The Importance and Benefits of Nesting Boxes
Whether your chickens are free range or housed in a coop, you'll want a place that provides a sense of security for your hens when they are laying eggs.
The box must provide your hens and her eggs with protection from the elements as well as making your hens feel secure and comfortable.
Placing the proper boxes in suitable locations or within your chicken coop will encourage your hens to provide the best egg production they are capable of providing.
Regular collection of your eggs will help prevent any damage to the eggs as well as discouraging broodiness.
Location and Design
Build good nest boxes. You will want one nest box or one square foot of community nesting space for every four hens.
Community nest boxes need at least one 9 x 12 inch opening for every 20 square feet of nesting space.
A 12" x 12" box is about the right size to use. This should work well for most breeds of chickens. Of course you can go a little larger if needed for bigger breeds.
Each box needs to have a bottom, 3 sides and a top.
Leave the front of the box open. It can help to have a shelf or landing spot at the bottom of the front of the nesting box to allow your hens easier access to the box and keep your eggs from rolling out of the box.
If it helps, you can provide a ramp for your laying hens to help them into the nesting box.
If using a coop, mount the boxes about two feet off the ground, ideally in a dark, quiet, secluded area of the coop where there is low traffic.
They should be in a dark, safe area where the hens can feel comfortable laying their eggs. You will want to line the boxes with organic material such as straw, pine needles, shredded paper or wood shavings.
You can use whatever material is convenient, but hay isn't a good idea because of the potential for mold.
Lining the boxes with such material provides a soft place for your hens to nestle down into for laying their eggs. Plus, the eggs are less likely to crack if you have soft padding material under your hens.
Every so often, put in fresh material to keep it nice, fluffy and appealing to your hens.
It is best to have the boxes lower than the roosting perches so your hens will roost on the perches and not the nesting boxes.
Slanting the top of the box will discourage your chickens from spending time on the top and pooping. Locate the boxes away from the roosts to avoid having your hens poop on them.
One clever idea if you use a coop with attached boxes that we strongly encourage, is for your boxes to have access from outside the coop.
This way you don't have to go inside to collect your eggs. A lockable, hinged top or trap door works very well.
This can be a real time saver and allows your kids to help collect the eggs without fear of the chickens getting out.
Nest Boxes by the Numbers
Providing one nesting space for every four chickens is a good rule of thumb and seems to work out quite well.
Wooden boxes are the great for nesting, but boxes can be made out of plastic or even galvanized metal as in the photo above if preferred.
Sometimes hens can be very unsure about laying eggs in the box. If needed, you can place fake ceramic eggs or golf balls in the nesting box to give them the idea that the boxes are the place to lay their eggs.
Frequent gathering of eggs will ensure egg freshness, keep eggs clean and minimize egg breakage. In addition, it will significantly reduce the chance of your hens beginning to eat their eggs.
Most hens will lay their eggs early in the day, between 7-11 am. If you keep them in the coop or close to the nesting boxes until most of the egg-laying is done, you won't have to go searching for eggs.