Chickens are creatures of habit. They sleep at night, forage during the day, and lay an egg every 14 hours. But, one of my chickens no longer follows this routine. She emerges slowly from the coop in the mornings, makes her way to a corner of the enclosure, and settles down for a three-hour nap.
What does it mean when a chicken sleeps a lot? While a mid-day nap is perfectly normal, a chicken that spends the daylight hours sleeping instead of foraging could be suffering from several potentially life-threatening conditions such as heat stress, parasites, coccidiosis, or another health issue.
Chickens are more like humans than you might expect, especially when it comes to sleep. Like us, they need around eight hours of sleep every 24 hours. They also tend to sleep more during the winter, when the daylight hours are shorter than in summer.
Chickens will sometimes nap during the day, especially in summer when their roost time is shorter because there are fewer hours of darkness. I often see my hens sleeping in the warm sunshine, especially after a good dust bath or a tasty snack.
Some sleep patterns are abnormal, however, and indicate a possible problem.
Regular Sleep Patterns in Chickens
Chickens sleep, on average, for 8 to 12 hours a night and enjoy the occasional nap during the afternoons as well.
Young chickens that are still growing tend to need more sleep than mature hens and will often nap during the day. This is normal and will decrease as they reach maturity. Similarly, older hens have a little less energy and will often grab a little shut-eye in the afternoon, especially if it’s warm and sunny.
During the day, chickens will generally sleep standing up and frequently close just one eye. This is called uni-hemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS). Numerous bird species sleep with one eye open and half their brain fully awake. On the other side, the eye is closed, and that half of the brain is sleeping.
Researchers believe that chickens use uni-hemispheric sleep as a kind of trade-off between their need for rest and keeping an eye out, quite literally, for potential predators.
Worrisome Sleep Patterns and Lethargy in Chickens
If your chicken appears to be fully sleeping or seems to be dreaming, check for other warning signs. Hens should only partially sleep during the day and not be sleeping with both eyes shut or lying down.
This is an abnormal sleep pattern and, if accompanied by the following behaviors, could be cause for concern:
#1 Lethargic and Lacking Awareness
A chicken with both eyes closed cannot retain any awareness of her environment or any potential dangers lurking within it. It’s especially alarming if your hen doesn’t wake or run off when you check on her. Pick her up to see if she wakes or continues sleeping. When I check on my sleeping hen, she doesn’t run off like the rest of the flock. She lies completely still and remains motionless in my arms if I pick her up.
#2 Sleepy, Solitary, and Anti-Social
My flock divides to conquer, with small groups of three to four hens rushing off in different directions the minute I open the coop door. You probably have the same experience with your flock.
But, when you open the coop doors, check for still or isolated hens that stay in the coop. All except my sleepy chicken, that is. She’s no longer interested in hanging out with the rest of the flock and prefers an unusually solitary existence. Isolation is a sign that something’s wrong.
#3 Chicken with a Drooping Head
Not only does my chicken have both her eyes closed during her daytime snoozes, but she also tucks her head down into her chest or under one wing. I rarely see any of my other hens sleeping like this, and it gives her the appearance of being too exhausted even to raise her head.
If your hen has a drooping head, that’s a sign that something’s wrong. Nighttime is usually the only time chickens tuck their head under their wings. And, even at night, if they are awake, their head should be up and alert.
#4 No Interest in Foraging
Although my sleepy hen will rouse herself enough to peck at a bit of grain, she no longer has the energy to forage for food. While the rest of the flock is off hunting down tasty bugs and seeds in the goat enclosure, she’s sleeping. I’m worried she might starve to death if she carries on like this.
You can try tempting a sleepy hen with mealworms, sunflower seeds, and some sweet summer fruits. If that doesn’t tantalize her taste buds, it’s time to treat her using the protocol below.
#5 Lacking Balance Upon Waking Up
When getting up from her daytime dozing, my chicken struggles to find her feet. She totters about a bit, looking disoriented and confused, before finally managing to take a step or two towards the water bowl.
You can help a shaky chicken like mine by using a syringe to feed her drops of water, electrolytes, and a soupy mash of pellets mixed with warm water.
Anxious to find a solution to my snoozing chicken’s problem, I surveyed other chicken owners on Facebook. I received numerous responses, many of which are included below. I also asked neighboring chicken owners and, between the two, managed to track down nine possible reasons for my chicken’s sleepiness.
