Another "they won't go in at night" query -- with auto-door twist!

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by HistoryBuff, Dec 8, 2008.

  1. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff New Egg

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    Dec 8, 2008
    Hi all! First post, and I have to start by saying, "Wow! What a wondrous site! Great info, great layout, great attitudes. I'll be here often!"

    I have six hens -- an Ancona (I think), two NH Reds, three Golden Comets, in northern Vermont, where it was 5 below this a.m.. Raised them from chicks, love 'em. Their house is about 28 sf of floor space, plus two nest boxes. Whole thing's off the ground, insulated floor and ceiling and somewhat on walls. A water heater base keeps water from freezing and helps the room stay warmer than it might... I have a 40-watt bulb in the house on a light-sensitive thingie, which should allow me to have it on for 2 hours after dusk, four, or six, or all night, but seems to just prefer all night. (I'm going out to shut the #$% thing off now.) And their door, an 11 x 12" hole, opens for the day and closes at night thanks to one of those solar-activated door raiser/shutters. My whole operation depends on this; my wife and I often work late, and without an auto-door, we wouldn 't have got chickens.

    Problem: All of a sudden, the girls aren't going in at night. It's dark and VERY cold now, predators abound, and I find them huddled up on their stairs or under the house. Some have frostbit combs. What's happening?

    Actually, I realize that the possible answers there are many, so can I also ask: Is it OK to leave their door shut and keep them in their house for a day or two, hoping they'll re-establish their connection to the place and their old routine?
     
  2. gritsar

    gritsar Cows, Chooks & Impys - OH MY!

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    Hi and welcome to BYC!
    My first guess would be that something about or in the coop spooked them; could be the auto door itself.
    I think it would be perfectly okay to lock them in the coop for a couple of days in hopes that they can reset their fear button.
    Good luck!
     
  3. SharonX

    SharonX Out Of The Brooder

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    Oct 21, 2008
    Austin, TX
    Are they missing getting inside before the door shuts? Sounds like they may be puttering around and the door is shutting before they think it is their time to roost.

    I have no idea how to solve that except leave no food outside and make sure there are treats inside so they want to go in. Also maybe a pressure sensitive floor would be better than a solar panel. You need it sensitive to their arrival whenever that is -- to shut down the door.

    Is it noisy when it shuts? Could one have been caught halfway in when it shut on it?

    Just guessing... OR... knowing how I have to round up my 2 girls at 4:30 pm CST to make sure they are in the stagecoach before I head back to work for the evening. One night they refused to go because I had left the door open (planned to close it when I got home) and a predator got in anD killed my silkie. It freaked the two Delawares so they didn't want to go inside for a couple of days. I had to chase them down and put them in there for a while.

    I wonder if the door shut on one or a predator got in while they were in there, but before the door closed?
     
  4. SharonX

    SharonX Out Of The Brooder

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    I hope you figure it out because frost bite is painful. I worry about mine when it dips to 30 degrees and went and bought some insulation board to put in the floor of their nest box in the stagecoach. Their feet were really cold after I held them in the last cold snap we had here. So I added some padding and today their feet were warm -- of course if was WARM anyway.

    It was 70 today but due to be really cold like in the '20's here Thursday am. I can't imagine raising chickens in a northern climate and 10 degrees or less. Good Luck with them!
     
  5. BeckyLa

    BeckyLa Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 11, 2007
    N. Louisiana
    [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Yes, could be they got caught by the door one evening when they messed around outside a bit too long and it spooked them. Also, once when I suddenly had trouble with mine going in I decided to rake through their bedding (deep litter method) and found a mouse had made a nest which scared them. They certainly are chicken chickens..... [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2008
  6. jvls1942

    jvls1942 Overrun With Chickens

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    wausau,wisconsin
    Quote:my first gut reaction is that the door is going shut before they go in. I don't buy into the theory that one of them got hit by the door...
    If that be the case, it wouldn't bother the rest of the birds in the least..

    yes, make them stay inside.. once it gets below 20 F.. you are taking a chance that the cold will stop their laying eggs.. all the calories are used to warm themselves..

    If the chicks are outside, make sure that a light goes on inside the coop at dusk and stays on until well after dark.. the chicks will always go to the light..

    here is a trick I use for all types of birds.. If they happen to have to be herded in the dark.. take a flashlight and shine it ahead of them where you want them to go.
    get behind them to get them moving and they will follow the light..

    .......jiminwisc.........
     
  7. HennysMom

    HennysMom Keeper of the Tiara

    I dont have an automatic door, but I do have heavy plastic strips I use to keep the draft out in order to keep the pop door open and I know my girls FREAKED when I put them up! I took a clear plastic car mat and cut it into strips then over lapped them and stapled them *using heavy duty stapler* to the pop door opening from inside - I had them all the way across the door but then the girls wouldnt go in at all and they all stayed outside [​IMG] terrified. I put them in - and they refused to come OUT. So I removed 2 strips (had 6 total) and they started to go in ... as they got used to it - I added another one ...and another. Now they have 5 strips but I cannot add the 6th because they will not go in with it fully closed off in "their eyes".

