Will Chickens Share Nesting Boxes?


Broody hen on her eggs

When you think of a bird’s nest, you generally think of it having one set of eggs from the parenting birds. To my knowledge, birds like eagles or hawks, generally don’t share a nest with other eagles and hawks. That just doesn’t happen. For most birds, it’s a single nest for a mated pair.

Admittedly, there are exceptions to this. The cowbird, will lay its eggs in a nest that doesn’t belong to it, but this behavior does not represent the majority of fowl (especially considering that it will abandon the egg for the unsuspecting parents to raise).

But what about chickens? Is there a single nesting box for every hen?

When it comes to hens, there are only two different behaviors – related to laying eggs – that they will exhibit. These are broody and non-broody.

A broody hen is a bird that has caught the ‘baby bug’ and is looking to hatch a clutch of eggs. A non-broody hen is one that is NOT in the mood to have chicks (don’t be quick to judge as a lot of these backyard breeds will lay eggs everyday).

Non-broody hens will easily share a single nesting box. A broody hen, however, will jealously guard her clutch of eggs allowing NO ONE to approach.

With the coming chicks on her mind, a broody hen will rarely leave the nest, often forgoing food and water to keep her eggs safe and warm. Any other hen that ventures close is sure to experience her wrath. For this reason, it’s good to have multiple nesting boxes available for the hens that have their reason for not sharing.

How Many Nesting Boxes Do I Need For 6 Chickens?

If you really want to see a heated debate, walk into a crowd of people at your local feed store and say, ‘You know I read that 1 nesting box for every 7 hens is the perfect ratio.’ Just be prepared to ‘reap the whirlwind.’ Comments like this are sure to get you kicked off someone’s Christmas Card list.

The adequate number of nesting boxes will vary from flock to flock, but if you want to be safe for your flock of 6 birds, then a minimum of 2 nesting boxes is recommended.

The reason there is such a wide range of opinion of the correct ratio of nesting boxes per hen, is because of the multitude of variables that are in play. Some of these variables include the breed of the hen, the age of the hen and the time of year. It’s important to know your flock when deciding a plan to care for them.

  • Breed of the hen – Some chicken breeds lay a LOT of eggs. The Black Australorp, for example, can lay up to 240 eggs in a year (that’s a lot of time in the nesting box). In comparison, the Black Sumatra may only lay 100. So it’s important to know the egg-laying characteristics of your specific breed of hen.
  • Age of the hen – Generally, it will take around 6 months for your hen to be mature and developed enough to start laying eggs. But once she gets her ‘egg-motor’ going, she will really crank out them out. The next 12 to 18 months of her life will see the highest egg output. But, as time goes on, the production will start to slow down. Younger egg layers are certain to need more time in the nesting box, than a hen of the same breed that is 3 or 4 years older, as the older birds will not be laying eggs as often.
  • Time of year – Longer daylight hours means more activity and more egg output from your flock. For some breeds, it’s not uncommon for younger hens to lay an egg every day during the summer and then drop to one egg every three days in the middle of winter, where the days are shortest. It’s important to keep this in mind when planning the addition of a new hen to your flock.

Do Nesting Boxes Need To Be In The Coop?

Quite often, putting the nesting boxes in the coop, seems like a matter of convenience as the coop will require some form of daily cleaning. And since you are already there, why not just gather up the eggs at the same time?

But the truth is, there is a little more to it.

While it is technically not mandatory for the nesting boxes to be in the coop, it most certainly is advised! And the following are a few reasons as to why.

  • A safe and quiet place – Laying an egg takes a bit of effort on the part of the hen. It is a process that once committed to, can take between 20 and 30 minutes. During this time, the hen is completely focused on getting the job done. Any interruptions is likely to cause her problems, so putting a nesting box in a place where she is not likely to be disturbed can only help.
  • Protection for the eggs – Even if you don’t plan on hatching chicks, the eggs should be in a safe place. A nesting box located in the very back of the coop, is going to offer more of a deterrent to animals looking to eat the eggs than say a nesting box outdoors or even on the ground.
  • A place of habit – One of the first things you will need to do when moving your new chicks from the brooder to the outdoors is to establish the importance of the coop. Once acclimated to this new home, the flock will generally return to the coop every night. This habit of ‘going home to roost’ is only going to be reinforced if your hens are going to the same location to lay their eggs.

Should You Put Anything In A Nesting Box?

For our current flock of 10 hens, we have 3 nesting boxes available. These private little cubby-holes are filled with pine shavings and each of them has a single golf ball in them. Why the golf ball? Because our current flock is all brand new birds, and none of them really know what they’re doing yet.

If there was an experienced hen for the new birds to observe, then we would probably not need the golf balls as chickens learn from observing other chickens. But with no one to show them ‘the way’, they need a little help.

Every nesting box needs, as a minimum, some sort of nesting material as this helps cushion the eggs as they fall from the hens. If adequate cushion is not available, then you run the risk of breaking the eggs. And broken eggs are sure to cause you a host of problems!

It’s worth mentioning that while most backyard flocks use bedding such as straw or pine shavings, there are other options available. Plastic mats, with a springy grass-like surface, are also somewhat common. These offer the ability for the flock owner to remove and hose them down for cleaning.

Sand is also a material that has been tried, however this is not a material that I recommend for places where temperatures fall below freezing as sand frozen hard is not going to be accommodating (not to mention uncomfortable for your hens).

Conclusion

For our hens, we have always used a ratio of 1 nesting box for every 3 girls (roosters don’t get to use the nesting boxes!). I will admit, that quite often, our small flocks of 10 or so chickens, will focus primarily on just two nesting boxes.

Why do they do this and leave the others empty? I honestly have NO IDEA!

Incredibly, the nesting boxes in use may actually change from day to day. So the nesting box they used today, might not be the nesting box they’ll use tomorrow. It just depends on what the birds feel like at the moment.

Regardless of this puzzling behavior, we still maintain the ratio of 1 box per 3 birds. While the hens might not make the most of this availability, it still provides them ample space to do their work. And I’m all about making my birds happy!

For an in-depth look at nesting boxes, check out ‘How many nesting boxes per chicken?


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