Maybe it’s thunder-storming when you leave for work or it’s a blizzard outside and you don’t want to go out to the coop to let the chickens into the run. Or maybe you have a lot on your mind that day and just completely forgot about the girls and left them locked up in the coop all day.
From our experience raising laying hens, I can say chickens can stay in their coop all day on occasion, but not for days on end. This will also depend on the size of your coop and the number of chickens housed in it. This also assumes you have food and water available for them inside the coop.
Should you shut the coop up every night?
First let’s answer the question of should your chickens be closed in the coop every night or can the door to the run be left open? When our chickens were young we closed the coop door every night at dusk when they went in to roost for the evening. We were new overly protective chicken parents and didn’t want anything to happen to the girls.
Even with those precautions we had raccoons pull the side of the nesting box off and go in and wipe out the whole flock of 9 or 10 chickens. We were devastated and also surprised at how determined the predators were to get in to feast on the hens. The board was nailed on so well but they managed to somehow pry it off.
After that event and before we replaced the flock with a new batch of chicks, I went through and made the coop as super-secure as possible. I reinforced the all the corners with bolted angle brackets, chains and latches on the nesting box lid, and dual latches on the door. There was no way for any predator except maybe a bear to get in there now.
I also took the time to reinforce the chicken run. At this time it was 2″x 4″ fencing with no top or roof on it. I bought heavy duty hardware cloth to go around the perimeter of the coop. I folded the mesh in half lengthwise so half was covering the bottom of the fence and the other half laid buried a few inches down around the coop to keep critters from digging under the fence. Here’s an article that talks specifically about how to protect you chickens from predators and here’s a video playlist from our YouTube channel on chicken predators.
We then covered the whole top of the run with bird netting to keep out any owls or hawks. It was fastened securely to the top of the fence with zip-ties to deter any nimble predators from climbing over the fence. After not having any more issues with predators, we did start leaving the coop door open during warm weather. This was once the new chickens were a little older and when I noticed that no matter how early I let them out in the warm summer months, they were chomping at the bit to get outside.
Once winter and the cold nighttime temperatures come around though, we shut the coop door after dark and then open it back up in the morning. Sometimes it’s still dark when it’s opened because we usually leave for work before the sun comes up, but it’s either that or leave them in until we get home.
Reasons to leave them in
There are times that we do purposely leave them in the coop all day. This only happens occasionally and is related to the weather forecast for the day. We really don’t do this very often and we make sure they have fresh water and plenty of food.
Here are the situations where we feel it’s necessary to leave them in.
- All day heavy rains
- Extreme cold (single digits Fahrenheit)
- Extreme windchill
- Heavy snow
What justifies this for us is that under these conditions they don’t even want to come outside from our observations. The only shelter in our run is under the coop and they will hang out there if it’s raining or snowing, but in extreme conditions they would just assume stay in the coop. That works out good for us because we’d just assume not go out there to open the door. Of course whenever there is a break in the weather we do go out and check on them.
What happens if left in too long
So if they have plenty of food and water why not leave them in the coop more often? Well just imagine if you were cooped up with 6-10 of your siblings or even co-workers in a small room for days on end. People would start getting pretty irritable and when people get irritable arguments start up, tempers flare, and fights can even break out. The same is true when chickens are cooped up with each other for long periods.
Flocks of chickens have a natural pecking order that gets established over time by small acts of dominance, but when they spend too much time in cramped quarters that pecking order gets tested. If left unchecked some serious injury can occur to the less dominant hens. If an injury leads to any bleeding at all the rest of the flock may even pick on that one hen until she’s dead.
Another undesirable event that starts to occur when chickens are cooped up too long is they get bored and start pecking at their own eggs. Once a chicken gets the taste for eggs it becomes very hard to break her of the habit.
How much room is enough room?
General recommendations are 2 to 4 square feet of coop floor space per chicken. Our coop is 4×6 (24 sq. ft.), not including the nesting boxes, which currently houses 4 chickens is plenty big enough to avoid too much bickering between the girls if they are in there all day. We’ve had as many as 8 full grown hens at one time which puts the ratio at only 3 sq. ft. per bird. That starts to get pretty cramped although there are two roosting branches at different levels to allow an annoyed chicken find a little safe zone for some alone time.
For several complete plans for an attractive and affordable chicken coop, click here.
I feel it really does come down the amount of chickens per square foot. If you had an 8×8 shed converted into a chicken coop with only 6 birds, then I wouldn’t be afraid to leave them in the coop for the weekend if we had a trip planned. As long as they had plenty of food and fresh water they would be fine for three days. I made an automatic heated chicken waterer from PVC pipe to ensure they always have enough water. Here’s a link to that video.
A Couple More Things to Consider
Keep in mind that the more time they spend in the coop the more they poop in the coop. There is a big difference in the amount of chicken poop that accumulates through the summer as opposed to the winter when they’re in there more often.
The ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from their decomposing manure can make it very uncomfortable and even dangerous for the chickens if there isn’t good airflow through the coop. We have air vents near the bottom and at the top of the coop that stay open all year.
Another important safety factor is not leaving them cooped up in the hot summer months with the sun beating down on their coop. It can heat up quite quickly as the sun comes up. It is really important to have good ventilation not only in the winter but the summertime too. Placing the coop under a tree that provides shade during the hottest time of day is a really good idea not only to keep the inside temperature of the coop down, but also making it more comfortable for the chickens while in the run.
It’s my opinion that happy stress-free chickens produce the healthiest eggs. If you do leave your chickens in the coop once in awhile just make sure they are safe and comfortable and they probably won’t mind too much being “cooped up”.