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chickens don't want to go to bed

 
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My chickens seem to be having a hard time figuring themselves out at bed time. They are starting to go into the coop on their own, though not all of them are cooperating with that. Even when I try bribing them with grubs. The real problem though is that once they're in the coop with me, several of them panic and jump all over me. They seem genuinely afraid when they do this, even jumping on each other on top of me. It's also scary for me, as they have jumped on my face several times trying to get on top of my head, leaving some gnarly scratches and getting dangerously close to my eyes. Usually I can get them all to go on the perch eventually, but it seems like a serious struggle. It makes me wonder if there is something going on that is making them so distraught. It also worries me because at some point, we'd like to be able to go on short trips that would require a friend putting the chickens to bed. With the way they're acting now, I feel like that would be hazardous and I couldn't ask someone to do it.

I have to go into the coop with them, because we have two roosters that have their own separate area within the coop that I can only access from inside. The boys are separated because they have yet to learn to behave themselves and knock the hens off the perch.
The chickens are nearly 7 months old at this point. They did sleep in the house for a long time, due to some hold ups in building their coop. Maybe they got used to going in the house and are scared cause they aren't there? The chickens who are having the most issues are the ones who are most cuddly and friendly, for what it is worth. It is usually the same three that have the most trouble. It's possible they are lower in the pecking order, but this behavior seems extreme and I haven't seen any bullying during the day.

Any ideas why they might be acting this way? Suggestions of how to help them calm down and roost without a struggle?
 
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Have you taken their phones off them?
 
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Heather Sharpe wrote:My chickens seem to be having a hard time figuring themselves out at bed time. They are starting to go into the coop on their own, though not all of them are cooperating with that. Even when I try bribing them with grubs. The real problem though is that once they're in the coop with me, several of them panic and jump all over me. They seem genuinely afraid when they do this, even jumping on each other on top of me. It's also scary for me, as they have jumped on my face several times trying to get on top of my head, leaving some gnarly scratches and getting dangerously close to my eyes. Usually I can get them all to go on the perch eventually, but it seems like a serious struggle. It makes me wonder if there is something going on that is making them so distraught. It also worries me because at some point, we'd like to be able to go on short trips that would require a friend putting the chickens to bed. With the way they're acting now, I feel like that would be hazardous and I couldn't ask someone to do it.

I have to go into the coop with them, because we have two roosters that have their own separate area within the coop that I can only access from inside. The boys are separated because they have yet to learn to behave themselves and knock the hens off the perch.
The chickens are nearly 7 months old at this point. They did sleep in the house for a long time, due to some hold ups in building their coop. Maybe they got used to going in the house and are scared cause they aren't there? The chickens who are having the most issues are the ones who are most cuddly and friendly, for what it is worth. It is usually the same three that have the most trouble. It's possible they are lower in the pecking order, but this behavior seems extreme and I haven't seen any bullying during the day.

Any ideas why they might be acting this way? Suggestions of how to help them calm down and roost without a struggle?




I think the issues,
are as follows,
movements of people and animals, reflective bits of metal, and sounds, lack of routine,

birds are very effected by light,
I remember walking through a paddock with my grandfather and him teaching me how to recognise the sounds of birds, and teaching me how they like to move with the sun, how you'll see them move to the last bit of sunlight before going to nest.

I recommend, studying about how to read animal language,

I have a cousin who loves animals more than herself sometimes, she works testing Products on animals, she believes if she does it she can try and change the way things are run to help the animals from the inside.
she has taught me a lot about animal phycology, they are much like humans, your initial quote can seem like your were talking about children.

So I advice you to realise you have a problem with children and be a mother hen then!

Regards,
Alex
 
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1. Do they have access to feed all day long? I have a feeder hung above the perches, so the birds associate "bed time" with "food time". If they don't have a lot of forage available, you could give them "lunch" but then remove the feed to a garbage can until you hang it at bedtime.

2. Do you see any sign of predators/mice/rats in the coop? Are you sure it's secure?

3. When I ended up having to be "mother duck" to 3 Muscovy ducklings, they *really* needed their after dinner snuggle time. Since you've identified some are particularly cuddly, maybe you need to have some late afternoon "cuddle time" to meet that need before bedtime? My ducks outgrew that stage well before 7 months, but they had access to adult ducks by about 4 weeks, even though they spent a lot of time in the house until later than that.

