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All about Roosting Bars in your Chicken Coop

Roosting bars are where your chickens should perch to sleep at night inside their coop. I get questions all the time from people building their own coops wondering exactly how the roosts should be built: how high, out of what material, how far here's all you need to know about roosting bars.

Why Do I Need Roosts in the Coop – Chickens instinctively seek high ground when they sleep to keep them safer from ground predators. As you likely know, they take their pecking order very seriously and those highest in the pecking order will grab the highest perches, leaving the lower (and therefore more vulnerable) spots to those lower in the flock. Sleeping on the ground also leaves them more susceptible to pathogens and bacteria in the litter on the floor of the coop, as well as external parasites such as mites and lice who like the dark, warm, damp area between the chickens' bodies and the straw or shavings you use on the floor of your coop, so you want your hens to perch on their roosts at night.

What Material Should I Use for the Roosts – You can use sturdy wooden boards for your roosts - or even a wooden stepladder or branches cut from trees. Check for splinters, or sharp edges and sand them if necessary. Plastic pipes should be avoided since they are too slippery for the chickens to get a good grip. Metal pipes will get cold in the winter and could cause frostbitten feet. Chickens don't actually grip around a roost like a wild bird does, but prefer to sleep flat-footed.

How Wide Should the Roosts Be – Roosts should be at least 2 inches wide and preferably 4 inches wide. Chickens don’t wrap their feet around a perch like wild birds do. They actually prefer to sleep flat-footed. This protects their feet from mice or rats who sometimes like to nibble on chicken toes while they are sleeping. A 2×4 with the 4″ side facing up makes a wonderful roost. By positioning the wider side face up, your chickens' feet are protected from frostbite in the winter since their feet will be completely covered by their bodies from above and the wood from below.

How Long Should the Roosting Bars Be – Allow for at least 8 inches of roosting bar per hen. Of course more is better, but you will find that, especially in the winter, all your chickens will snuggle together for warmth. They also use each other for balance, so you will rarely see them roosting any way but side by side in a row, although in the heat of the summer they will appreciate having room to spread out if they want to.

How High Should the Roosts Be – Roosts can be as low as a foot off the ground or as high as a foot or so from the ceiling. However, if you are going to make the roost much higher than two feet, staggering several roosts like stairs at varying heights will make it easier for the chickens to get up and down from the roost without injuring themselves. Bumblefoot (a staph infection of the foot and leg) and sprains are often caused by hard landings off a roost, so you want to avoid that.

Leave about 15″ between each roost to prevent those on the higher roosts from pooping on those roosting below them.Also, feeders and waterers (if you leave them in the coop overnight) should not be placed under the roosts, nor should the nesting boxes. The roosts should be positioned higher than the nesting boxes, or your chickens might be tempted to sleep in the nesting boxes instead, which leads to poop-covered eggs in the morning. And be sure that your ventilation or windows are higher than the chickens' heads when they are roosting to create good airflow in your coop but avoid drafts.

How Do I Clean the Roosts - Since chickens do most of their pooping while they sleep, the roosts can get pretty nasty. I use a metal paint scraper to scrape the poop off into a bucket each morning after I let the chickens out. Periodically I use a stiff brush to scrub the roosts with a white vinegar/ water mixture and let the dry.

Using these few simple tips, you should be able to create a wonderful roosting area for your hens to sleep comfortably at night…and that means you’ll sleep better too.

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  1. I will also be modifying my roosts. Good post!

  2. I have a 4x8 coop with windows on each end the roof pitch is 6'- 8' high. I also have ventilation around the top of the coop on two sides. My question is if I cover the windows 3/4 of the way in the winter is it okay to have roosts at window level? I'm wanting to move the roosts from how they are now for more room and if I do a stair type roost the higher ones will be at window level