Chickens stopped putting themselves to bed, awake at night

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by pascallion, Sep 3, 2016.

  1. pascallion

    pascallion Hatching

    Sep 3, 2016
    I have six pullets, about six months old. A couple of them are laying, and they have been mostly incredibly well behaved and easy to handle and care for. However, just about a week ago, some problems have started to occur.

    I have a half an acre backyard with plenty of bushes, tall grasses, trees, dirt piles, and other things the chickens love. The fence is only four feet tall (it was not designed for them), but they were previously content to stay in the yard. Every night they put themselves inside of their coop and all I had to do was close the door at the end of the day. About a week ago we caught one of them in the driveway on five separate occasions within just a few hours, and also noticed that they DO know how to get themselves back into the yard after jumping over the fence. However, we are in a somewhat suburban area and while my neighbors like my chickens, I don't want them to be roaming around in other people's yards and definitely don't need them to be hit by a car.

    Not knowing what to do about this, I kept them in their run all day for two days in a row. Whether or not this was the right thing to do or if it was a long enough span of time I do not know, but I felt bad either way and let them out yesterday. I admit I made the mistake of assuming they would put themselves to bed, but to be fair to myself they had never NOT gone back into their coop on their own by nightfall, even when they were getting out of the yard.

    They, however, had not put themselves to bed that night, and I went out in the morning greeted by a chicken coming out from under the porch. I caught her and put her back in, only to turn around and see another chicken beyond the fence by my right side neighbor's house. I caught her and put her back in as well, counting only five safe and secure chickens. I walked around the entire back and front yard embarrassing myself by calling for the chicken for several minutes until I finally saw her strut over across my left side neighbor's driveway, coming all the way from the house on the OTHER side of my neighbor's.

    So I can no longer trust my chickens to not get themselves killed by either of my neighbors' dogs or a speeding car or wander several houses down the street. I've been keeping them inside the run because I do not know what to do, but I really don't want to have to keep them in there all of the time. They desperately WANT to get out of the run and I want to be able to let them out.

    Not only is all this happening all of the sudden, but now they are not even sleeping at night. Our bedroom is actually rather close to the coop and on several occasions, at varying times of the night - 11pm or 2am for example - we have heard loud clucking and commotion.

    I've gone out and checked on them every time that I've heard them making a ruckus at night, but every time, there is nothing amiss. There are no lights on them, it is entirely dark in their run, the run is closed and secure, and there are no predators, pests, or other creatures to be seen. It's never all of the chickens, usually 3-4 are being good in the coop, while the rest of them are in the run making noise and jumping around. There are no possums in the coop and I've never actually even seen one, ever. I'm actually in a somewhat busy area, there's a busy road to the front, other houses all around in any direction, and businesses just up the street. While predators and large pests are not entirely dismissable, they are unlikely.

    It's also been a lot cooler than it was back when they were reliably putting themselves to bed and sleeping through the night, so I know it is not too hot in the coop. The only thing I can figure is that keeping them in the run all day has made them upset somehow so now they aren't sleeping. I'm not sure if this is even a behavior chickens can exhibit.

    I have no idea what could have caused these changes in behavior and I really don't know what to do to fix it. I was hoping someone would have some insight. I really do not want to have problem chickens as I'm going to be having a baby at any given time this month and if they don't get their act together by then, they will unfortunately have to take the back burner for several months while we are adjusting to having a child.

  2. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockwit Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    It seems like there is something disturbing them in the coop - hence their unwillingness to return to it, and the noise at night. Have you checked the roosting bars for mites? I have read that you can do this by running a paper towel round the roosts, once it is dark. Mites should be evident on the paper towel as either tiny smudges or specks of blood (after they have fed on your birds). If you do not see any evidence of mites, then there's likely to be a predator lurking in there, I would guess.

  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Welcome to BYC!

    Free range birds can be problem......they are not going to stay where you want them to.
    In a suburban situation it's often best to keep them confined.
    They can be extremely destructive to landscaping, not to mention the 'gifts' they leave all over which will get decidedly larger now that they are laying.
    Neither of these things will endear them to your neighbors or even be acceptable to you, but it's a reality of keeping chickens.
    Not to mention the safety of the birds due to traffic and predators.

    Some folks keep their bird totally confined just fine, I do, and some allow them to range just part-time,
    keeping them confined most the time so they get used to it and letting them out to wander for a few hours a few times a week.

    No, they won't like being confined after having the freedom, but they'll get over it...tho it may take some time, like a week.... or more.
    Hopefully your coop and run are large enough to healthily keep them confined.
    You definitely want to get it squared away before that baby comes and winter sets in.

