snap. This can cause all your chickens to pile up on the floor and can cause some injuries. The same type of thing can happen if your perch is not securely held in place.
2. Another common problems with roosts is that they are rough and unfinished.
This can cause Bumblefoot and sores on their keel.
Bumblefoot occurs when there is a cut in their skin and it is infected by bacteria. Splinters and rough areas on the perches can cause this and as a consequence the foot becomes infected. Treatment can be long and tedious and may require the prolonged use of antibiotics, so it is best avoiding where possible.
Sores on the keel can also be caused by rough areas or an uneven or bumpy perch. When the bird roosts, she will hunker down onto her keel and an abrasive surface can cause skin irritation so make sure your perches and smooth and even.
3. Can your chickens can easily access the perches?
Something to think about is whether or not your chickens and access the roosts.
Can they fly jump straight up to them?
If there are obstacles in the way it can sometimes cause them to land awkwardly.
4. Some hens will refuse to use the roosts.
This is a problem that usually occurs with young pullets. They will need to be placed on the perches to show them where to sleep. You may have to do this several times. Having more than one roosting bar is very helpful here as the youngsters may not wish to be next to the older hens.
5. Not enough space on the roost.
If there is not enough space on the chicken roost then some chickens may refuse to use the perch and bed down on the floor.
You you will need to put up more roosts to accommodate your flock.
6. Dirty roosts.
Ideally your perches should be removable so you can clean them periodically.
Nasty little critters (such as mites) love to hide in the nooks and crannies of the perches so make sure you remove them every month to give them a thorough cleaning.
A roosting bar is a very simple yet essential thing.
Chickens love to roost at night for safety. It is inbred in them and providing good sturdy perches that they can access for sleep is very important.
With care and planning you should be able to provide them with enough roosting spots with a few to spare.
Surprisingly they do not always use the same spot on the perch. Sometimes this may be because they have moved up or down in the pecking order, but it is not really known why they do not keep their roosting positions.
Building and fitting your perch is a straightforward project and should take no more than a couple of hours.
Did you build your own roosts? Let us know in the comments section…