Chickens naturally know to roost. If you give them a place to roost, they will find a way to get up there starting around two weeks old. We had two batches of girls who responded differently to roosting.
Our first 4 girls lived in a box until around 8 weeks when we put them into the chicken coop we built. They've barely roosted even though I had a roost in their box, but they were never interested in it. I think it was too low. They always slept hurdled together in their little cozy box under the heat lamp in our garage. After transitioning into the coop at 8 weeks old, they continued to sleep in a pile and picked one of the nesting boxes as their permanent bedroom. They wanted nothing to do with the roost. I was fine with it since I felt like it helps them feel warm, cuddly and safe at night so I left them be.
Our second batch of five girls were only a month younger than the older girls. But we were now a little more experienced and much more relaxed and less uptight about them being too cold or too hot. Plus the weather was also warming up in June. At 4 weeks old, we figured we'll let the little ones mingle and sleep with the older ones and keep each other warm at night. There were also a couple punkier ones from the second batch and Kevin suggested putting the punkiest one to sleep at night with the bigger girls to soften her a little. And it worked! One night with the bigger girls did the trick. Houdina Lola calmed down considerably, grew less skittish and stopped picking on the littler ones. She's now a lover and is the one who chats with Kyan in a video that I caught.
After all the little girls were introduced into the chicken coop, only the youngest ones took to trying out the roosts. They were the only ones up on the roost during the day, while the older girls lounged around in the wood shavings hurdled together. I've read that this is unusual because older hens tend to want to roost as high as they can. As a sign of alpha-chicken or in backyard chicken terms, in pecking-order. But at night, all nine continued to pile into one nesting box, hurdled together on top and below one another.
This quickly proved to be a problem. You see, the chickens are growing quickly and getting bigger by the second. Furthermore, chickens poop and pee when they are sleeping too. So, often, they would be pooping into each other's faces. Yuck. Also, there comes a point where they need to grow up and learn to roost like a big girl. It was getting rapidly unsanitary and I was on a quest to solve this problem before it became a health threat.
I read online on how others coaxed their chickens to roost at night. And I decided to try out a method I call success through persistent repetition.
At this point, our older girls were almost twelve weeks old and the younger ones eight weeks. First, I removed the nesting box from the henhouse. Each night after it gets dark and the girls are all cozy and half asleep in the corner where the nesting box was, I pick each one up and put them on the roost. They are quite compliant at that point, I'm not sure if it's because it's dark? Or they are just sleepy? Or they just want me to leave them alone so they comply.
I line them up next to each other on the roost and for the first night, two of the younger ones were petrified at what I was doing and were determined to bury their heads into the corner of the henhouse. I had to climb in and gently pick them up and onto the roost a few times before they would stay there. By the third day, two out of four of the older girls got it and started roosting on their own come evening. The rest were still in a pile.
I continued to put the stranglers up the roost for another two nights. I left that weekend for a vacation and by the time I came home, all the girls were roosting on their own at night! The younger ones probably learned from watching the older girls getting up there on their own.
As you can see, it wasn't that difficult to get them to roost at night, but it takes some consistent persistence. They learned quickly. It is also interesting to note that I put in two different types of roost for them. One a two by four; one a round thick two-inch branch. I had read great reviews on both and wanted to try them out. The two by four is the clear winner for our girls. Maybe because it's also higher since chickens like to roost as high as they possibly could.
I'm happy to report that they are all now roosting in the henhouse, getting organized for bedtime line-up as the sun sets. There is clearly an order in the chaos each evening. I have noticed Savi Lavi would do anything in her power to sleep next to Sophie, and Chi Chi Chuckles wants nothing to do with Fuzzy Fun-Lovin'. The older girls tend to keep together, always keeping a calm composure while the younger ones bicker amongst each other. I look at their younger pics sometimes and miss the little fuzzball phase.
Watching them grow up is bittersweet!