4. Have you checked the birds and the perches for lice? They can catch them from wild birds, particularly in the fall. Several times that I've had people complain about trouble with bedtime and perching, the perches were covered in lice. It's good to get an identification as different bugs respond to different treatments. The basic starting point is to put diatomaceous earth on the birds and wash and oil the perches to smother the bugs and eggs. I also put diatomaceous earth in the nest boxes as a normal maintenance process. I don't overdo DE, as it's a non-renewable resource and it can kill good bugs as well as bad ones, however, it's my go-to treatment for chicken bugs when I  have an outbreak.

Those are the ideas I have as the first things I'd look at.
 
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I like Jay's advice.

Here are some of my thoughts:

We usually only go into the coop to get eggs in the morning when the chickens are not in the coop.

At bedtime, put some food in the coop then try letting them make their way to the coop by themselves.  You have to use the "bread crumb" method to help them find the food.

Can the roosters find their way to their area by themselves?

My suggestion is to try to get them to learn the routine by themselves.
 
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I agree that manually putting them in the coop isn't sustainable. What's their default behavior if you don't intervene? It's hard to watch chickens jockey for position on the roost, but as long as no one is getting injured from the fighting (or ends up sleeping in a place that's unsafe for them), there's nothing unusual about some squabbling at night. I recommend trying not to intervene until late twilight for at least a night or two, including not isolating your roosters. See where everyone ends up. Even if some hens try to sleep on the floor or outside the coop, they're a lot easier to move when it's dark -- chickens have worse night vision than humans and tend to go still in the dark rather than try to run blindly.

Aside from the good advice already offered in this thread, my number one suggestion is to evaluate your coop. Is there enough room on the perch? Is it easy for your birds to fly up to? Is the light level in the coop so low in the evening that they can't see the perch clearly? If it's really dark in there, they might not recognize you when you come in, causing them to think you're a predator and panic (talking to them when you're in there can help with this). I don't know exactly what your coop is like, but adding a second perch can help if certain birds are getting bullied off of the highest one. You could also try putting vertical bars along the roost to keep them from pecking/ramming each other on there.

Alternatively, you could try removing the roosters from the situation completely for a day or two and see whether or not that solves the issue. A really good rooster will help mediate conflicts between hens instead of making them worse. If they're vicious enough that you're seriously worried they'll injure the hens, they might not be suited to being part of the general flock.
 
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Basing my thoughts on animals in general rather than chickens specifically...

Do you own or know someone with a "trail cam"? This would give you some insight as to what occurs when you are not there at night and could be your eyes during the day, also. At night it would answer if the issue is something from outside making them feel unsafe (rodents etc.) OR if it is a hen situation of personality clashes; same during the day.

It may not provide the answer, BUT might at least exclude possible issues.

Less informative, but often easier to borrow or pick up cheap is a baby monitor. At least it would allow you to HEAR if something is upsetting them in the night.

Can you post pictures of the coop?
 
Heather Sharpe
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Thank you everyone for the helpful suggestions and ideas!

Alex Moffitt wrote:I recommend, studying about how to read animal language,

I have a cousin who loves animals more than herself sometimes, she works testing Products on animals, she believes if she does it she can try and change the way things are run to help the animals from the inside.
she has taught me a lot about animal phycology, they are much like humans, your initial quote can seem like your were talking about children.

So I advice you to realise you have a problem with children and be a mother hen then!


I have been working to learn bird language for many years. I'm a big fan of Jon Young. Admittedly, I haven't had as much time to just sit and observe as would be ideal for that, so I'm certainly not on that level. I have learned enough to have an idea what's going on outside. Not sure I totally understand chicken yet. But I can tell that usually around dusk, the wild birds exhibit very baseline behaviors in the area around the chicken's run. Rarely any alarms. And the chickens don't act alarmed until they're in the coop, the treats run out and it starts to get darker.

Animals are very much like humans. I certainly consider them to be persons. As you've noted, these chickens are basically my feathered children. Being a mother hen is hard! Working on figuring it out and very grateful of the help of folks here on permies!