Nine Possible Reasons Your Chicken’s Sleeping During The Day
#1 Broodiness Causes Alert, but Sleepy Hens
A broody chicken will spend more time huddled in a nesting box than she will hunting for food. Her comb and wattle will also become pale, and she’ll show little interest in doing anything other than sitting on her nest, even if no eggs are present.
Broody hens may seem sleepy, but they are generally alert, unlike my snoozing hen. They often become defensive of their nest. As my hen is leaving the coop to sleep during the day, rather than staying in her nesting box, I’m pretty sure it’s not broodiness causing her lethargy.
This article gives more information on the behavior of broody hens and what makes a chicken behave strangely.
Helping a Broody Hen
If your hen is broody, you can allow her to hatch her eggs (always fun) or break her of her broodiness. If you let her hatch her eggs, providing some food and water near her nest will help her stay healthier while she sits on the nest. Make sure she’s in a safe spot that’s free from predators, such as neighborhood dogs or coyotes. If she’s in the sun, consider providing shade, so she doesn’t overheat.
#2 Heat Stress Causes Lethargy
In hot weather, it’s normal for chickens to become less active and spend more time lounging around the enclosure than actively foraging. If they get too hot, they’ll start to show signs of heat stress.
Signs of heat stress include:
- Panting or labored breathing
- Lifting the wings away from the body
As we haven’t been experiencing any hot weather recently, I doubt my sleepy chicken is suffering from heat stress. If she had been and I’d left it untreated for this long, I doubt she’d still be alive.
If your chicken suffers from heat stress, she will not survive long before she perishes. A single day without adequate water or the opportunity to cool themselves down can cause death. Fresh water is the most crucial aspect of keeping your flock safe during hot weather.
Helping a Heat-Stressed Chicken
A heat-stressed chicken needs water as soon as possible. Provide cool, fresh water. It’s a good idea to pull her to a safe place where you can watch her and put her in the shade. Make sure she eats and drinks. If she doesn’t, it’s much more likely that she will die. As she recovers, usually within a day, she should regain her energy and be active again. Check out Caring for Chickens in the heat for more information.
#3 Predators Disrupt Nighttime Sleep
If your chickens don’t feel safe enough in their coop, or there are a lot of nocturnal predators around, they won’t be getting enough sleep during the night. Providing enough roosts for your hens gives them a safe and comfortable place to sleep at night.
We’re all vulnerable when we’re sleeping, and domesticated chickens have retained the instinct to sleep on a roost to remain safe from predators on the ground. If there aren’t enough roosts, your chickens won’t sleep as comfortably, even if they’re inside a safe coop.
This could explain my chicken’s sleepiness as the roosts available in our coop are somewhat limited. I’ve installed a couple more roosts to resolve the situation and will wait and see if her condition improves.
Protecting Chickens Against Predators
Make sure your coop is safe from predators. Use hardware cloth for all vents and openings. Secure the doors at night, and ensure hens have enough roosts to feel safe. Even if the coop is safe, your hens can feel stressed if they don’t have roosts.
#4 Disturbances in the Night
Loud noises that keep you awake at night could also be disturbing your chickens. Studies show that chickens kept near airports experience more stress and fatigue than those living in a quiet, rural environment.
Leaving coop lights on all night can also disrupt your chicken’s sleeping patterns, causing daytime lethargy, reduced egg production, and higher blood pressure.
#5 Egg Bound Lethargy Signs
A chicken raiser on Facebook responded to my question about sleeping chickens saying, “Does she flare-up or fluff her feathers out every time you come near? Is she walking like a penguin? Is she not eating like normal or drinking? If she’s doing any of these things, she could be egg-bound.”
This Facebook user points out that an egg-bound hen is relatively easy to spot. Not only will she seem lethargic and depressed, but her wings will drop, and her tail will droop.
She may also have problems walking and show signs that she’s straining. As you only have 24-48 hours to save an egg-bound hen, and mine has been napping for several days, I can happily disregard this as the cause.
You can find out more about how to recognize and save an egg-bound chicken.
#6 Molting Can Cause Sleepiness
Molting chickens are often moody, as would you be if all your hair fell out overnight. Some chickens seem to find the molting process so unpleasant that they try to sleep through as much of it as possible. You can make the experience more pleasurable by caring for molting chickens correctly.
Chickens molt at the beginning of autumn when the daylight hours start to lessen. As it’s summer here in South Africa, there’s very little chance my hen is molting. She also has all her feathers, so that’s not the problem.
