Cooped up chickens. Do they have to come out?

Every chicken owner I know has had at least one day when they just couldn't let the chickens out for some reason. Life happens. Is it a problem if the chickens are in their coop all day? Or will something bad happen to them? Well, that answer depends on the coop.

Chickens coming out of a coop on a ladder

I'm sure you've noticed that in bad weather your chickens choose to stay in their coop all day anyway. Of course making a choice and not giving an option are two different things completely, right? Especially if the feed or water are outside! 

So the question is, is it safe to not let the chickens out? The answer is: if your coop has light, space and food/water then you're good to go.

Can chickens stay in the coop all day?

I talk about coop styles in Winter coops, the good bad and ugly. The same rules apply here. An uncrowded chicken coop with enough floor space to move around, light from windows and food and water is what you need if you want to keep the chickens in all day. 

The recommended coop size is to have 2-3 square feet indoors per chicken. I know a lot of us have exceeded the amount of chickens we're supposed to have in one coop, especially in summer when they're outside the entire day! 

I've had absolutely no problems doing this, but things change when they're all kept inside the coop all day. If your chickens are being kept inside regularly, you want to make sure you have at least 3 square feet per chicken. No chicken math allowed! 

Ideally you'll have a covered run and an pop door to the run. Letting the chickens into the run increases the space they have and gives them more to 'do' during their day if you can't let them out.

Plus you can put their waterer outside which is better for the moisture content in the air in winter. Also, if your coop is a little over populated, having a waterer outside and another inside gives them options if they don't all get along. Or just in case one gets knocked over somehow.

I never put my feeders outside, but we have bears who would smell that feed and rip through the wire to get to it. Obviously if bears, raccoons etc. are not a problem for you, it would be ok to leave feed in the run. As always, consider the predators in your area when making these decisions. 

If you often leave early in the morning, consider an automatic pop door! These doors open and close on a timer or according to the sun. The one I have opens at dawn and closes at dusk every day. 

In fact, an automatic pop door and covered run are 2 of The 4 chickens coop additions I can't live without!

Chickens in chicken coop all day

Problems with chickens being in coop all day

Boredom: Feather picking, squabbles, bullying, pecking each other and other bad behaviors can start when chickens are cooped up too long. (excuse the pun!) 

These can be alleviated with treats hung in baskets or on twine, scratch scattered amid the coop bedding, dry leaves tossed in the run and other activities to keep them busy.  

Do you have to let chickens out at dawn?

No, you really don't. Especially if you have a coop with windows, feed & water inside and space to move around. I let mine out as soon as I wake up, but I'm absolutely not getting up at dawn just for that! They can wake up and have breakfast on their own before I get down there.

In fact, dawn is the absolute earliest you should let chickens out and you really should wait till it's fully light outside. Certain predators (like foxes) hunt at dusk and dawn so letting the chickens out before it's completely light can be an opportunity for a predator. 

These predators fall into a class called Crepuscular animals, and chances are you have at least one living in your area! 

So yes, chickens can stay inside their coop all day as long as they have everything they need for the entire day, including light. If your coop does not have windows you can put in lights and a timer, but that often requires running electric and many people don't want to do that outside. 

I get it, I don't want to do it in my duck coop so I use it as little as possible. I would actually install a window before I'd do electric. When I am using a coop without windows or lights I open it about an hour after dawn most days. 

Chickens truly are happiest when they can be outside because they love chasing bugs and such, but if they have to stay in for a day...they'll be just fine.


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