British Summer Time has finally come to an end which marks the return of shorter days and longer, colder nights as winter fast approaches. While it means getting an extra hour in bed, it does present us chicken owners with the challenge of getting our chickens to return to the coop at night. Naturally, this is a question we are keen to answer, as we want you to have peace of mind in knowing that your girls are safe from those pesky predators; after dark is a prime opportunity for them to strike.
The beauty of the ChickenGuard automatic chicken coop door opener is that it effectively closes your hens in for the night, safe and secure. As dawn rises, the door will automatically open without you having to move a muscle, leaving you warm and toasty in bed and your fluffy friends happy as Larry.
This is all good in theory, we hear you say, but what (and we all know they can be rather cheeky) if your flock simply don’t want to play ball? Let’s first look at how their natural habits actually provide a helping hand:
Killer eyesight (but not at night)
Did you know that chickens can see better in colour than humans? They can detect and see light and colour shades far better than us, assisted by their three eyelids and ability to move each eye independently. They can even turn their eyes 300 degrees without turning their head! However, despite their impeccable daytime vision, they do not possess night vision, so are pretty much night blind.
Chickens can sense light and dark changes through their pineal gland, which sits just above the midbrain behind their eyes. This means that as dusk falls, chickens should naturally start to head towards the warmth and safety of their coop.
Creatures of habit
Chickens are naturally creatures of habit and once they know that it’s time to return to the coop, they are likely to keep to it, like ‘cluck-work’. This should provide some encouragement to the rest of the flock and once you have them in the habit of returning home at dusk, it is highly unlikely that they will deviate from this in the future.
The issue – Three reasons why chickens don’t return to their coop at night
Learning the ropes
Despite the gentle guiding hand of mother nature, many owners still find that their chickens are not returning to the coop as expected. Often, this behaviour is likely to be from younger chickens who have yet to learn the habit. This is particularly the case if they are being introduced to a new coop for the first time and so they are yet to consider it ‘home’.
If you are having issues with a number of your older birds, it may be that the coop has mice, rats or red mite in the wood. These pests could be making them scared, which will impact their sleep and make them reluctant to go in. It could be that a predator, such as a fox, has got in without you noticing. Your hens may now associate the coop with the predator and will therefore avoid going in there, especially at night.
Bullying and hormones
Where there is just an issue with one or two older birds, bullying could be the cause. Usually, this will affect the girls who are at the bottom of the pecking order, who simply want to avoid getting hen pecked all night! It is also worth considering hormonal changes, which can make some hens broody, even if there is no rooster in sight! Occasionally, broody hens can find a spot away from the roost, which they find more comforting than the coop.
The solution – Making the coop their home
A safe place
Unfortunately, all your efforts to make their coop beautiful, colourful and welcoming will not convince your flock to consider it ‘home’. Ultimately, this will be determined by the coop being comfortable and safe. They are roosting, so it is important to ensure it includes everything they need and start encouraging them to use it. If they don’t seem ‘hen-thusiastic’ about it, then lock them in for two or three days. This may seem a little extreme, but make sure they are safe, secure and at a comfortable temperature and just leave them to get used to their surroundings.
Other options include using food to entice them into their coop. Leaving some of their feed in their coop in the early evening is an ideal way to guide them into a habit of returning each night. Once this habit is established, you’ll be able to remove the food as they naturally navigate home at the appropriate time.
Let there be light
Injecting a little light into the coop could be just the solution to encourage your flock to return home, particularly if they are used to going into the coop and have just started to stray. Avoid anything too bright, as otherwise they won’t go in and roost. A torch, flashlight or 25watt bulb would be ideal. Try turning it on a little before dusk to act as a welcoming beacon!
Beat the bullies
Bullying is often an indicator that there is not enough space in the coop. Extending your coop or buying a big one could be the solution, as could considering reducing your flock. If the bullying persists, you may have to deal with the bully in question, but that’s a whole other topic!
Keep out the predators
Pests and predators are a likely cause for a change in previous behaviour, so if your chickens appear to have fallen out of the habit, this could be the reason. Investing in a ChickenGuard is essential to ensuring that the coop remains safe and secure. Entice them back by giving their home a spring clean and try to maintain this going forwards; chickens do have standards you know.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to tackle the problems of chickens returning to the coop at night, as this is ‘egg-cellent’ practice if you want to keep them safe. Predators can emerge from the most unlikely of places, which is why it is always better to be safe than sorry. Good luck!
We are always on the look out for your hints and tips to share with other chicken owners so please do get in touch via our Facebook profile and share what has worked for you.