Wondering “When will my chicks roost?”
Full-grown chickens look most at home when they’re roosting, don’t they? Roosting is when chickens settle in on a roost to rest safely.
It’s an important part of their lives because it symbolizes an authentic feeling of security, which, for a prey animal, is very important. Chickens don’t start out their lives roosting, though.
They’ll Roost When They’re Ready
The true answer to this question is that your chicks will roost when they’re ready to roost. But we can talk about the different stages that chicks go through when it comes to roosting.
Chickens roost in order to be safe. It’s an instinctual thing that a lot of different birds do, so they’ll naturally start to do it when they’re ready.
What’s Feathers Got To Do With It?
On our farm, we have noticed that different breeds of chicks will start to roost at different times and at different ages. Generally speaking, we have found that they start to roost at around 8 to 12 weeks.
The reason for that is because when they’re chicks, they naturally want to huddle together in a clump on the floor, which is how they stay safe. If you think about it, in the wild they want to cluster under their mother. Since the mothers are generally on the floor, that’s where they’ll cluster. (Which is one reason I don’t think chicks need their mother hens.)
When they’re chicks, they are covered in down, which is not really feathers. Chickens can’t get up on to anything unless they jump on it, so only once they start to develop feathers will they start to actually roost. Even then, I’ve found that it takes them until that 8- to 12-week mark.
When Feathers Appear
You might notice that, even at maybe two weeks, when they start to get their wing feathers, the chicks will start to want to roost if given the option. This happens even in your brooders.
Will they roost up high like adults? No, but they might roost maybe 18 inches off the ground, and that just shows that it’s an instinctual thing for them. You don’t have to train them for this. They’re going to do it naturally.
Learning By Example
In our coop, we start integrating baby chicks into the coop at around 10 weeks. By this time, they usually have all their feathers. If they don’t, they still sit on the ground, but they’re watching the adults roost.
These youngsters start to get the picture that, “Oh, that’s what I supposed to do as a chicken.” But really until they get the feathers, they’re usually not going to start doing that.
If you find that your chickens aren’t roosting despite having feathers and despite being the right age, ask yourself some questions:
- What do you have in there for them to roost on?
- Is there anything driving them away from it?
An example might be that you don’t have anything in there or what you have in there is too thin.
Chickens are not going to roost on little twigs. You want their roost to be about two inches wide. That’s more comfortable for them.
But let’s just say your roosts are perfectly fine and your chicks are not using them. Then ask yourself;
- Is the roost too high?
- Is there something about the roost that’s unattractive?
- For example, can vermin get onto it?
Let’s say mice can get onto it and are scuttling around at night; your chickens aren’t going to want to roost on that.
Those are just some questions to ask.
As stated before, roosting is very important, and making sure your coop has higher places for your chickens to sleep is a step towards making it 100% predator proof.
As for roosting material, we personally go for the natural type of roosts. We might use sticks from outside, larger logs, for example. We also make swings out of those pieces of wood, or we might use a two by four.
You can buy commercial roosts. We’ve never actually used them because we found that free logs seem to work better for us.
As you can see, your chicks will roost when they’re ready AND when their coop is comfortable!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.