    If you could post some pics of your coop and run, both inside and out......
    .....and provide the dimensions in feet by feet of coop and run.
    Also what is your location, climate can play a big part in how coop and run are set up for maximum chicken health.
    We can then help you assess the situation and make some suggestions to make it work for you.
  4. pascallion

    pascallion Hatching

    Sep 3, 2016
    Thanks. The coop itself is about 8 feet by 4 feet, the run is I think 8 by 12ish. Here are two pictures of the whole setup.



    Here is the inside of the coop:



    An eccentric friend helped us put it together, so it's not the most aesthetically nice thing. We never fully finished doing everything with it that we wanted due to having to prioritize preparing for the baby over the chickens. The friend who more or less designed it had apparently built several other chicken coops so we trusted him with what came out. If there's something vitally important please don't hesitate to suggest it... there are small ventilation holes on either side of the coop. During very hot days I check to see if it's very hot and stuffy in there, but it's been very mild and nice weather lately, and getting cooler at night.

    They also don't roost and sleep in the milk crates and the corners of the coop, but end up laying on the straw on the top of those sort of shelves on either side. I've been sort of rolling with them and what they want to do, I heard they usually start roosting normally after growing up more, so, I don't know.

    I live on the east coast in Maryland, so we experience all four seasons with typically very cold winters and very hot summers. They did well with the summer, we still have to see how they will do in the winter. We don't usually experience winter until January so there is time.

  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Great pics, good job!
    Looks nice and sturdy.....'pretty' doesn't count for much in my book, function trumps all.

    Coop and run are large enough for 6 birds.
    But I see absolutely no ventilation in coop, I'm surprised you haven't had trouble before, as hot is it was down there this summer.
    Biggest detriment to adding some ventilation is that there is no roof overhang to protect openings,
    but you could cut 6" high piece of sheathing out at the high point on the run side of the coop and hinge it at the top,
    then you could prop it open probably 90% of the time closing only when winds were high or rain/snow is blowing sidways.
    Then you could add louvered vents at the highest points on both ends of coop.
    Put hardware cloth on the inside of ventilation openings for predator protection.

    Does your pop door close and lock?
    Could rodents be coming at night?

    Why they are not going in there at night, I don't know.
    They are just starting to lay and that can cause some hormonal angst, and a change in pecking order.
    They need about a foot of roost per bird and it look like you've got close to that...but might need a tad more.

    What is the straw piled on top of the nests?
    How do you gather eggs?

    I'd just bite the bullet and leave them confined for a few weeks.
    You might put some roosts, logs, stumps, pallet leaned against wall or up on blocks, etc in run for diversion.
    Might also want to add some dry plant matter in run to help with poop will also give them something to scratch thru for more diversion.
    Here's a great description of contents and how to manage organic 'bedding' in a run or coop...and there's a great video of what it looks like.

    Just some thoughts....hope it doesn't overwhelm you too badly and you can get some help to make improvements.
  6. Sue Gremlin

    Sue Gremlin Songster

    Jan 1, 2013
    In your shoes, I'd start conditioning them to come to you when you call them. Bring them treats. It took me about 2 days to teach them I am The Food Guy.
    I have a couple of older girls who like to hang out in my neighbor's yard. At night, just before dark, if I go to close the door and they are not there, I can call them and they come running.
  7. pascallion

    pascallion Hatching

    Sep 3, 2016
    Thanks everyone, I've been able to get them into a better routine. The chickens do come to me when I call them, so I've been able to put them up for the night manually. It doesn't take too much time so I should be able to keep it up even when the baby comes.

    There is a small possibility that there are rodents around, but there is nothing interesting for them in the coop as the chickens are fed outside, no food is left overnight, there are no eggs at night, and there are no signs that the chickens have been nibbled on or otherwise attacked by anything.

    I won't be able to construct any ventilation mechanisms myself so they'll be at the mercy of my husband's or father's willingness to make adjustments. Luckily most of the hot weather is over for the year, and it hasn't been too bad so far as is.

    They seem to be sleeping through most of the night lately. Not sure if having a routine has calmed them down, or what.
    1 person likes this.

  8. ejcrist

    ejcrist Songster

    Oct 16, 2015
    Desert Hills, AZ
    You're from the Eastern Shore? I grew up over near the Key Bridge in Baltimore County. Could you send me some steamed crabs and scrapple when you get a chance? I frequently get crabs shipped in but I haven't been able to find scrapple in the last 9 years since we moved to AZ. I ordered some online the other day and it's due in tomorrow. I hate it when you can't find stuff you like.

    Anyway, sounds like you got everything worked out. I was just going to suggest keeping them in the run but as long as they're coming to you when you round 'em up I'd just keep doing that. Congratulations on the new family member BTW (the baby not the chickens).

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