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

Chickens roosting in The Garden Loft chicken coop at night

Three of our chicken 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 in the secure run at night instead of the hen house?

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 chicken 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 chicken coop designs they’re safe no matter which part of the coop they’re in!

Of course, if you have a different kind of chicken 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 chicken 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 mobile chicken coop), 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 things we’ve tried and tips we’ve heard as ways to get your chickens to roost inside the hen house at night: 

  • Lure the chickens in with treats. 
  • Manually move your chickens into the henhouse 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 your chickens’ food and water in the henhouse rather than the run. 
  • Give your flock light in the henhouse. Not a lot, but enough that they can find their way in. The idea is twofold — chickens 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 stubborn chickens into the henhouse? Let us know in the comments below.


21 thoughts on “Chickens roosting in the run at night rather than in the henhouse?”

  1. We had six chicks hatch out in July and as soon as they became independent of mum, one by one they decided to sleep in a neighbouring bay tree. We tried moving them into a house initially but gave up in the end. The tree has thick coverage and the birds are around 7 feet off the ground. Temperature for the next week go down to -3 degrees Centigrade (UK). Should we try moving them indoors at night again. I don’t want their extremities getting frost bite!

    • Hilary, I think you’re right to want to protect them. In the case of our coop designs, they have an open air outer run and an enclosed henhouse. Both areas are secure, but the run is clearly more exposed to the wind. Most of the time, I trust the flock to choose where they’d rather be, and most of the time, they make the right choice. But when you know in advance that the temps are dropping and that they’d do better inside the enclosed space, go ahead and put them in there. Otherwise, out of habit they could find themselves in the outer area (in your case, up in a tree) and after dark won’t be able to find their way into the hen house.

  2. I live in Florida. Normally in the winter it is not so bad, but this year (tonight) it is going down to 31 and frosty. However they (4 of them) go into the hen house at night, and the door gets closed. There are 3 screened windows, one of which I have closed. Is there anything else I should do with it getting so cold or with there being 4? They do cuddle all together… will that be okay?

    • Tracee, sounds like you’re doing the right things, especially leaving good ventilation for them. As long as they’re fully feathered and you limit drafts, they should handle 31ºF quite well. I’d check in on them in the morning to make sure no frost has developed on their feet and combs (good ventilation will prevent this) and to ensure that they have liquid water. You can review all our winter chicken/coop care tips in this series.

  3. Reassured to read this. My little flock of 4 used to put themselves to bed in the coop every night until I put some high perches in the (predator-proof) run, since when they have decided they like to roost on the highest perch. I spent some months going out every evening to put them in, bought an automatic coop light, etc. but in the end decided to let them choose. I do think they are probably healthier roosting outside (fewer mite issues, etc.), but do worry they will not be bright enough to go into the coop if it gets really cold.

  4. I added to my flock about two months ago, which seems to have upset the roosting routine. Previously they’d ALWAYS gone indoors, but now they are staying out. I tend to think it’s because of the new additions, but certainly hope they’ll go back indoors in the winter months. Will keep the light idea in mind. Thanks for the useful comments.

  5. I’m relieved to hear others’ hens are sleeping out in the protected run in the winter in particular. Ours started trying to do this a week ago (late December) where our lows have been in the low to mid teens. I was terrified that they would fall asleep out there when it was a little warmer (20s) and then freeze in their sleep or something so I’ve been placing them back in the coop before going to bed each night (they definitely protest!!). Tonight maybe I’ll let them stay out and see if they make their way in at any time tonight when it dips to 14F. We have a Ring cam inside to check on them so hopefully it would capture if they did so. They are all fairly cold hardy breeds and have recently learned to tuck their heads back in their feathers.

    • I just built a coop and an enclosed run and they will not roost in the coop. They stay in the run every night. I was worried at first but they are healthy and happy so I just am going to keep letting them do that.

  6. I have 7 two-month-old chicks that I just got. They won’t go up to the coop at night, they want to sleep in the run! I would prefer they sleep in the coop. How can I train them to go up? I have a light in it, but they still stay down.

    • Becky, that’s a good start. I would try the other things mentioned in the post and comments, and let us know how it goes.

  7. My chickens always stay in the run at night. Last winter, we forced them into the coop on nights when the temp went down to the 20’s. That turned out to be every night in December, January, and February! I was exhausted by spring, getting up at sunrise every morning to let them out of their coop. Must I do that again this winter? Or are they safe outside in the run when it goes below 32°?
    We had to divide the run because two hens were pecked on mercilessly.
    Please help!

    • Colleen, my general feeling on this is that they know where the henhouse is and will go in when they need the extra protection. You might try supplying a little light in there so they can find their way in should the temps dip after dark, but I think if they’re fully feathered, roosting together, and it’s not too windy out, they may be fine roosting in the run down into the teens. Another option would be to wrap the run to give them wind protection there too. See Part 3 of our winter chicken/coop care series.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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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