Chickens roosting in the run at night rather than the henhouse?

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Three of our coop designs (The Garden Loft, The Garden Coop, and The Garden Ark) have an integrated henhouse and run. So your chickens are free to move between the two areas as they wish. (You can add a door between them if you like.) In some cases, this means that your flock might choose to roost in the secure run at night, rather than inside the henhouse.

Is it okay for chickens to roost outside of the henhouse at night?

When I first noticed one of our flocks preferring to stay in the secure run at night, I thought something had to be wrong. After all, it’s a hen-house. That’s where hens are supposed to live!

And for some flocks, that’s true. But for those that prefer to be in the secure run section of the coop at night, we haven’t noticed any problems with their health, egg laying, or daily routines. We do tend to choose cold-hardy breeds anyway, so in our relatively moderate climate of the Pacific Northwest they may not want or need the extra shelter. The good news is, in our coop designs they’re safe no matter which part of the coop they’re in!

Of course, if you have a different kind of coop where the enclosed run is not secure from predators — or if your flock has been free ranging and just hasn’t made it back to the safety of the coop for the night — then make sure to help them back to where they’ll safe.

Why might chickens choose not to roost in the henhouse?

It’s hard to explain why a particular flock will decide to roost where it does. They may prefer the relative openness of the run. They may like the temperature outside better. Or they may just be following the lead of the alpha or the group. While chickens do sometimes split up — some perching inside, some outside — in our experience, they generally stick together in their decision.

We’ve housed several flocks over the years in our coop designs. Most of them have chosen to roost in the run except on the very coldest (sub-freezing) of nights. Even a flock we brooded in the henhouse moved to the run as soon as they were free to do so. When I’ve surveyed customers in the past, their responses were mixed — some flocks in, some out.

Should I move my hens into the henhouse at night?

Again, if your outer run is secure, as it is on our designs (assuming you predator-proof the open floor of The Garden Ark), there’s generally no need to move them to the henhouse at night. But if you’d rather they roost in the henhouse for any reason, you can try to modify their behavior.

Here are some tips of things we’ve tried or heard as ways to get them to roost inside the henhouse at night: 

  • Lure them in with treats. 
  • Manually move them after dark and lock them in every night until they develop the habit of going in by themselves. Of course, let them out in the morning.
  • Keep their food and water in the henhouse rather than the run. 
  • Give them light in the henhouse. Not a lot, but enough that they can find their way in. The idea is twofold — they need to see where they’re going, and they prefer the lighter space to the darker outside. Once they’re in, you can try turning off the light. 

Where does your flock prefer to roost at night? How do they do? Have other tips for coaxing chickens into the henhouse? Let us know in the comments below.

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9 Responses to “Chickens roosting in the run at night rather than the henhouse?”

  1. Dee says:

    I’m a first time chicken owner, off grid, 11 acres, with all the predators, at 10k feet. 50° is my high low at night. My chicks (3mo now) were raised and still in a huge covered yard, their run. They had heat and were in a covered kennel until they were big enough not to get out of the yard.

    Well, winter is fast approaching, and I knew they would be okay for the summer months while I built a real coop. A wooden storage building backs up to the fenced yard. I cut a hole in the back, ground level, and built boxes, perches, etc. Straw floor, and feeder/waterer. They go in during the day and eat (I throw feed in the yard 2x daily), but not a night. Last night was cold and windy they were all huddled in a corner crying. I tried to lure them with scratch, they won’t budge, LOL. I can’t chase and catch 30 chickens.

    Why won’t they use the coop? My work schedule doesn’t allow for me to lock them up. Will they retreat to the coop when the weather turns? When they start laying? Most of my breeds are cold hardy. I’ve got a couple “surprise” chicks I’m still trying to determine the breed. Is there something I’m doing wrong, or something else I need to do. I will try the light, haven’t done that, I can set it on a timer, soon it will be dark at 4:30. Thanks in advance for your input.

    • Dee, sounds like you have your hands full! Things may change when they start to lay and when the temps get even colder. But try the light and the other strategies in the meantime and let us know how it goes.

  2. Rufus says:

    They may roost outside if you have a red mite infestation in the coop, they will avoid the mite problem by staying outside, carrying out deep clean of your coop.
    Also if you have introduced new hens to your flock they may be pecking them if they try to enter the coop, best to wait till night and put them in the coop while they sleep.

  3. Melissa says:

    I have a Garden Coop and my flock has ALWAYS opted to roost in the run, unless it’s extremely windy out. Even in winter in New Jersey! I affix clear, thin plexiglass panels to my hardware cloth to give them a windbreak but still let in plenty of light, and they just don’t seem to be fazed.

  4. Liora says:

    My birds have always roosted in the run – except when they’re molting. For some reason they all decide to pile into the nesting box. It’s pretty funny to open the egg door at twilight and see three birds crammed into a 1×1 ft space! Three heads somehow pop up with that, “whaaat?” chirp.

  5. Christine says:

    We built a Garden Coop in Massachusetts a while back. My hens love to roost outside the hen house during the warmer months. In the colder months they move inside. I believe it proves this is a perfect design. They feel safe and are comfortable year round.

    • I’m glad to hear that. Sometimes I wonder if my flock is just being stubborn, but to hear that yours also heads for the henhouse when it gets cold enough is a good reminder that I gotta trust their instincts. Smart little critters!

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