If you have hens for your own fresh eggs, you will absolutely need nesting boxes for your chickens. Otherwise, you’ll be going on a real life egg hunt every day as the hens lay eggs wherever the urge strikes.
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How many chicken nesting boxes do you need?
The minimum number of nest boxes is two even for a small flock because it’s always possible that a second hen will get the urge to lay when someone else is laying. If you have more than 8 or 10 hens though, Harvey Ussery in The Small Scale Poultry Flock recommends one nest box for ever 4 to 6 hens.
Our flock of 80 hens does well with 15 nest boxes, which fits right into that recommendation as it comes out to one nest box for every 5 hens. There are always open nest boxes available for any hen that needs one.
What is a good size for chicken nest boxes?
Good dimensions for chicken nest boxes are about 12 to 14 inches in all directions — height, width, and length. That usually works for all standard breeds. I’ve seen people say that’s too big if you have bantams because they might share a nest, but if hens want to share a nest, that’s fine with me.
How high should chicken nesting boxes be?
The bottom of the lowest nest should be about a foot and a half from the floor of the coop, and you should have no more than about three levels of nest boxes so that the top of the top nest box will be about four and a half feet from the floor. This makes it easy for the chickens to get in and out of the boxes and for you to get the eggs. Heavier breed hens will appreciate the lower level boxes as they can’t usually jump as high as lighter breeds.
Do nest boxes have to be off the ground?
Not necessarily, but do you really want to be on your hands and knees collecting eggs? A popular DIY option for nesting boxes when you only have a few hens is to use cat litter boxes, which can sit on the ground. We have done this when hens are in temporary housing, and getting down on the ground to get eggs gets old quickly.
I’ve seen some people say the next boxes should be off the ground to protect the hens and their eggs, but there isn’t a single chicken predator or egg-eating predator that would not be able to climb into a nest box that’s a few feet off the ground.
What can I use as bedding in nest boxes?
Most people use straw or wood shavings. I have also seen plastic nesting box liners or pads sold, but they don’t look very comfortable to me, and if they are not comfortable for your chickens, it could discourage them from laying in the nest.
If you happen to have roll out nest boxes, sometimes called roll away nest boxes, you don’t need or want any type of bedding, because that would defeat the whole purpose of these fancy nests. The eggs would not be able to roll away.
Should you have roll out or roll away nest boxes?
Roll out nest boxes are one of the more expensive options, but that’s what we’ve had for years, and we love them. It almost entirely eliminates the possibility of egg eating because the eggs roll out of site of the hen as soon as she stands up.
I say it “almost” eliminates egg eating because we do occasionally have a hen that is so determined she will find the egg after it rolled into the outside compartment and eat it, but it happens far less than it did when we had our homemade nest boxes.
Roll away nest boxes also eliminate broody behavior because it’s impossible for a hen to collect eggs under her. She might be able to hang on to the one egg that she lays, but that’s it. Eggs never build up in a nest box to give hens the idea that it would be a good place to start a family.
The down side of roll away nest boxes is that if you have chickens that are not the brightest, they really need to see other eggs to know where to lay their eggs, so they may be resistant to lay eggs in the nest box.
DIY chicken nesting box ideas
It is entirely possible to DIY nesting boxes. We used DIY nest boxes for years before switching to the roll away nest boxes. You only need the most basic carpentry skills and equipment to make them yourself. You simply need some 2 x 4 boards, some plywood, nails, and a hammer. If you go to a home improvement store to buy your lumber, many of them will cut the wood to the size you request.
The only thing I’d caution you about if you DIY is to NOT have a flat top as pictured here. This is an invitation for chickens to roost on top of it, which means it will be covered in poop in no time! The top of the nest boxes should be slanted so that roosting or sleeping on top of it will be impossible.
If that still sounds too complicated, you can use the cat litter boxes I mentioned earlier. If you don’t want to be bending over forever to collect eggs, you could set them on top of an old coffee table or some other piece of discarded furniture that’s a foot or two off the ground.
I have even heard of people using old five-gallon buckets or cat litter buckets. Turn it sideways, screw the bottom of the bucket onto the wall, and provide some type of support beneath it. You definitely want to use something like straw or wood shavings as bedding so that the eggs don’t roll out, fall onto the ground, and break.
The cat litter buckets often have a lid that is hinged about 1/3 or 1/4 of the way across, which makes a great place the cut the lid. Then simply glue the smaller part of the lid to the bucket to serve as a barrier to keep the eggs in the bucket.
Some people create a long wood trough to lay the buckets in, side by side, so that the front of each bucket is covered by the edge of the trough, which would also prevent eggs from rolling out onto the ground.
Nest boxes made out of old milk crates are another popular DIY option. You can use your creative Tetris skills to decide whether to cut off part of a side of the crate and stack them, or to stack them on their sides (so the top is now the side). I’ve even seen milk crates that people put together to look like diamond-shaped boxes attached to the wall.
The basic idea is to give the hens a private place to lay their eggs so that they will feel safe. For the most part, you can just let your imagination be your guide and have fun with this!
Are you thinking about getting chickens or do you already have a flock? Check out this post –Raising Chickens: Beginner’s Guide (+ Pro Tips!) which will help you ask yourself all the right questions, and it will also give you a realistic idea of what to expect as a chicken owner.