If you're raising backyard chickens, you've probably already selected a chicken coop and found the perfect chicken feed. But if your flock includes laying hens, you'll need to invest in some nesting boxes, too. These boxes make caring for your chickens easier and give your hens a safe place to lay eggs.
Luckily, you can buy or easily create your own nesting boxes, often out of materials that you probably have lying around the house. Here's what you need to know about creating nesting boxes for your flock.
Why Nesting Boxes Are Important
Nesting boxes are essential supplies in keeping chickens. These boxes provide your chickens with safety, security, and privacy, encouraging them to lay eggs in the boxes, rather than out in your yard or in your coop. Gail Damerow, author of Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, explains that a good nesting box needs to have some important characteristics:
- Privacy and darkness - A nesting box that is dark and enclosed gives your hens privacy to lay their eggs. It discourages other hens from hanging out or entering the box.
- Roomy design - A hen should be able to easily walk into and turn around in a nesting box. If a box is too narrow, hens may step on and break their eggs. Leghorns will do well in a box that measures 12"x12"x14". Larger, heavier breeds will need a larger box measuring 14"x14"x12". Bantams can use a smaller box just 10"x12"x10".
- Easy access - When introducing nesting boxes to hens, you'll need to place them on the coop floor. Then, you can gradually raise the boxes up. Boxes positioned higher than 18" from the floor should have a ladder to help hens access the box.
Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily recommends using at least one nesting box for every three to four hens in your flock. Be ready, since the hens will ultimately find a favorite box that they'll all want to use, but be sure to give them enough boxes so that they're not overcrowded and have the option to use a different box if they choose.
Nesting Box Options
When it comes to getting nesting boxes for your chicken coop, you'll have plenty of options. There are plenty of pre-made boxes that you can order online:
- The Miller Single Chicken Nesting Box is made of durable plastic, so it won't rust or rot. It mounts to the wall and has a sloped roof so that chickens can't roost on top of the box (and poop in or on it).
- This Roll Out Nesting Box with Curtains gives chickens plenty of privacy while making it super easy for you to collect eggs each day.
- If you're looking for volume, the Brower 6 Hole Poultry Nest is made of galvanized steel for durability and installs as a single unit.
Of course, you can always make your own nesting boxes, too. There are tons of DIY nesting box plans available online, but with a little creativity, you don't even need to worry about plans.
You can make a nesting box out of just about anything. Get some 5-gallon buckets and lids from your local hardware store, then cut open most of the lid, leaving just a lip to keep the eggs from rolling out of the front of the bucket. Attach the bucket to the wall of your coop and you're done.
You can also easily create nesting boxes using scrap wood or plywood. All you need to do is build a box with an open front, then attach a 2" piece of wood across the front of the box to serve as a lip.
Alternatively, you can use milk crates and even cat litter boxes.
Nest Box Care
Getting and installing the nesting boxes is just the first part of the equation. Now you need to maintain them.
Start by adding plenty of nesting box material and padding to the bottom of the boxes. This material helps to cushion the eggs and can help to keep them from breaking. Lisa Steele recommends a variety of suitable padding materials such as straw, pine shavings, pine needles, shredded paper, and even dried leaves.
Some chickens will kick the material out of the nest boxes, so you may have more luck by cutting up a piece of rubber or a yoga mat and putting it in the bottom of the box. You can also buy nesting pads.
To get your chickens used to using the boxes, you may need to put fake eggs into the nest boxes so the laying hens begin to associate the boxes with laying eggs. These fake eggs can be golf balls or you can buy ceramic nesting eggs that are a bit more realistic.
You'll need to clean out soiled or wet nesting material, especially before it gets moldy or smelly. Mites and lice can be an issue, but dusting the boxes and nesting material with food-grade Diatomaceaous Earth can help to prevent them. You can also buy nesting box herbs that help to repel insects while making the boxes smell better.
Know someone who would like to add chickens to their flock? Tell us in the comments below!