Introducing Hen’s To Perches and Nesting Boxes…

“Hi there, I am having an issue with my 4 month old chickens wanting to sleep in our tree outside our deck. I have not yet made perches or nesting boxes for them in their coop! Could that be the reason? Where can I find input about how and where in the coop, to build their perch and nesting boxes? Thanks any info would be appreciated ” ~ Tammy Pinto, Colorado Springs, CO

Thanks for the question Tammy.

I believe that you’ve answered your question correctly.

Because your flock has instinctively sought a place to sleep off the ground, they are most definitely ready for a perch.

It also won’t be long before they start laying so go ahead and put up nest boxes now so that they’re used to them when the time comes to start laying. They may just lay wherever the mood strikes them at first. When they discover the secluded area a nest box provides, they’ll make that transition.

We’ll cover the basics of the perch and nest boxes below but I want to make you aware that you may have to re-train your flock to come in to roost at night rather than use the trees. Do this by physically placing them on the perch nightly for as long as it takes them to understand that this is the place they should sleep.

However, if they are safe and you don’t mind them sleeping in the tree, go ahead and let them.

In our family we have a saying, “Good enough is perfect.”

With 6 home schooled children, our livestock, a farm that we are trying to restore and 2 additional businesses, our life is CRAZY. It’s so easy to get caught up in how things are “supposed” to be done that we often miss the point. So if the point of a perch is to keep the chickens safe and off the ground and the same point is achieved with the flock sleeping in trees, it’s okay to go ahead and let them.

So let’s move onto the basics of perches and nest boxes.

Because chickens are such sound sleepers they won’t even wake to the sounds of an approaching predator. So for their protection, we provide a roost or perch for the chickens to sleep on at night.

A roost is basically a long pole, nailed into place so it can’t turn, about 2 or 3 inches in diameter. It is important that it be rounded so the chickens can curl their toes around it while they sleep at night. It should not be perfectly smooth though because they will have a hard time hanging on.

Each chicken needs about 18 inches of space on the roost. When it is cold they will all crowd together for warmth but that should be an option, not a necessity.

The roost should be 2 to 4 feet off the ground and at least 18 inches from the wall.

If you have numerous chickens that require more than one perch, do not place one directly above another. Chickens poop mostly at night and they’ll be defecating on the birds below themselves

An alternative would be to make graduated roosts in stair-step fashion. The lowest pole would be furthest from the wall, the second would be at least a foot higher and closer to the wall and so forth.

The thing to keep in mind regarding a roost is to make sure the chickens don’t feel crowded because crowding causes stress and stress reduces egg production.

You might consider a droppings pit below the roost. The idea is to provide a removable surface for ease of cleaning.

Nest boxes are another important thing to provide inside the coop. A nest box gives your hen a place she can feel safe while laying her eggs. Once she starts to lay an egg, she cannot stop, making her vulnerable to predators. A dark, secluded nest box provides you hen a sense of security.

Provide 1 nest box for every 4 chickens unless you have less than 4 hens, then provide 2 nest boxes.

Each box needs to have a bottom, three sides and a top.

Leave the front open but it will help to have a lip on the bottom of the front to keep the hens from kicking out their nesting material and to eggs from rolling out. Also, slant the top to discourage your chickens from spending time on top. They’ll just poop on them.

A 10 inch square box is a good size for most breeds.

If you have large breeds, you can go a little bigger, light breeds or bantams don’t need quite as much space.

Mount the boxes about 2 feet off the ground, preferably in a dark area of the coop. If the coop gets a lot of light, I know some people who make little curtains for the front to further their sense of safety.

You’ll want to line the boxes with some type of organic material to give your hens a soft place to nestle down into. Straw, hay and wood shavings are some examples of good nesting materials. Do not use sawdust though as it is too hard on their respiratory system. Use whatever material is readily available in your area.

When the nesting material gets dirty, just remove the old and replace it with new, fresh material.

I hope this has been helpful Tammy, thanks again for the question.