    It does detract on the wind / cold while allowing them full run to come and go in the early morning hours when we are not up. I used to lock them up every evening but - given we do supplement their coop with a ceramic heat emitter (I worry about frost bitten combs and them getting cold - although I know most people dont heat their coops - I choose to [​IMG] ) I was worried with locking them in about a fire and them not being able to get out. We hit 24 the other day outside and it stayed right about 33 in the coop so while still very cold, it was above freezing - and I still use A&D to rub their combs / waddles down also. My girls dont go inside until around 5:30 - 6:00 now and a few straggle sometimes until nearly 7:00, it all depends.

    Also - my girls refused to go into their coop very suddenly not too many weeks ago and started sleeping outside also on their outside roost. I asked on here and was told to check for critters inside as well as MITES. I looked over the girls at night (when mites are active) as well as the coop - I didnt see any anywhere, however I dusted the entire coop and bedding with Food Grade DE. Still dont know what caused them to go outside but...they went back in after a bit. I did turn the heater off also, so maybe they were too hot - I dont know - it was pretty cold outside I thought (in the mid to upper 30's) but - I'm not a chicken so, maybe to them it was too warm as my heater raises the temp on average 10 degrees.

    Another thought - ensure they had enough ventilation in your coop - maybe they arent getting enough air ??

    I hope you figure it all out very soon..
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2008
  8. HistoryBuff

    HistoryBuff New Egg

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    'Morning, all! This is great, and keep 'em coming!
    The door shuts very gently, with a quiet whirring noise, and they've liked it all their lives (several months) until now. It's a great device, lets the door down softly and stops if interrupted by, say, a chicken. So I don't think that's it. For some reason they were letting the door close and staying outside...
    I kept them in all yesterday, which they don't seem to have minded. I'm hoping they'll reacclimate (sic?) to the coop. I've let them out this morning, since it's an unexpected warm day (38F), one of the last they're likely to see for months.
    Also, I thought of another possible motive for the problem: Several days ago, the largest in the flock -- a black Jersey Giant who had joined my hand-raised group just a month and a half ago -- started pecking on the number 2 bird in the night, and when I saw them in the a.m. the #2 girl was a bloody-headed mess and the inside of the coop was sprayed everywhere with blood. I immediately caught the Giant and transported her back to the neighbor's house she came from. The #2 bird -- my fave in the flock -- has recovered well, but the staying-out thing -- of one or two hens, then of all -- began over the following several nights. I can't remember if it started the very next night or not; I think if it had, even I would have seen the connection, but it semed to come on more gradually, and I was confused by a cold snap, a dead door battery, the fact that it was other hens staying out, etc...
    I'm hoping to come home from work tonight and find them all back in the house. If not, I'll have to lock them in for a day or two more.
    I feed them organic veg table scraps when I have them, scattering those on the ground in their run; scattering them in their deep-litter small house seems real messy. But should I only feed them inside the house for winter, keeping the incentives all indoors? Does that mean no scraps?
    And are there any fellow way-North Country keepers who have opinions on letting the birds out when the temp is 20F or lower? 0 or lower? Should I just keep 'em in on those days?
    Many, many thanks for all this, and I'll let you all know how tonight goes!
    P.S. Henny's Mom, I tried te same gradual-introduction-of-strips thing, but started to think that it had caused this stay-out, so I've removed it for now.
     
  9. SharonX

    SharonX Out Of The Brooder

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    Oct 21, 2008
    Austin, TX
    " Also, I thought of another possible motive for the problem: Several days ago, the largest in the flock -- a black Jersey Giant who had joined my hand-raised group just a month and a half ago -- started pecking on the number 2 bird in the night, and when I saw them in the a.m. the #2 girl was a bloody-headed mess and the inside of the coop was sprayed everywhere with blood. I immediately caught the Giant and transported her back to the neighbor's house she came from. The #2 bird -- my fave in the flock -- has recovered well, but the staying-out thing -- of one or two hens, then of all -- began over the following several nights. I can't remember if it started the very next night or not; I think if it had, even I would have seen the connection, but it semed to come on more gradually, and I was confused by a cold snap, a dead door battery, the fact that it was other hens staying out, etc..."

    Chickens are jealous like all pets and the giant probably knew #2 was your fave so she attacked her to become the #1 girl.

    HistoryBuff, I believe you may have just solved your own mystery. Chickens associate the coop with trauma when something really bad happens -- like a predator attack and in this case a bully hen attack. My hens were afraid of the coop for a few days after they got in and comfy (but door was open) and a coon got in an attacked and killed the Silkie sending the others running out to the two side yards.

    Fortunately, they seem to have short memories like 2-3 days and if all is well inside the coop they will return and feel safe again as I now lock them in by hand at 4:30pm. The other poster who suggested a light in the coop to draw them in at dusk sounds good. I assume the door is on a solar cell timer. Another way would be to check the sun down time for your area and put the door on a time-based timer for a little past sundown with a light on inside to draw them in.

    Good luck!
     
  10. SharonX

    SharonX Out Of The Brooder

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    "I feed them organic veg table scraps when I have them, scattering those on the ground in their run; scattering them in their deep-litter small house seems real messy. But should I only feed them inside the house for winter, keeping the incentives all indoors? Does that mean no scraps?"

    HistoryBuff, your scraps are probably too delicious and they hate leaving them to go inside the coop. Why not put a tray or pan inside on the litter with half the scraps. That is what I do. Once they eat the outside snacks, they are ready for the coop and treats in there. I go and check everything everyday and remove any soiled or uneaten food in the coop.
     

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