A coop can provide a lot of what a chicken needs. From access to warmth, food, and shelter all the way through to nesting boxes to lay their eggs and roosts in which they can safely sleep. But how long can you keep your flock in their coop before problems start to occur? Is there a maximum amount of time recommended or can you look to routinely leave them inside come rain or shine? I spent some time researching to find out!
So, can chickens stay in the coop all day? It is generally not advised to keep chickens in the coop all day – unless it is safer for them to do so. Such instances could include a torrential storm or new predators that are residing on your property and that have not yet been dealt with. Either way, keepers should try to promote outside roaming and not keep them inside anytime longer than 24 hours, where possible.
Of course, it all comes down to context.
What your current setup is, and the different circumstances of each particular day.
It also depends on how you generally keep your birds.
Are they mostly free-range and have the choice of whether they want to explore the backyard or stay sheltered undercover, or are they more reliant on you for letting them out?
Does their coop have an attached run, or is it closed off and contained?
Either way, it may very well be that letting them out might not be ideal. And sometimes, this is certainly best.
Nevertheless, chickens are generally at their happiest and healthiest when allowed to roam, and this is something that you should always look to promote, if and where possible.
Not only to ensure they get access to sufficient access to light but so that they can forage for bugs and grubs, remain active, and fulfill their natural curiosity.
It’s good, both for their minds and their physical bodies too.
Just remember, chickens should always be locked away overnight.
A safe and secure coop will give them the protection they need. Besides, they are blind in the dark and this is when most opportunistic predators will strike.
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Let us now take a closer look at why chickens may decide to stay inside rather than look to roam.
We will also be looking at the timelines involved and how to keep your chickens from staying inside too long if this does start to become an issue.
Why Do My Chickens Stay In The Coop All Day?
There can be many reasons why your chickens may prefer to stay in the coop all day rather than being out exploring. Although it is usually down to feeling more comfortable and safe indoors. So, it mostly has to do with coop size, the weather, and potential predators in the area.
Let us now take a closer look at each one.
Size Of The Coop
A large, well-aerated chicken shelter with plenty of windows for sunlight might be all your chickens want or need.
They may not feel the need to venture out as much because they have plenty of space and fresh air inside the coop and may feel safer and more secure from predators this way.
This is especially likely in converted outbuildings or larger sheds that were once used for another purpose.
In these instances, it isn’t necessarily a problem that they remain inside, as long as your chickens are showing signs of health and are producing an optimal number of eggs.
Healthy hens will lay between 3-6 eggs per week, depending on breed, age and season, so if they aren’t far off this goal you needn’t worry.
The weather can also have a large impact on whether your chickens feel able to venture out of their coop and explore.
Heavy rain, extreme cold, or even snow can be dangerous for chickens.
Although chickens can generally tolerate temperatures below freezing, they will prefer a warmer environment, and so if given the choice, they would rather stay inside their coop.
Chickens, as with any other mammal, must expend energy to stay warm.
The energy used to stay warm takes away from energy that could otherwise be put into egg production. So, if eggs are important to you, always give your chickens the option to stay inside during the colder months.
So long as they are still getting sufficient access to light, it will likely result in more efficient egg production in colder climates.
Predators In The Area
If there are new predators in the area, then your chickens may instinctively stay inside, to conceal themselves and keep safe.
The most common predators that chickens are under threat from are foxes, hawks, owls, coyotes, and raccoons.
Try and identify which predators are in your area and create the appropriate defenses in your backyard to keep your hens safe.
Fencing comes strongly advised here. And it needs to be sufficient.
Use heavy-duty hardwire mesh, buried at least 2 feet deep, surrounding the perimeter to prevent predators from both climbing and digging into your chicken’s enclosure.
Place wire netting over the chicken run to prevent birds of prey from attacking your chickens and block any holes where other small predators could squeeze in.
If your chickens feel secure then they are more likely to feel safe to roam, resulting in happier and more productive chickens.
How Long Can You Leave Chickens In The Coop?
It comes generally advised that chickens shouldn’t be left locked in the coop for any longer than 3-4 days at a time. Being locked away for 24 hours on the odd occasion should be fine, but any longer than this and undesirable effects may occur.
We only have to look at commercial egg farming factories for evidence here. In such an environment, chickens may never see daylight and are often kept in very cramped conditions.
They don’t tend to do too well, and while it is true that they are culled before the age of three, it is likely that they would not live much longer than this anyway. Besides, they experience reproductive exhaustion very quickly.
It goes without saying that this is far from the ideal habitat for a chicken.
They do best when they can roam free.
We can see this in their instinctual behavior.
Even when you provide a high-quality and balanced feed for them, chickens will spend most of their time foraging.
It’s natural to them. It’s healthy and they enjoy it.
However, as we have mentioned above, there are a few legitimate reasons why chickens may need to be kept in the coop on a temporary basis or may choose to, of their own accord.
The longer your group of hens stays locked in a coop, the more likely they are to hurt each other and their own eggs.