Jay Angler wrote:1. Do they have access to feed all day long? I have a feeder hung above the perches, so the birds associate "bed time" with "food time". If they don't have a lot of forage available, you could give them "lunch" but then remove the feed to a garbage can until you hang it at bedtime.

2. Do you see any sign of predators/mice/rats in the coop? Are you sure it's secure?

3. When I ended up having to be "mother duck" to 3 Muscovy ducklings, they *really* needed their after dinner snuggle time. Since you've identified some are particularly cuddly, maybe you need to have some late afternoon "cuddle time" to meet that need before bedtime? My ducks outgrew that stage well before 7 months, but they had access to adult ducks by about 4 weeks, even though they spent a lot of time in the house until later than that.

4. Have you checked the birds and the perches for lice? They can catch them from wild birds, particularly in the fall. Several times that I've had people complain about trouble with bedtime and perching, the perches were covered in lice. It's good to get an identification as different bugs respond to different treatments.


1. Yes, they have a feeder in the run and an abundance of sprouts from food they kick on the ground. They did all run to the coop without trouble this evening, so that part is improving! Good ideas to consider to get them in the routine.
2. I don't see signs of any other critters in the coop. There is a very slight possibility a mouse could have gotten in, but I don't think so. If one did, I don't think they would make it long. There's 1/2 inch hardware cloth on all the ventilation openings, the coop itself is elevated almost 2 feet off the ground and the walls are snugly lapped hardwood. There are surely predators roaming around outside, but I don't believe anyone can get in.
3. I think that might help. Though of course, they don't want to cuddle when they're in the run usually. Too much digging and foraging to be done! I will see what can work. The two who are having the most trouble were serious cuddle chickens as babies. Come to think of it, they would do something similar then, with the jumping. It just didn't seem as problematic then, since they were small. And I thought they'd outgrow it.
4. I have been checking their feathers and haven't seen any. Though now I read that some of the mites only go onto the birds at night to feed. So I will check for that. The roosters don't get all panicky, so I'm really hoping it isn't this.

Anne Miller wrote:I like Jay's advice.

Here are some of my thoughts:

We usually only go into the coop to get eggs in the morning when the chickens are not in the coop.

At bedtime, put some food in the coop then try letting them make their way to the coop by themselves.  You have to use the "bread crumb" method to help them find the food.

Can the roosters find their way to their area by themselves?

My suggestion is to try to get them to learn the routine by themselves.


They seem to be figuring out the go into the coop part, thankfully. Food definitely helped with that. They're smart and at first would just follow the "bread crumbs", eat all the treats and go back out.

Alas, the roosters need to be put into their pen. Left to their own devices, they freak the hens out even more by chasing everyone and pecking them. So I'll have to continue to go in there to handle them. I agree, it would be best if they can figure it out for themselves. The boys just make that a little trickier, but I'm sure there's a solution.

J. Hunch wrote:I agree that manually putting them in the coop isn't sustainable. What's their default behavior if you don't intervene? It's hard to watch chickens jockey for position on the roost, but as long as no one is getting injured from the fighting (or ends up sleeping in a place that's unsafe for them), there's nothing unusual about some squabbling at night. I recommend trying not to intervene until late twilight for at least a night or two, including not isolating your roosters. See where everyone ends up. Even if some hens try to sleep on the floor or outside the coop, they're a lot easier to move when it's dark -- chickens have worse night vision than humans and tend to go still in the dark rather than try to run blindly.

Aside from the good advice already offered in this thread, my number one suggestion is to evaluate your coop. Is there enough room on the perch? Is it easy for your birds to fly up to? Is the light level in the coop so low in the evening that they can't see the perch clearly? If it's really dark in there, they might not recognize you when you come in, causing them to think you're a predator and panic (talking to them when you're in there can help with this). I don't know exactly what your coop is like, but adding a second perch can help if certain birds are getting bullied off of the highest one. You could also try putting vertical bars along the roost to keep them from pecking/ramming each other on there.

Alternatively, you could try removing the roosters from the situation completely for a day or two and see whether or not that solves the issue. A really good rooster will help mediate conflicts between hens instead of making them worse. If they're vicious enough that you're seriously worried they'll injure the hens, they might not be suited to being part of the general flock.


