So you’re doing your chicken homework, dreaming of the day where you can eat some of the most delicious eggs on the planet (bias intended), and you want to know just how many nesting boxes should you provide for your flock. You are, after all, a responsible minded person – credit to your upbringing – so you go online for a quick answer. Unfortunately, while answers are abundant, quite a few of them are different.
It would be easy at this point to be a little bit anxious and frustrated. Don’t be.
From our personal experience of raising chickens I can say with confidence that a ratio of 1 nesting box for every 3 birds, will provide you adequate space for your hens. This has worked for us very well.
For the record, there have been times when not all of our nesting boxes get used. Also, if your birds are young and you are getting by with less, then don’t fret about having the 1 to 3 ratio. Hens lay less with age, so the boxes will be needed less and less as the years go by. But if you’re starting from scratch and you want to have confidence that you’ve properly provided for your flock’s needs, then use the 1 box for every 3 birds ratio. It’s better to have too many than too few. And it will be your hens that suffer for it if you don’t provide enough.
How Big Should A Nesting Box Be?
This is another question that you can find a lot of different answers for. And to be blunt, I’m not sure that chickens are so finicky about dimensions as much as privacy and a sense of security. That being said, chickens come in different sizes so it’s important to consider that when sizing your box.
A good size for the more common chicken breeds such as the Golden Buff or Barred Rock, is 14 inches tall by 14 inches wide and roughly 20 inches deep. If you don’t have a lot of room, then you can probably get by with a little less as your hens do like it cozy.
Bantams, which are generally miniature versions of existing breeds, will probably be put off by that large of an area. For these smaller birds, something in the area of 10 inches tall by 10 inches wide and 16 inches deep would probably be more accommodating. Just remember, your goal is to provide them with a sense of peace and security. It won’t matter what the dimensions of your nesting box are if they don’t feel comfortable using it.
Even if you only have three birds, it really is worth your time to join a forum specializing in chickens. I have found that there is almost always someone who has been in the exact situation that I am inquiring about, and quite often there will be a number of people willing to share what they have learned – (sometimes the hard way!) The value of this help can not be understated!
What’s The Best Material For A Nesting Box?
While nesting box design comes in many shapes and sizes, there are three different materials for their construction: wood, metal and plastic.
- Wooden Nesting Box
Pros: Using wood for a nesting box is probably the most common for backyard chickens. This is primarily because of cost and ease of use. A quick trip to the lumberyard and you can whip up three or four nesting box fairly quickly.
Cons: At some point you will have a broken eggs. And of course, the contents will run everywhere! This is a bad situation for your hens as wood is porous and will absorb the fluid from the broken egg. Consequently, bigger predators will smell the egg and come looking. And even if you manage to keep them out, ants will find the gooey substance. More frustrating yet is the fact that even if you scour the box completely, there is always the chance that bacteria will grow in the residue that soaked into the wood.
- Metal Nesting Box
Pros: There are a number of metal nesting boxes available for purchase. Being made of metal, they generally have a professional appearance and are much easier to sanitize than their wooden counterparts. It’s been my experience that the hobby farmers that have invested in these types of nesting boxes are very serious about their birds (and for the record, I am quite jealous of them!)
Cons: While metal nesting boxes tend to last a long time, they are substantially more expensive than their wooden counterparts. Also, if you live in a colder climate, you might experience issues with your hen’s feet as the metal will freeze.
- Plastic Nesting Box
Pros: Plastic nesting boxes are not only easy to sanitize, but generally the easiest to install. Just stick a few screws in the wall where you want it to go and it hangs there ready to be used.
- Cons: If you want to hang more than one, then placement can be tricky. These boxes hang from the wall, which means they need to be screwed into something solid. And unless your coop has the perfect spacing, you might be a little spread out on your nesting boxes.
What Is The Best Bedding For A Chicken Nest Boxes?
Regardless of whether you have a wood, metal or plastic nesting box, you will need some sort of bedding material for your hens. This material provides two main things. It allows the bird to feel snug and provides a cushion for eggs as they fall.
The bulk of bedding material used by hobby farmers for chickens is straw and wood shavings – generally pine. These two materials are readily available and fairly affordable. There are other potential materials such as pine needles, shredded cardboard and even sand. But straw and wood shavings are the two main bedding choices.
As to which one the chickens prefer, with our flock, the hens generally use the boxes with pine shavings (the bigger kind). Pine shavings can be messier as they are easily kicked out, but they are notably softer and easier for a hen to manipulate.
For larger operations, where eggs are collected in volume, a spongy plastic liner can be used instead of bedding. This is easy to pull out and wash off.
For even larger volumes off egg production, springy wired flooring is installed. These wires are bouncy enough to catch an egg without breaking it while spaced far enough apart to let any feathers or waste fall through.
Where Should The Nesting Box Be For Chickens?
Generally, it is fairly easy to get your birds to lay their eggs where you want them to, providing you give them what they want when it comes to a nesting box. The following are the three main things you should consider when choosing a location.
- Does it provide a sense of security for your hen?
The actual process of passing an egg takes time and effort on the part of your hen. And once she starts, she is committed to finishing the task. The best place for her to undergo this labor is going to be somewhere that is quiet, generally a little dark and definitely out of the line of traffic. A question you can ask yourself when choosing a location for the nesting box is, ‘will my girls be disturbed here?’
- Is the box at eye level for predators – which includes other chickens?
There are a some hobby farmers who will place their nesting boxes at ground level. I have always felt this to be a very bad practice. Putting eggs on the ground is the easiest way for a predator to find to it! And once a predator realizes that there is easy food to be had, then good luck getting rid of it. That animal will only continue to come back looking for an easy meal; even long after you’ve removed the food source.
