Giving Your Chickens A Good Night’s Sleep

May 3, 2019

Both people and chickens appreciate a good night’s sleep.  As warm months approach odds are better that humans will be more comfortable after dark than their chickens.   After all, people live in well-ventilated houses with screened windows to exclude pesky bugs. When it really gets hot, they only need to click on the air conditioner.

Chickens aren’t so lucky. Often, they are forced to try sleeping while swarms of gnats and mosquitos attack them in hot humid air. Air conditioning a coop is silly and not needed but simple preparation by owners will help hens enjoy hours of comfortable summer slumber.

Ventilation, Shade, and Odor Control

Before the advent of air conditioning houses were designed to catch summer’s cool evening breezes while enjoying midday shade. Cross ventilation was the key to catching pleasant summer air. Smart home builders placed windows on opposite sides of bedrooms to allow the flow of air to waft through, cooling sleeping people.  

Cross ventilation helps chickens sleep better for the same reason. A well-designed coop has windows situated so summer breezes pass chickens sleeping on their roosts. That cools them and also lets pleasant smelling outdoor air constantly pass through the coop, keeping odor at bay.

Before air conditioning people valued shade trees, and homes were either built in shady places or trees were planted shortly after construction. Shade also helps keep coops cool, so situating one that is shielded from the afternoon sun by a leafy tree is a great strategy for keeping chickens comfortable.

Well-made coops keep the interior dry and airy. Moisture is the unwelcome parent of odor. Wood chips on the floor may contain a high proportion of dried manure, but they will not smell if kept dry. One rainstorm on a leaky roof quickly moistens the litter, and within a couple of days the smell can be overpowering. Not only does that keep the chickens up at night, it can also bring deserved complaints from human neighbors.   Keeping the coop dry and inviting summer breezes to pass through help keep chickens healthy and well rested and neighbors happy.

Quality windows are a good investment that make keeping the coop comfortable. As the weather warms or cools with the season good windows can be adjusted to let varied amounts of air to enter, and they can be clamped down to keep icy winter drafts outside.

Huge and Tiny Nocturnal Chicken Predators

Probably nothing is as terrifying to a sleeping chicken as being awakened by a hungry raccoon entering a window intent on dinner. Too often they are successful, but most people who keep chickens recognize the nocturnal hazard of big predators and cover windows and doors with heavy duty wire mesh that keeps them outside.

Unfortunately, many people ignore the tiny predators that easily swarm through heavy duty anti-raccoon wire mesh. Few annoyances bother chickens as much as dozens of gnats or mosquitoes seeking a blood meal.

Hens’ thick feathers protect them from biting insects. Their bare shanks and feet contain little blood, so nature makes them partly immune to gnats and mosquitoes – except for two parts of their anatomy.

Biting insects successfully target combs and wattles. Sometimes so many gnats pester a hen that she’s not able to sleep. There are reports of birds actually being killed by swarms of hungry gnats.   

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution. Open windows need a double layer of screening to keep out two types of nocturnal predators. Heavy wire mesh, usually made of rectangles one inch wide by two inches tall placed on the outside of coop windows frustrate even the strongest raccoon. Half inch mesh hardware cloth also works well, but no heavy wire screen is designed to keep out tiny insects.

Windows should be covered with anti-raccoon screening on the outside and anti-bug screening on the inside. Putting mosquito mesh inside the heavy wire keeps raccoons from tearing the somewhat fragile mesh made to keep out the bugs.   

Quality modern windows may already have mosquito mesh built in, but most coop windows don’t have the feature. It’s easy and inexpensive to add. Screening is made of either metal or nylon and is sold in rolls at hardware and building supply stores. Buy enough to cover the coop’s windows and cut the mesh about four inches wider and taller than each window with a stout pair of scissors. Then, use a carpenter’s staple gun to attach the mesh over the window.  It’s as easy as that. The mesh can be removed after bugs depart in the fall or screens can be left on all winter.

Mosquito mesh has one problem. Over time it tends to clog with the dust that chickens always seem to create. Cleaning the screens is easily done with a leaf blower or a hand held vacuum cleaner set on “blow” mode. Simply blow off the dust. It may need to be done monthly. If windows have removable mosquito screening another cleaning method is to remove the entire screen, take it outside, and shoot water through it from a hose.

This summer promises to produce both hot weather and bugs. Proper ventilation and screening help hens enjoy a night’s sleep unbothered by pesky raccoons or gnats.

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More about Rich Patterson

Rich Patterson is a retired naturalist that enjoys raising chickens in his urban backyard. His experience in practical chicken keeping and homesteading will keep you enjoying life your with chickens!

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