I'm not sure what they'd do left to their own devices. We shall see what the hens do. The boys are a little trickier. We tried leaving them in the mix and they just kept knocking the girls down and pecking them. We thought it had settled down, but after an hour of hearing frequent chaos, we returned them to their own pen. Interestingly, they are super calm at bedtime and go to sleep with no issues at all when they're in their pen. If only they could be so good out of it. Hopefully as they mature, they'll mellow out. They're basically kept as a separate bachelor flock for now.

These are some great questions to consider with the coop. The roost is six feet for six hens, so I'd think that would be okay. They can definitely jump to it. I almost wonder if it's too low for their taste. Not sure if it'd be too close to the ventilation if I moved it much higher though. The light may be an issue indeed.

Lorinne Anderson wrote:Basing my thoughts on animals in general rather than chickens specifically...

Do you own or know someone with a "trail cam"? This would give you some insight as to what occurs when you are not there at night and could be your eyes during the day, also. At night it would answer if the issue is something from outside making them feel unsafe (rodents etc.) OR if it is a hen situation of personality clashes; same during the day.

It may not provide the answer, BUT might at least exclude possible issues.

Less informative, but often easier to borrow or pick up cheap is a baby monitor. At least it would allow you to HEAR if something is upsetting them in the night.

Can you post pictures of the coop?


I do have a trail cam. It had been on the fritz, but think it's fixed now. I think that could be really helpful to get a better picture of what's going on. I have a baby monitor too. That thing is invaluable! Sometimes I will hear sounds and have gone to investigate, but never see anything. I almost never hear alarm sounds from the chickens. I am well familiar with raccoon sounds and haven't heard those either. Sometimes some sounds that resemble ones I'd hear when they were still in the brooder at night, so presumably just squabbles or perhaps chicken dream noises. There are many raccoons and possums about. I guess it's possible that sensing that presence puts them on edge. Or maybe they're picking up on my anxiety about it, even though I know we're doing the best we can to keep them secure. Eventually, I want to put up a fence to create a safe bubble around the coop and run area with an electric wire at the top and bottom. That's a ways off, but I wonder if it would help. We had an electric fence, but I don't believe it was strong enough of a zap to deter anyone beyond bunnies.

I can try to get some pictures of the coop.

Thank you again everyone for your help in trying to solve this mystery! Writing this out, reading y'all's responses and thinking about them made me remember they had troubles similar to this as babies when they were still in the house at night. Which makes me wonder if the coop isn't the biggest factor. The ones who act the most anxious tend to annoy the others by trying to snuggle up against and/or burrow under them. They always have. Maybe they're just high strung? And/or perhaps this is the side effect of not having had a real mother hen to cuddle under as little ones? Just want to be sure there's not some reason for this behavior that I'm missing and could be a problem for them.



 
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It seems likely to me that your roosters could be trying to overbreed and bully your hens. I have had pullets get very concerned about going into the coop when multiple horny roosters are waiting at the door. This fall I introduced 3 new roosters to my flock of 27 hens. When I let them all try to free range together, after their initial quarantine, the rooster were bullies. I ended up introducing them 1 at a time, over the course of a week. They were much better behaved this way, my flock pretty much gets along now. The roosters even call the hens over when they find a good treat.

I believe you said you have 6 hens and 2 roosters. That is probably too many roosters, for most chickens you want 6-12 hens per rooster.  Highly active breeds, like leghorns its closer to 12, for less active breeds, like silkies, closer to 6.

I have also had chickens fly up onto my shoulders when they are looking for a place to roost in the evening. Luckily I am tough to startle so I let it sit there a bit and eventually set it down on the perch.
 
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Leora Laforge wrote:It seems likely to me that your roosters could be trying to overbreed and bully your hens. I have had pullets get very concerned about going into the coop when multiple horny roosters are waiting at the door. This fall I introduced 3 new roosters to my flock of 27 hens. When I let them all try to free range together, after their initial quarantine, the rooster were bullies. I ended up introducing them 1 at a time, over the course of a week. They were much better behaved this way, my flock pretty much gets along now. The roosters even call the hens over when they find a good treat.