Also, a bored chicken will peck at anything – including fresh eggs. This cannibalistic behavior might seem odd, but I can tell you from personal experience that once a chicken realizes that eggs are edible, they will make it part of their daily routine to eat one. If you see this kind of behavior then you must act quickly as chickens learn from each other. Consequently, if left unaddressed, your one cannibal will quickly teach the rest of the flock!
- Is the box easily accessible for both you and your hen?
Now that we’ve established that putting eggs on the ground is bad, just how high off of the ground should a nesting box be?
A good practice for deciding how high the nesting box should be is to put the bottom of the box at about knee high. This places the eggs out of direct line of sight for any bored chicken and adds a little bit of work for any predator that wants to get to the eggs. Also, this means that you won’t have to reach all the way to the ground in order to retrieve the eggs.
Nesting boxes can be hung higher provided that the birds are still able to get to them with ease. Chickens can jump fairly high, but you will find the occasional bird that struggles to do so. This where knowing the behavior of each member of your flock really helps.
When Do Chickens Use Nesting Boxes?
Most people associate hens laying eggs as a morning routine. And while this can be true, it is not necessarily fact.
Provided your birds are at laying age, they will lay eggs anytime during the daylight.
The egg cycle for a mature hen is roughly 24 to 26 hours. This means that if your hen were to lay her egg first thing in the morning at the start of spring, then by the beginning of fall, she could be laying her egg in late afternoon.
For our flock, we check for eggs a little before lunch and once again before dark. We do not check for eggs after dark as hens do not lay after dark. Once your flock is in bedtime mode, that’s pretty much it until the sun comes back up.
How Do I Get My Hens To Use The Nesting Boxes?
If you’ve done a good enough job of providing a secure, quiet place for your hens to do their work, then generally, the birds will find and pick a nesting box on their own. However, sometimes you’ll get a younger bird that is new to this ‘egg-laying’ business and doesn’t know what to do. There are a few things you can do to help her.
- Pick up the egg that she just laid and put it in the spot that you want. If/when she notices it in the new location, she’ll use that spot then next time the need hits her.
- Confine her with an experienced bird. Chickens learn a lot from each other. And if she sees another hen laying an egg in the nesting box, she’ll follow the leader and use it as well.
- Another good option is a fake egg. Put a fake egg (some have even used golf balls) in the nesting box and show it to her. Quite often this is enough to show the new girl where she should be doing her work.
How Often Do You Clean Nesting Boxes?
A clean nesting box is not only advisable but necessary for your flock’s health. With multiple birds using the same box, it’s easy for disease to spread.
As discussed above, the material used in the manufacturing of a nesting box generally dictates the level of effort required when cleaning (plastic being the easiest). But regardless of how easy it may or may not be, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive. This means checking each nesting box daily.
Broken eggs are very problematic. Even the smallest crack can leak fluid into the bedding and setup the wrong sort of situation for the hen that needs to lay her egg. For this reason, broken eggs should be cleaned out thoroughly and immediately! But broken eggs aren’t the only issue.
Every now and then, a chicken will decide it’s better to sleep in the nesting box instead of on a perch. However, unless there are chicks involved, this is a very bad practice and you would be advised to ‘re-educate’ your bird of this bad habit. Chickens defecate quite a bit during the night and if they’re sleeping in a nesting box, then all of that waste will collect there. And excessive waste will also attract the kinds of bugs that make life unpleasant for your flock. In other words, make sure to clean any poo out!
Another common issue for nesting boxes is excessive feathers. Unless, your hen is broody (sitting on a nest trying to hatch some chicks) then it’s good practice to sweep out any feathers as they might have oil on them…which also attracts unpleasant bugs, such as lice and mites.
What Kind Of Cleaning Solution Do I Use In A Nesting Box?
With regards to cleaning solutions, I personally avoid any harsh chemicals. Using Windex might be acceptable on nesting box made of plastic, but I would never use it on a wooden nesting box. The ammonia could soak into the wood and cause problems for your birds. If you really want to disinfect things, use a vinegar and water solution to kill any bacteria and then let the box air out for a few days. Just make sure to block this box off as your hens are in a habit of using this spot and without any soft padding in the box, you’re sure to have another broken egg.
What Is A Roll-Out Nesting Box?
For a lot of us, collecting eggs from the nest is just flat out gratifying. However, for those who have flocks of substantial number, collecting eggs one at a time can be kind of a labor intensive task. And with necessity being the mother of invention, a better way for large volume egg collection came in the form of a roll-out nesting box.
A roll-out, or sometimes called roll-away, is a nesting box specifically designed to have the egg roll away from the bird and collect in an easy to reach location. Quite often, a bristle like material will be used in the flooring of the coop as this brushes at the egg while the egg is rolling to the collection point, thereby reducing even more time for the farmer as less cleaning is required.
Our Nesting Box – For The Backyard Flock
Being a DIY sort of person, my first nesting box was a wooden nesting box – a free design I found on the internet. Much like the free coop design I found, it was clearly not drawn by someone with real any real experience in poultry. And while it did technically work, it didn’t work well…something I realized after the first broken egg.
Despite the fact that I had cleaned the broken egg thoroughly, some of the yolk had seeped its way into the seems where the boards came together. Honestly, I couldn’t see it…but the ants did!
Consequently, while we still build our nesting boxes from wood, we now use hardware cloth (it’s a type of wire fencing with half inch spacing) for the flooring of the boxes. This can be a little messier as the wood shavings will slowly fall through the half inch spacing. But, when we do have the occasional broken egg, the yolk simply drains through.