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PHOTO: Rachel Hurd Anger
Dawn and dusk are known as “the killing hours.” These dim times of day can be a living horror flick for a flock—there’s just enough light for predators to see the chickens, but not enough light for the chickens to see them coming. To protect the flock, it’s important that they go to the coop to roost before dusk and that they stay sheltered until after the sun is up the next day. Here are five ways to coax your flock back to the coop at night.
1. Keep The Flock Close
Chickens have keen eyesight for the voracious eating of tiny insects, but when it comes to finding their way over a large area, they’re not quite so skilled. Let your flock wander off too far, and they might not find their way home. The freedom that comes with a large piece of land isn’t shared with the livestock—predators will be numerous. Should you choose to free-range, chickens should still be contained in some way, as they’re not the wild jungle fowl their ancestors were. They’ve been domesticated animals for thousands of years, and even when ranging, they do need our protection. Traditional fencing can create a permanent chicken area, and electric fencing can protect the flock while allowing you to rotate them to fresh pasture.
2. Paint The Chicken Coop
In my small backyard, the coop is always a hop and a skip in any direction, so the girls always know where it is. I painted it white for three reasons: It’s the brightest object in the yard, it reflects light (and heat) from the sun in the summertime, and it’s visible in the moonlight. My young hens like to stay up later than the old hens, so they push the dusk bedtime like rebellious teenagers, even though chickens are night blind, meaning they can’t see in the dark. The white paint turned the coop into a beacon that helps the girls find their way back to the coop past curfew.
3. Lure The Flock With Food
Chickens should go to roost with a crop full of food. Even if a feeder is already full, adding one more scoop or offering the day’s kitchen scraps will lure them home. If your flock is hopelessly motivated by food like mine is, use their weakness to your advantage. All I have to do is appear in a window, and my flock runs with wings flapping to the back door. If your flock is motivated by food but ranging farther away, appear at their coop. If you’re the one who usually provides feed, they won’t be able to resist your presence.
4. Tidy The Coop
If the flock’s coop is dirty, they will avoid it and look to roost elsewhere, so keep it clean. In the evenings, train your flock to come home by taking a few minutes to tidy inside just before dusk. The chickens will be too curious to resist the excitement, and they will join you in or at the coop. As evening grows darker and everyone is inside, you’ll be able to lock up the flock without a chase.
5. Carry Her Home
Chickens like to feel safe and secure, so the coop should provide that feeling of home that your flock will enjoy. Home is a place we want to come to, especially at the end of a long day. Most of the time, a flock goes to roost without trouble because they know where they belong and where they feel comfortable. But some birds are stubborn and independent. Supervise until dark when the chicken will be calm, and mostly blind. Scoop her up, carry her to the coop, and gently place her inside. She’ll naturally file herself along the roost with the other hens. Continue taking her home each night if necessary. It won’t be long until she takes the hint and goes bed with her flock mates.