Chickens have a natural pecking order and when multiple individuals are forced into a small cramped space this natural dominance order can get tested.
Dominant chickens may inflict injuries upon more subordinate hens, and if left too long other chickens may peck at each other’s wounds resulting in serious injury and even death.
Chickens left inside too long may also become bored and look for ways to keep themselves entertained. Sometimes this means they start pecking at their own eggs, rendering them useless for human consumption.
And then there is the risk of illness.
The longer your flock of chickens spends locked inside their coop, the more waste will accumulate. And it can build up quickly.
It is when it is in higher quantities that can be problematic.
So, the more your chickens are inside, the more you need to stay on top of cleaning.
You also need to be very sure that the coop has sufficient ventilation to prevent toxic gases from accumulating from decomposing manure. This can cause respiratory diseases if left unchecked.
Good ventilation will also prevent the coop from becoming too hot, which is another risk of keeping your birds inside too long. Heat stroke and dehydration is actually more common in chickens than you may think.
What Time Should You Let Chickens Out Of The Coop?
It is generally advised that you let your chickens out of the coop as early as you can after they wake. This will be around sunrise. This will give them maximum access to light and ensure that they do not become bored, destructive and they can get
As we have mentioned, chickens should be locked in their coop overnight to protect them from predators and the harsh cold.
Come the morning, however, chickens should be allowed out of their coop to roam free for the rest of the day until the evening.
Chickens are routine-oriented animals; you should let them out of their coop at the same time every morning and lock them away at the same time every evening.
Exactly when you let them out will depend on your individual schedule, but sunrise, or as close to, is considered ideal.
If you must leave the house for work before sunrise then you can open the coop doors earlier – your hens will usually stay inside until the sun comes up and can let themselves out from there.
Just be sure not to do this too early, however. If it is still dark, you are risking predators.
Fitting an automatic door may be an option if your schedule doesn’t allow you to open their coop at the same time each morning.
Programming the door to open at the same time will give you peace of mind – ensuring they can stick to their routine and taking away some manual effort.
One keeper found this particular door on Amazon a “life-changing purchase”.
Chickens will then usually take themselves back inside the coop at around sunset.
Lock them in overnight and repeat the process again the next morning.
How Do You Keep Chickens Out Of The Coop?
Keeping chickens out of the coop will involve some close monitoring and investigation. It’s important to try and find out what is keeping them inside, to begin with.
Below are some recommendations and areas to begin looking at:
Is The Outside Environment Optimal?
If you are finding that your chickens are spending most of the time inside the coop, then assess whether you have optimized the outdoor environment for them to roam in.
Think of potential reasons such as the risk of predation or harsh weather that may be resulting in them keeping themselves indoors.
Although you cannot control the weather, there are some things you can do to minimize its impact.
Chickens will generally spend more time in the coop during the winter months compared to the summer but by providing some defense against crosswinds or rain you can tempt them out for longer.
Set up windbreaks and provide some outside covered areas to allow your hens to come out even during bad weather.
Are Your Chickens Safe Outside?
As we have mentioned, ensuring that your chicken run is predator-proof is essential in allowing your chickens to feel safe when they are roaming outdoors.
Use plenty of galvanized wire mesh netting around the perimeter to keep not only your chickens in but hungry predators out as well. Ensure it is at least 6 feet.
Chickens can jump surprisingly high, not to mention the abilities of some predators such as foxes to climb.
Entice Your Chickens Out
If your chickens are still spending too much time inside their coop, then you can tempt them out with food.
Scatter their pellets over your lawn or yard and this will encourage your hens to hunt for their food. You can also do this with the odd treat, such as a vegetable or fruit.
Just be sure that they eat all of it up, or that you clean it up come to the end of the day. You do not want to attract predators to your property!
You can also consider moving their enclosure from time to time or even letting them out of their enclosure for a supervised roam. This will provide a change of scenery and new areas for them to explore.
The ideal day for a chicken involves spending time both inside and out of its coop.
The important thing is that they need the choice of where to go at any one time.
Never lock them out of their coop as they need a safe haven if they ever feel threatened outside.
At the end of the day, a stress-free environment leads to happy chickens and plenty of eggs.
On the odd occasion that they need to be cooped up, it shouldn’t cause too much of an issue, but don’t make it a habit.
Chickens were born to roam free-range and they will reward you with more eggs if you allow them to do so.
Want to learn more about keeping chickens and best practices in and around the coop? Then my other guides may be of interest:
- How Long Can Chickens Go Without Food?
- How Long Can Chickens Be Left Alone?
- Can Chickens Live Alone?
- Can Chickens Be Potty Trained
- Do Chickens Need Sunlight?
- Will Chickens Sleep With The Light On
- What Time Do Chickens Wake Up
- How Long Do Chickens Sleep?
- What Time Do Chickens Go To Bed
- Do Chickens Need Food And Water At Night
- Do Chickens Sleep Standing Up
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.