Having your free range chickens automatically go to the coop every night is a great time saver. It also ensures predators are less likely to kill them because they can be safely locked up for the night. Another benefit is being able to visually check all the birds each night to make sure they are not injured.
But how do you get them to roost in the coop all by themselves? Here is how I trained mine:
When the birds were old enough to be removed from the brooder and placed in the outside coop, I placed enough food and water in the coop for an extended period. I then placed the birds inside the coop and kept them inside for a week.
During the week, I checked every night after the sun set to be sure each bird was roosting on a perch and not laying in a nest box. I did this with only a flashlight, not lights on in the coop whatsoever. The reason for doing it this way is to make sure the birds stayed put after I moved them.
You need to encourage the birds to perch but not on the edge of the nest box. Discouraging them from laying in the nest box overnight will train them that the nest boxes are for laying eggs only. If the birds were not perched correctly, I picked them up and placed them on a perch, making sure they had secure footing before letting them go.
At the end of the week I opened the coop door each morning and let the birds roam. In the evening, just before dark, I would check to make sure the birds made it back into the coop. Occasionally, a bird would be hanging around the coop but didn’t enter to roost in the coop. I simply picked it up or gently herded it towards the coop to guide it inside. If it was dark inside the coop I would place the bird on the perch.
After awhile, the birds will automatically begin to head for the coop for the night and you only need to peek at them to make sure they are all ok, then close the coop up for the night.
What to do for a hard case, one that just doesn’t want to cooperate…
I found that my birds absolutely love broccoli. To entice the straggler inside the coop I would feed the bird small bits of the broccoli, each time working my way closer to the coop. I would then toss a few pieces close to the door and a few just inside the door, one that can be reached from outside, one that cannot be reached unless the bird is inside. Doing this a few times usually did the trick.
However, I did have the silver Laced Polish rooster that just didn’t get it! He preferred to perch on the roof of my woodshed each night. I wasn’t a fan of this because of him being vulnerable to owls. Also, as the temperature started to drop, I knew he would just freeze to death being exposed like that. For two weeks I had to climb on the roof and get him. I would then place him on a perch in the coop. A pain in the butt for awhile but he eventually learned to head for the coop!
With a little patience and maybe a little help from treats like broccoli, you can train your chickens to head for the coop at the end of the day, making your life just a little easier.