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Q: Why are my chickens sleeping in their nest boxes rather than their roosts?

A:

It's difficult for us to say exactly what might be inspiring them to do that without being able to inspect your coop, but we can give you some pointers that may assist you in solving the mystery.

First, make sure your roosts are higher than your nests. If your nests are higher, your chickens will instinctively go for the highest place they can reach--do make sure it isn't too high for your chickens to easily reach, though!

Second, make sure your roosts are comfortable for your birds. Although we tend to picture birds roosting on branches in the trees, most chickens actually prefer flat roosts to round branches. They are ground birds. Flat roosts (like a 2 x 4, wide side up) allow them to roost comfortably, and in cold weather their toes stay covered and warm as they sleep.

Why won't my chickens sleep on their roosts?
Chickens roosting on a flat surface

Third, if your birds are silkies, sometimes silkies just do prefer to sleep in a heap on the floor, snuggled together like puppies. If that's the case, you may not be able to get them onto the roost, but you can probably get them out of the nests by raising them up off the floor.

Fourth, sometimes birds with large crests like Polish can have difficulty seeing how to get up to their nice roosts. If that's the case, a careful trim of any feathers blocking their vision could help. (Don't trim growing feathers; they could bleed. Birds molt annually, so they'll probably need a trim about once a year.)

Last, make sure your roosts aren't made of metal. Sometimes people have the idea to use a metal pole as a roost, thinking it will be sturdy and easy to clean. However, they are hard for a chickens to grip, and can cause frostbite in cold weather. If your roost is so cold it's hurting your chickens' feet, they may not be as inclined to use them!

If your coop is arranged correctly and your birds still aren't using the roosts, they may just be young and not have it figured out yet. If that's the case, most will eventually "get it" and use their roosts for sleeping. To help them get the idea earlier, you can try lifting them up to the roosts every night for a few days until they go up on their own.