The noise was deafening and sounded as if our entire flock was under attack. We went running out to help and found in the chaos of feathers and squawks there was a weasel inside of our chicken coop.
Luckily for us, the hens were all up safely on their roost yelling at the uninvited guest down below. We got in and remove the weasel and then got to work closing up his point of entry.
Over the years I have found when raising chickens, it is best to be proactive whenever possible. If it can happen, at least in our case, it will happen, so I like to try to be a few steps ahead in order to keep our entire flock protected in their coop.
That is why having a safe and secure roost is crucial to the safety of your entire flock, especially at night.
First, let’s back up just a bit.
What is a chicken roost and why do you need one?
A chicken roost is an area where your hens can get safely off of the ground to sleep at night. This is called roosting and it is not something chickens like to do on the ground. Their instinct tells them to get up to safety and having a roost will provide them a safe place to sleep.
What size roost do you need?
Chickens are unique to other birds and prefer to sleep flat-footed. For this reason, branches are not the best choice for a roost. Instead, you will want a wider surface such as 1x2 or 2x4 either of which will work nicely for your DIY roost.
The wider surface also protects the chicken’s fragile feet from frostbite, something that is common in colder climates.
Where should you locate your chicken roost?
Before choosing the location of your roost it is important to know that chickens’ poo where they sleep. That means the bulk of their manure will be directly below the roost itself and something to keep in mind when choosing the location.
Easy cleaning is an important part of your coop’s set-up since a clean coop means healthy hens and also cleaner eggs.
If you find your coop is lacking a bit on space, then a scrape board can be a big help with clean up. This is just a small piece of plywood placed below the chicken roost that is used to catch the droppings during the night. Each morning you can remove the board and scrape it clean.
These boards really do help to keep the coop neater especially throughout the winter when coop care is more challenging.
How high should the roost be?
There really are no rules here. You can have a roost just a few inches off of the ground or all the way up to just as high as your coop. But before you start creating a rooftop roost there are a few things to remember.
Access should be easy both going up and coming back down again. If the roost is lower to the ground, you should not have to make any adjustments. If, however, your roost is higher up you will want to include a ramp or another way for your chickens to get up and down.
Even though chickens can use their wings to soften a landing, this may not be easy to do inside of a coop. A rough landing on a hard surface can cause injury to the chicken’s feet which is something you will want to prevent if at all possible.
Height really does matter. There is a hierarchy with most animals and chicken flocks are no different. You can see this more commonly with the chicken roost. The higher up the hen the more prominent she is in the flock. By creating a roost with different levels, you will allow this natural order to play out easier.
How much roost is needed?
A good rule of thumb is 8 inches per hen to allow enough room without too much pushing or shoving. In the winter your chickens will cozy up for warmth, but in the summer, they prefer to spread out.
By giving them enough space, you will create a roost that is comfortable throughout the year.
DIY Chicken Roost
A ladder type roost is a great way to create an area that will hold a good amount of chickens and supply the different levels needed for the flock. It is simple to build and one of the most common roosts found in coops today.
Step #1. Choose an area in your coop that is out of the way yet easy for you to get to for daily clean up.
Step #2. Determine how many steps to have for your roost and the width needed for each step.
Step #3. Attach the top of each sideboard of your roost ladder with a screw. This will not only hold the ladder securely in place but allow you create a makeshift “hinge” so you can lift it from below for easier cleaning.
Step #4. Space the steps of the ladder far enough to allow plenty of room for the hens below. This height will all depend on the breed of chicken and how large they are when fully grown. 12-14” between each step should be enough for most breeds of chicken.
Step #5. Remember to make your steps at least 4 inches wide for more comfortable perching and attach these to the side boards.
Step #6. Place one or two scrap boards below to help keep this area clean.
You can also use a discarded ladder if your coop is smaller. We actually started out this way until we decided on the best location and the best design. Be sure to secure the ladder firmly to the floor of your coop so it is sturdier for your flock to use. Chickens will jump up and down the steps until they find “their spot” and a ladder that is not bolted to the floor will shift and possibly tip. A few bolts should keep this from happening.
A roost is a simple yet important addition not only to your chicken coop but to the health and order of your entire flock.