Chickens have a well-earned reputation for being early risers. The cartoon depiction of a rooster crowing at sunrise is accurate as chickens sleep through the night and wake up at first light.
We all know when chickens sleep, but how do they sleep? Even some farmers or chicken owners have never seen their chickens asleep. These birds are prey animals so their instinct is to sleep only when they feel safe. They will not sleep around humans.
However, we do know that most chickens like to sleep on a perch, although a few sleep on nests or stretched out. Here is what you need to know about chicken sleeping habits.
Chickens and Perches
Most chickens sleep on perches, which can be branches or any horizontal bars lifted up off the ground. Wild chickens will sleep in trees to get away from predators, and domesticated chickens retain this instinct to seek higher ground for safety.
Even for chickens that are safe in a coop, sleeping as high up as possible is important for their safety. If there is a hole in the wall or door, a predator such as a weasel could get in during the night. Most predators are ground animals so they won’t be able to reach chickens on their perch.
Perching is also important for the health and safety of the coop. Chickens expel most of their waste at night as their digestive systems work while they sleep. If they’re on a perch, the waste falls away and collects on the floor. If the chickens were sleeping on the ground, their poop would stick to their bodies and cause diseases and infections (plus it would be disgusting and make egg collecting a biohazard).
What Is a Good Perch for a Chicken?
Chickens need to sleep in a coop to be protected from predators. When you’re preparing your chicken coop, you should make sure that there are no gaps where a wild animal could get in and that the chickens have a perch to sleep on.
You can make a perch for your chickens out of almost any wooden material that you have lying around. Some people use the flat side of two-by-fours, others repurpose old ladders or doors. Just be mindful that although wild chickens like to sleep on branches, domesticated chickens like to have a slightly wider surface to rest on.
If your chickens don’t want to sleep on their perch, try switching it out for a different material. It could be the wrong thickness for them or there are some splinters hurting their feet. Young chickens may need some time to adjust to a perch because they’re used to sleeping in a nest with their brood, so try physically placing them on the perch at night until they learn.
Do All Chickens Sleep on Perches?
Although most chickens sleep on perches, some sleep curled up in a ball on the ground. Young chicks are not stable enough to fly even short distances so they sleep in their nest. Mother hens will also sleep in the nest with their eggs or chicks. This requires extra cleanup on the part of the farmer, but it is normal at a certain stage in a chicken’s life.
Certain breeds cannot sleep on perches and have to sleep on the ground. Chickens that are bred just for their meat are often too fragile to leave the ground and could break their bones on even a short drop. Other chicken breeds are flightless so they have no choice but to sleep on the ground.
On very rare occasions, chickens will stretch out on their side to sleep. They sometimes look like they’re dead when they’re flopped on their sides with their legs stretched out in front of them. Before treating the bird as if it’s dead, wait a few minutes or try to wake it up otherwise both of you will be in for a nasty surprise if you try to move it.
How Do Chickens Stay Safe While Sleeping?
Even when they’re tucked away in their coops, chickens always think about their safety while sleeping. Chickens will usually roost together, pressed up in a line. While the bird in the center sleeps, the ones at the edge will sleep with one eye open and alert the rest of the flock if there is danger.
Chickens can do single-hemisphere sleeping, which means that only one half of their brain sleeps at a time. They keep one eye open and alert while the other eye is closed. Other birds, including ducks, also sleep this way.
Chicken societies are very hierarchical, and this hierarchy also determines who gets to sleep where. The chicken at the top of the pecking order always gets to sleep in the middle and sleeps the whole night through. The other chickens rotate who is on the very end of the line so that every bird takes a turn on guard duty.
Do Chickens Sleep Differently Depending on Their Age?
Chickens are birds of habit, so they generally keep the same sleeping habits throughout their life. They go to their perches when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises, no matter how short the night is.
Baby chicks do not sleep on perches but huddled next to each other (and their mother) for warmth. Chicks need more sleep than adult birds so they will also sleep during the day. Even once they reach maturity, it may take young chickens some time to shake the habit of taking afternoon naps.
Older chickens also sleep throughout the day. If a bird manages to live that long while evading all kinds of predators, it deserves an extra nap or two.
The most important thing that chickens think about before settling down to sleep is their safety. That is why they usually seek higher ground. Wild chickens sleep in trees while domesticated chickens will seek out perches in their chicken coop. The only exceptions are younger birds, nesting hens, and flightless chickens.