I believe you said you have 6 hens and 2 roosters. That is probably too many roosters, for most chickens you want 6-12 hens per rooster.  Highly active breeds, like leghorns its closer to 12, for less active breeds, like silkies, closer to 6.

I have also had chickens fly up onto my shoulders when they are looking for a place to roost in the evening. Luckily I am tough to startle so I let it sit there a bit and eventually set it down on the perch.


They definitely were way over the top with trying to breed. They're kept separate from the girls now, unless we're standing there watching them and ready to check them. Sometimes they're really good and will call the girls to food they find. But they're teenage boys and they mostly act like that lately. That's wonderful you found a way to introduce the new roosters that led to flock harmony! When they're being good, roosters are really cool to observe. The tid bitting is particularly adorable. Before the hormones kicked in, the hens who are acting skittish now would snuggle the boys at night.

I worry that you may be right about the ratio of hens to roosters. We didn't plan to get roosters. Probably a mistake at the hatchery. But we love them and so we'll find a way to give them a good home. Even if that means they have to be kept as a bachelor flock indefinitely. Or maybe we'll get more hens at some point. We'll see. I hope they can be integrated eventually, as they both seem like they have potential to be good roosters in time.  

More and more, I get the impression that's what these three are up to. They just want me to be their roost! If they just wouldn't jump at my face, it wouldn't be such a problem. And if they would let me set them down. As it is, they fight to stay on my hand or just jump back on me.

They did a little better tonight. I think cuddles before roosting helped some. Hopefully it keeps getting better.
 
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I was wondering if you could make a little lean to on the side of your coop for your roosters. Maybe two little separate sleep areas for them. Then you don't have to go into the coop. Just a thought. Hope you work it out so you can enjoy your chickens without putting yourself in danger. Good luck.
 
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Thank you for the idea, Jen! I have considered making them a separate coop. I worry a little that they would crow a lot more if I did that, as they get very upset when they can't see or be near the girls. We're still working out if/how they can be integrated into the flock and even though it's not ideal, the current setup seems like the best we can figure out for now.

The girls seem more able to put themselves to bed lately. I do still like visiting them in the evening. The ones who want cuddles are beyond adorable. They always want to hide their little faces in my coat hood. Sometimes there'll be one on either shoulder and one that I'm holding in front of me, so my whole face is surrounded in fluffy feathers. I'm not sure if they've mellowed out or if I've just gotten better at dissuading them from jumping at my face. But it's seeming more manageable.
 
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Heather Sharpe wrote:Thank you for the idea, Jen! I have considered making them a separate coop. I worry a little that they would crow a lot more if I did that, as they get very upset when they can't see or be near the girls. We're still working out if/how they can be integrated into the flock and even though it's not ideal, the current setup seems like the best we can figure out for now.

The girls seem more able to put themselves to bed lately. I do still like visiting them in the evening. The ones who want cuddles are beyond adorable. They always want to hide their little faces in my coat hood. Sometimes there'll be one on either shoulder and one that I'm holding in front of me, so my whole face is surrounded in fluffy feathers. I'm not sure if they've mellowed out or if I've just gotten better at dissuading them from jumping at my face. But it's seeming more manageable.

"Chickens are simple, not stupid," according to #2 Son - they do learn human body language and voice intonation, even if they don't understand high level discussions. So I'm not surprised that they're learning that you don't mind shoulder perching, but you do mind them jumping right at your face. If chickens can distinguish between, "good to eat" and "not good to eat" in the bug department, given patience and training, they can learn to work with you.

So far as the separate coop is concerned, I'm always in favor of "back-up" infrastructure if you've got the time to build one. Since you've got roosters, having an area you can subdivide for broody hens could be very useful. Similarly, if you end up with a sick or injured bird, they may need to be where they can see the flock, but be safe from being pecked while they heal.

It is hard when roosters grow up with a flock and don't have adult role models. You will have to watch them carefully, as some will figure out how to behave as they grow, but I've seen others who just didn't learn manners and were too rough with the girls. You may have to be "Papa" rooster for a while as well as "Mama" chicken. Stare the boys down so they know you're boss, reward good behaviors verbally, and don't forget to give them the odd cuddle as well!
 
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