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Should Chickens Be Locked Up At Night?

Inside the Chicken Coop

With the countless amounts of feathered wildlife that spend their entire lives, living free in our backyards, it can be hard to understand why your feathered bird, the friendly chicken, needs to be in a cage every night.

But the fact of the matter is, any chicken that is not thoroughly and properly protected in a locked coop will be at a significant risk from predators. For this reason, you should always look to see that every member of your flock is safely tucked away for the night.

Any bird that decides it want to spend the night outdoors – which is a rarity but can happen – might not be there in the morning. So do your ‘head count’ twice!

Will Chickens Go Back To The Coop At Night?

So now that we have established that chickens should be in a locked coop every night, how do we go about getting them in there? Take my word for it, chickens can be notoriously hard to catch. Just about every time I think I have one cornered, it flies…and I have to start all over again!

But, for those of you who might be just getting started with your own backyard flock, take heart. Getting the chickens to go to bed at night, won’t be as difficult as you might think. Once a chicken has established the coop as a place of safety, it should go there at dusk, every evening, without any input from you.

There are a couple reasons for this.

1) Chickens are a flock animal. That old saying of, ‘birds of a feather, flock together,’ definitely applies to chickens. I had an example of this, just two nights ago, when one of my hens bolted out of the coop, just as I as shutting the door. For whatever reason, she decided that she wasn’t ready for bed.

If this had happened when I was first starting with a flock, I would have chased her around – aka ‘an act of futility’ – trying to get her back into the coop. But I’ve learned a few things since then.

This time, I simply shut the coop door and walk away for 5 minutes. By the time I came back, she was really ready to go in. How do I know this? Because she was panting.

Being unable to get back with the flock, stressed her to the point of panting. Chickens do best as a group. So if you get one or two birds that decide it’s time for bed, then generally the rest of the flock will follow.

2) Chickens like being cozy/protected. The birds in our flock will spend the majority of their day, going back and forth between the trees and bushes that are in their run. They love to be underneath them perched on the lower branches or scratching at the fallen leaves. Even when we let them free range in the evening, they will spend most of that time finding new trees and bushes to play under.

A properly built coop can provide them that same feeling of cozy protection. And because of this, they will naturally migrate towards it when the sun goes down and it’s time to rest and relax.

### Important Note ###

If you find that your birds don’t want to go back into the coop at night (especially after they have established it as a place of safety), then it would be wise to go look and see why. Predators can sneak in, when you’re not looking and this could very well be the reason why your flock is hesitating.

Also, for those of you who live in the northern latitudes and are familiar with the short daylight hours of winter, understand that it will take a little bit for your flock to get adjusted. The sun just keeps going down a little earlier in the fall months and this throws their internal clocks off. In other words, sometimes it can be really dark when they finally get settled in.

Why Are Chickens So Vulnerable At Night?

To be honest, chickens are somewhat vulnerable all the time. They’re basically too fat for their wings to be very affective and are generally not native to your specific environment. Because of this, they are at a disadvantage to pretty much every predator that comes wandering into your backyard.

But, as bad as it is for them during the day, chickens are especially vulnerable during the night as they have very poor night vision. And it’s really hard to avoid something when you can’t see it.

Also, it’s worth noting that a large portion of predators prefer not to be seen by people. Consequently, their activity rises as we go to bed; meaning there are a lot more predators moving about at night than there are during the day.

What Animals Eat Chickens At Night?

Let’s be honest. Your chicken, with its quality feed and care is probably a much better meal than any wild game that could be covered with ticks or lice. Understandably, there is a real motivation on the part of predators for this ‘fine dining’.

So what animals would eat a chicken at night?

Any nocturnal animal that has meat in its diet is a significant threat to your chicken. And I do mean any.

Whether the animal is as small as a weasel or as big as a bear, if it eats meat, then you can be certain that it will take notice of your flock.

Some of the more common night time problem predators are, possums, raccoons, owls and coyotes. In our area, the farther you go north, the bigger the predators get. For example, wolf, bear and even cougar would take the time to enjoy a chicken snack.

For the smaller members of your flock, rats and snakes will enjoy any chick they can catch or even gobble up any eggs that they can find. This makes it a good idea to double check for any eggs that might have been laid late in the day. The smell of a broken egg is sure to attract a skunk or fox.

One night time predator that might surprise you, is the kind that walks on two legs. Yes, believe it or not, people have been caught stealing their neighbors chickens. As for their reasoning for doing this, I can only speculate. Maybe it’s because they’re hungry or maybe they did it just to be mean. Regardless, if you have ‘that’ neighbor – and we all seem to run into these people at some point – then take the necessary precautions. Put a lock on the coop door or even install a motion activated light or trail cam to catch the perpetrators in the act.

When Can I Let My Chickens Out?

Chickens Completely Enclosed In Hardware Cloth

There is a reason why the rooster’s crowing is synonymous with morning life on the farm. As soon as the darkness starts turning towards that dull morning gray, your flock of chickens is going to wake up.

When it comes to our flock, we will open up the coop after the sun is fully out. In that brief interlude of morning gray, there will still be plenty of predators about. But once the sun is up and daytime activity is on the rise, then these predators should be looking for a quiet place to bed down and stay hidden. Of course, there are exceptions to this – most notably the fox. But by in large, most nocturnal threats should be done hunting.

### Important Note ###

Since we know that our chickens are awake and moving before they are let out, we will leave a small bowl of feed for them inside the coop for them to snack on. This hasn’t stopped them from grazing on grass the instant they come out in the mornings, but it is our hope that it helps them from being cranky while they are waiting to start their day.