A molting chicken needs extra protein and a stress-free lifestyle, among other things.
#7 Parasite Caused Despondence
I’ve been treating two hens for scaly legs recently so, the possibility of parasites causing my other chicken’s sleepiness is high. But, she didn’t show any signs of parasites such as anemia or itchiness.
To be on the safe side, I’ve started adding apple cider vinegar to my flock’s water every day as this helps prevent worms and kills some bacteria and germs. I’ve also been giving them a teaspoon of garlic powder and a dollop of yogurt in their feed every day. These are both natural dewormers and have proved effective in the past.
I’ve also sprinkled some diatomaceous earth around their favorite dust baths so they can coat themselves in this natural pesticide if they want to. As my lethargic hen shows little interest in dust bathing, I applied the diatomaceous earth manually, using this tutorial as a guide.
If parasites are the problem, you should start to see improvement with 24 hours of applying DE and providing probiotic support (apple cider vinegar and yogurt).
#8 Aspergillosis Related Lethargy
Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that affects the lungs. Infected chickens are often lethargic, have difficulty breathing, and have little interest in food. Aspergillosis is more common in young birds, although older birds with a weakened immune system may contract the disease. There is no known treatment for this condition.
To get aspergillosis, a chicken must inhale the spores of the Aspergillus fungus. These occur most commonly in poorly ventilated areas and warm, wet environments.
Although it has been unseasonably wet here recently, my chicken coop has plenty of ventilation, and I’m very conscientious about keeping it clean. I would also expect to see more than one chicken sleeping if an outbreak of aspergillus had occurred, so I think I’ll write this off as a possible cause.
If you have an adequately vented coop, then your flock should be safe, even during rainy or abnormally humid weather.
Make sure to keep the coop clean to keep it free from ammonia build-up. Enclosures should have vents that allow hot, humid air to rise and leave the coop. This is critical in both summer and winter weather.
#9 Coccidiosis Illness Signs
Coccidiosis is one of the most common chicken diseases and occurs when a parasitic organism invades the chicken’s intestinal tract. The damage it causes prevents the chicken from absorbing the nutrients it needs to survive.
As one Facebook respondent noted, “When my chicken was segregating and sleeping and was all fluffed up, I took her to the vet, and she tested positive for coccidiosis.”
Coccidiosis commonly causes listlessness and lethargy in chickens, but the most prevalent indicator of this disease is the appearance of blood or mucus in the droppings. My hen’s droppings appear normal, if a little watery, but certainly don’t contain any blood or mucus.
Furthermore, young chicks between the age of three to five weeks old are most susceptible to coccidiosis, and my flock consists only of mature birds so, the likelihood of any of them contracting this disease is extremely slight.
Keep your coop clean, dry, and well-ventilated to stop the spread of coccidiosis. This will also reduce the risk of reinfection. Feeding your chickens a medicated feed that contains coccidiostat can also help control the problem.
Diagnosing and Treating A Snoozing Chicken
After studying all the symptoms of the conditions listed above, I concluded that my hen was, most probably, suffering from an overload of parasites. I started the following treatment immediately:
Step One: Utilize a Chicken Hospital
Isolate the chicken from the flock. We have a cage we use to transport chickens so, I filled this with bedding and placed it in a quiet spot away from the coop and the rest of the flock. My chicken happily snuggled down in her new enclosure for yet another nap.
Step Two: Make Sure She Drinks Plenty of Water
As she was unwilling to drink from the bowl I’d placed inside the cage, I fed her a few drops of water from a syringe. To this, I added some electrolytes to give her a bit of a boost.
Step Three: Restore Gut Health
Mixing up some cooked rice with yogurt and scrambled egg, I tried to entice my sleepy hen to stay awake long enough to eat. I figured this would give her some essential protein and fat and the vitamins and minerals needed to rebalance her system. The yogurt I threw in to help restore the good bacteria in her digestive system.
To my relief, my hen finally roused herself from her slumber and took a few enthusiastic mouthfuls before retiring to her nest.
After a few days of isolation and TLC, my hen was once again alert and keen to join the rest of the flock in their daily foraging routine.
While it’s natural for chickens to take an afternoon nap after a good meal or a relaxing dust bath, too much sleep is a sign that’s something’s wrong. Using an approach similar to the one detailed here can eliminate some possible causes and isolate the probable ones. This gives you a good chance of treating your chicken correctly and restoring her to her usual alert self.
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