We’re only a few days away from the winter solstice. The nights are long; the days are short. This morning the sun rose at 7:30 and by 4:30 this afternoon it will have faded away behind the hills. My hens spend a lot of time on their roosts. I thought this would be a good time to talk about why it’s important to have roosts in your coop, and what I use for roosts for “my girls.”
I would think that one of the most practical reasons for having roosts is so that chickens won’t be resting right on the spot they are soiling. In the wild, of course, birds generally roost in trees to protect themselves from ground predators at night.
In the winter, roosting allows a hen to fluff up her feathers and tuck them around her feet for warmth. Roosts in a coop also give chickens a chance to get a different perspective. One of my roosts, for example, is in front of a window, and in the summer when I shut them in, there’s always one peering out. If your chickens are shut in for part of the winter, at least for the cold, blustery days, hopping up on a roost gives them something to do. And, to be perfectly honest, I think at least in my hen coop, moving up on a roost is part of a rite of passage.
I have twenty hens and three different roosts. The first roost we built when we first built the coop. It is made of two 1” x 2” boards and angled at the top and bottom so that it will fit snugly against the wall and the floor. We drilled a hole on each side at the bottom and screwed the roost to the floor so it wouldn’t slip, but so it could be removed for thorough coop cleaning. There are three sapling branches screwed into the boards about a foot apart. These branches are about 1 ½ inches in diameter. As you can see from the picture, the roost leans against the wall, so that the chickens roosting on it are not directly underneath each other. This is the favorite roost. I have noticed that the hen at the top of the pecking order is always the one on the top branch directly in front of the window.
We have a smaller, similar roost, which has only two branches on it, and they are only about 1” in diameter. Sometimes there will be one or two birds on it, but never more than that. I think they may feel that it’s less sturdy.
The third roost is made from an old shovel handle. On one end it’s attached to the wall of the coop, and on the other, it is attached to the side of the nest boxes. It’s a popular roost. I’ve seen people use old ladders for roosts, too.
When building roosts for your chickens, it’s important that the poles the birds will be sitting on be round. Birds can get sore feet from gripping on squared off edges. They need enough “head” room, so they can sit comfortably, too. If you nail roosts into walls or floors, be sure there are no nail heads poking out to tear at tender skin, too.
I like to go in the coop at dusk. The birds are settling in, muttering and jostling for position. They have their favorite spots, and somewhat like cliques in a junior high lunchroom, the birds seem to roost with the same group of birds each night, friends next to friends. Usually they are all facing the same way, but once in a while there’s one turned around. I always pet each one and wish them good night, and they cluck and squeak back.
Lately most of them seem to be snuggled in extra close to one another to share body heat. Mavis the Individual prefers to sleep in a nest box, by herself, and I give her a pat, too. Sometimes I stand outside the coop and listen to them humming and purring to themselves … and then, lately at least, I realize how cold it is, and I hurry back to my own warm coop!