Sleeping. It’s an interesting and often misunderstood aspect of chicken keeping. At least to begin with! Yet for chickens, as is the case for humans, sleep is essential for their health and well-being. We therefore must take it seriously and understand their needs and preferences. With its importance in mind, I spent some time researching to find out all that is involved and required for chickens to have a good night’s rest.
So, how long do chickens sleep? Chickens typically sleep for 8 hours each night; from the time the sun sets until it rises again the next day. Although, total sleep time can be impacted by the season, the presence of pests and predators, the flock’s size, and the age of each bird.
One thing is sure about chickens; they tend to follow the sun. Their own internal clock parallels that, especially when it comes to bedtime.
But interestingly, there can be some differences between birds of the same flock. That is, if they are of different ages.
Not all will share the same sleep schedule. For instance, older birds prefer to retire to the coop sooner than their younger coop mates.
Nevertheless, chickens who are well-accustomed to the seasons, and know the coop as ‘home’, will know when to go inside. They’ll do so on their own accord, and a little before dusk.
This way they will be able to see where they are going and get their rightful spot on the roost.
Let us now take a closer look into the sleeping arrangements of chickens including when and where they prefer to do so, and why they tend to huddle together!
How Many Hours Do Chickens Sleep?
Ideally, chickens should sleep for eight hours each night, and many do sleep that long.
Chickens need their rest to function properly, much like humans. Sleep is critical to their mental and physical well-being, and it is where they get the deep rest that they need.
In fact, studies have even shown that these birds experience phases of REM sleep. Not only does this suggest that chickens have dreams, but it tells us they sleep somewhat deeply.
Chickens naturally regulate their sleep-waking cycles according to daylight, so much will depend on the location.
For many keepers, they will find that their chickens instinctively sleep less in the summer and more in the winter; as days within each season differ in length and light.
Another caveat to the total amount a chicken will sleep is their age.
Birds that are either very old or young tend to take frequent naps during the day and sleep earlier than the others, its not that uncommon – especially after feeding.
There is of course individual variance too.
Some birds are lighter sleepers than others and may not sleep the entire night. It does depend on the pecking order and whey they find thesmelves.
For instance, birds at the lower end of the pecking order will be more alert to any noises, movement or activity.
Whereas those chickens at the top of the social hierarchy are more prone to sleeping longer; it is the other birds that will keep watch.
Either way, you must be mindful of how much sleep your chickens are generally getting.
Too much or too little sleep may suggest something isn’t quite right, either with the coop or their health.
How Do Chickens Sleep At Night?
Chickens sleep with their feet flat, resting solidly on the roost – which they do not grip. They close their eyes, tip their head forward, and if it’s very cold, they will tuck their beak under their wing to keep warm.
Most adult chickens need a perch that’s between 2-4 inches wide to be comfortable and prevent frostbitten toes in the middle of winter.
Bantams, which are smaller, will only require a perch that is 1-inch wide.
If you have a mixed flock, you might consider a mixture of perch sizes.
Hens higher up in the pecking order naturally get the higher spot on the roosting perches. They will also sit in the middle, with the underlings on the outside.
The hens at either end will sleep with one eye open- looking out for danger. Periodically, they will turn to rest on the other side of their brain.
This enables them to acquire the rest they need, while also keeping lookout.
Not all breeds will perch however, such as in Silkies.
Some hens may also prefer to camp on the floor.
Neverethless, for the most part, roosting should be encouraged.
It is the safest way for hens to sleep; and is what they instinctively do in the wild. High up, and away from danger.
Where Should My Chickens Sleep?
Chickens should sleep in an upright position, on a sufficient perch with rounded edges. This allows them to properly cling on with their toes.
For most breeds of chicken, the perch should be no narrower than 1.5 cms (half an inch) as an absolute minimum. Anything less can be especially harmful to laying hens.
Narrow perches can increase the risk of injury, such as damage to the keel bone (breast bone in humans), so you do need to be especially mindful.
2″ by 2″ is the accepted standard for larger breeds, although 1″ to 1.5″ is usually best for Bantams and smaller birds. This allows for an easy grip.
Studies conclude that for hens to roost comfortably, they require at least 8-10″ of space each, 10″ being the recommended minimum for the larger breeds.
Depending on your flock’s size, you may need to add more perches to accommodate each bird.
Ideally, the coop should allow several roosts at varying heights.
In the wild, chickens roost high up in the trees away from danger.
While modern birds look nothing like their ancestors, the “Gallus gallus, ” being a lot heavier, they still retain this instinctual preference to remain up high.
Of course, chickens of today are far less capable of reaching the heights of their ancestors.
Therefore, you must make sure you flock is capable of reaching their roost. It should not be place too high.
Otherwise, the legs, feet, and keel bone are all at risk of injury in an attempt to reach higher.
At the same time, roosts shouldn’t be too low.
It generally comes advised that they are at least 18 inches above the coop floor, and away from any nest boxes.
The reasons are multifactorial.
For one, chickens defecate a lot in their sleep; and their poop is 75% liquid!
