Adolescent chickens are miserable creatures. They tend to act a whole lot like adolescent humans. They are awkward, nervous, unpredictable, haughty, and rebellious. One evening when my chickens were still striving towards adulthood I went outside to close their door for the night. Instead of finding 8 young birds safe in their beds I found 8 young birds sleeping OUTSIDE!
I believe they either forgot how to get back in the coop or one of them decided to find a new roosting spot and the others blindly followed.
Of course when I tried to catch them in the dark to put them back where they belonged they went totally crazy, like I was the predator not the guardian. Since that time I have had to check the chickens every night to see that they put themselves to bed properly.
Oddly enough I still have one grown, adult chicken with a wild streak that sometimes chooses to sleep outside in the window. The others have grown out of their rebellious ways and now go straight to bed as soon as the sun says its time. I have a feeling this particular unruly chicken will change her ways when the night time temperatures get into the single digits.
So, what do you do when your chickens refuse to sleep on their roost? If the chickens are young be sure they are locked in the coop with the roost before sundown, this will discourage them from looking for a roosting spot somewhere outside. They also need to learn to begin looking for their nightly resting spot as the sun is going down gradually rather than searching frantically when a light is turned off. Physically placing one or two of the birds on the roost may help to show the others where to go but young ones are often flighty so they may just jump off. Most likely they will begin sleeping on the roost after they reach the laying stage (chickens are much smarter after they start laying). Like a four year old who wants to sleep in bed with mom and dad, chances are he will grow out of it with age.
If the birds are old and still insist on sleeping in odd places you may have to make the other places unavailable to them for a few days. Cover up their nesting boxes at night so they don’t treat them like bunk beds (but be sure to uncover them in time for the first girl to start laying the next morning or you run the risk of encouraging them to lay on the ground). Locking the chickens in with the roost as their only option (besides the floor, of course) will force them to jump on the roost to feel safe. Then again, some chickens are just stubborn and really like to sleep on the ground. Unless they are sleeping under the roost, causing them to be covered in manure every night I wouldn’t worry too much about the floor being used as a bed. You may have to be more diligent in keeping your coop clean but as long as the chicken appears to be healthy in other aspects of life (drinking, dusting, scratching) it is most likely not a problem. You should also take into consideration the type of chickens you have. An Ameraucana or a Mille Flur will prefer a much higher roost than an Orpington or a Red Star. And a roost should always be higher than the nesting boxes so the roost will appear to be the safest spot.
I have two hens that have good reasons for sleeping on the floor. My Frizzle Cochin Bantam, that use to be the most beautiful bird I owned, has lost a lot of feathers as a result of her constant broodiness (when she gets broody the other hens pick at her relentlessly). Because of this she can’t fly up to the roost. I am doing my best to get her feathers to grow back but until they do she will be sleeping in the corner of the coop. I also have a Buff Orpinton that has an injured neck. I’m not sure if she was born with a deformity that didn’t show until she had feathers or if one of the many children roaming around my house dropped her on her head. Either way she can’t fly up to a roost so she also sleeps on the floor. Both the frizzle and the deformed orpington function just fine as regular chickens. They lay eggs, eat well, and dust often.
I have a brother who preferred to sleep on the floor until he was about 12, he then moved to the couch and slept there until he got married. We all knew it wasn’t a completely normal way to pass the nighttime, but he has managed to become a functioning member of society in spite of his abnormal sleeping habits. If you have a chicken that won’t sleep on a roost she may just be a bit too much like my brother, so don’t lose any sleep over it.