When it evaporates, it moistens the air of the coop. Plus, decomposing waste releases ammonia fumes. If your birds are too close – they will inhale these fumes. Not good.
In fact, overexposure can result in respiratory diseases.
Equally, chickens are happiest when they are somewhat above the ground. Giving them the confidence that they could evade a predator if one were to come around.
Then in regards to the nest boxes. These need to be strategically placed in relation to the perches too.
Not directly above, and not too far away.
Besides, you do not want your birds pooping all over their nest boxes as they sleep.
And you want your birds to be able to feel comfortable to access the different components of the coop.
Hens do seem to prefer perches that are still relatively near the nest boxes. Seemingly, those perches placed too far from nest boxes are used less frequently.
So its all about placement.
Why Do Chickens Sleep Together?
Chickens sleep together for warmth, comfort, but mainly for protection, as there is safety in numbers.
Since chickens know that they are prey, sleeping together offers support; sleeping alone makes a chicken much more vulnerable.
You may even notice your birds resting in a pile, with their wings wrapped around each other.
Chickens are similar to people in that they develop bonds and relationships among themselves. This is why certain birds are more likely to huddle together than with others.
Equally, there are hens that do not get on and it even has been shown in the research that discriminations can arise among the group.
Nevertheless, they will organize themselves in a way that serves the group, at large.
It is for this reason that a flock will enjoy being and sleeping together at night.
However, there is still the potential for destructive or bullying behavior.
It can really upset the dyanimics, with some birds even refusing to sleep with others.
Usually, aggressive behavior among hens results from too small a coop, with an unbalanced diet and shortage of feed.
Its generally about survival as the individuals in the flock attempt to acquire their basic needs.
It is during times like these when the flock as a whole is most vulnerable. Weakened immune systems and falling prey to parasites and diseases are more common during such times.
As the keeper, you must do all you can to ensure your birds are happy and healthy together.
While it’s important that every bird knows its place in the order, this should happen naturally and they should still sleep together. There are many benefits, both mentally and physically of this arrangement.
How To Ensure Your Chickens Are Happy Together In The Coop
If some of your chickens appear anxious about returning to the coop or refuse to sleep with their coop mates altogether, there are things you can do to help promote a positive social dynamic:
Hens need sufficient access to food and plenty of water. Both are essential for health. If your chickens do not get enough of either, stress will likely ensue.
It comes as no surprise that this can lead to fractured relationships in the coop.
You also must ensure that all chickens are getting the nutrition and hydration they need; not just those birds at the top of the hierarchy.
Make sure that you provide a high-quality pellet with a protein content of 16%. Ensure that you have enough feeders for all your birds.
Make sure that you offer treats sparingly, such as bread, fruits, and vegetables.
From there, ensure your chickens have plenty of access to clean and fresh drinking water, sufficient calcium from oyster shells, and grit to aid digestion.
Manage The Coop Temperature
Weather extremes will understandably stress your chickens, which can in turn disrupt the mood of the group.
Chickens are easily prone to respiratory diseases, so it essential that you keep their housing dry, free from drafts, and dust-free.
Ventilation is a critical aspect in doing this and must be considered in regards to the coop setup and design. Windows, for instance, can help.
Chickens are very robust and are able to survive even the coldest winters. Supplemental heating is not typically required and can instead be troublesome if it adds too much heat to the coop.
As mentioned previously, bullying is usually the result of issues with the coop and diet.
It’s also usually directed at the bird lowest in the hierarchy or those with an illness or injury.
Remember, your birds want to remain safe and will reject a hen if they could bring about a vulnerability to their survival or welfare.
So, some chickens may be pushed out of the coop and may need some additional TLC to support their needs, or get them back into harmony with the rest of the group.
It mat well be that you need to invest in a larger coop, or add an extension for more space.
It may also be that you need to reduce your flock size.
Otherwise, you will need to help your most vulnerable bird to ensure they get the nutrition, water, and sleep they need.
Chickens are diurnal; active during the day, and sleeping come the darkness of the night.
And just like in us humans, sleep is paramount to the health of your flock.
But, by nature of what they are and the vulnerabilities that they naturally have; these birds have developed interesting routines to get the shut-eye they need.
For instance, they instinctively sleep up above to keep above from predators. Can you blame them?!
As the keeper, you need to be aware and take such considerations into account. Besides, if you fail to do so you will affect their ability to sleep in the long run.
This is why a roost is so essential for any coop. Not only does it need to be appropriately sized, but appropriately placed too.
Not only does this help them access it, but it helps them to feel safe, not to mention it keeps them away from their poop.
And then there are the social dynamics you will need to consider.
Hens that aren’t fed properly and live in squalid, cramped conditions are likely to become stressed. It can result in an aggressive atmosphere.
It can even push hens out; particularly the newcomers or those at the bottom of the pecking order.
Some of your chickens may even decide to avoid the coop altogether out of fear of further reprisals.
But thankfully with the right approach, sufficient space, enough food/water and care for your flock, you can help keep the group in balance.
At the end of the day, its important that all of your chickens return to their coop – its there for their safety after all.