When setting up your new chicken coop, how many nesting boxes do you need? How do you set them up?
Learn about this basic chicken care topic in this article.
When Do You Need The Nesting Boxes?
If you are just getting started raising young chickens, you will not need the nesting boxes until they are about 4 months old. If you put the nesting boxes in before that, they may start sleeping in there.
The last thing you want is chickens sleeping in nesting boxes because many chickens (most chickens) poop a whole lot while they are sleeping. That would mean lots of poop in the nests where they are going to lay those precious eggs. Yuck!
So until your chickens are just about old enough to begin laying, you don’t need them in there.
How Many Do You Need?
First of all, you need to know that chickens do not sleep in the nests. I know there are lots of people that think that is the case. But generally chickens sleep on the roost and lay in the nest. As I stated above sleeping in the nesting box should be discourage. Unless of course you have a broody hen who is hatching eggs. Then you leave that mama be!
Secondly, chickens share nests. You definitely do not need to have a nest for every chicken. It would be a waste of space and resources.
A good rule of thumb, is 1 nest per 5-6 hens. As you can see in the photo above, on the day the photo was taken, 6 hens all used the same nest. Hens not only share nests, but they will pick their favorite one and even fight over it. I have had three hens squeeze into the same nest all at once because they wanted to lay in “the best nest.”
What Kind of Nesting Box Should I Use?
There are many things you can use for a nesting box. You can purchase commercial, pre-made wooden boxes at the farm supply store. You can order kits for nesting box sets.
But here’s the thing. Chickens aren’t that picky. In my large coop, I have what I call the “egg box condominiums.” It is a large, metal, commercial box set that has 10 nests in it. Serious overkill.
There are all sorts of inexpensive options. The rectangle buckets that kitty litter comes in are a great, cheap (free) option. You can do a search online and find all sorts of creative ideas.
Very simply, you need something that the hen can easily get into, something that is a “nest” shape, you want it easy to clean, and you need to put some bedding/nesting material inside it.
Nesting Box Placement
Once you decide upon the number and type of nesting box you are going to use, you need to decide where to place them.
There’s really three rules to follow.
- You want the nesting boxes in a location that you can easily get to. You’ll need to be able to gather eggs every day as well as be able to clean them out as needed.
- The nesting boxes should always be lower than the roosts. This is another method of encouraging them to sleep in the correct location.
- The nesting boxes should never be directly under a roost, or should have a roof/cover of some sort. This is to keep them clean. Remember, a roosting, sleeping chicken is going to poop. You don’t want them dropping that right down into the nests.
How Do I Get Them To Lay in It?
Here’s the thing. A hen is going to lay any place she thinks is a good spot. To encourage them to lay in the nesting boxes, I simply place a fake egg inside the box when they are about the age to begin laying. It shows them that “eggs go here.”
You can get ceramic or wood eggs…but here’s a tip. If you have a golfer in the family, just use a couple golf balls. To a chicken, it looks enough like an egg to do the trick.
Once one chicken lays in there…they all seem to figure it out right away.
In the photo below, you can see where a few hens discovered the goose nest. If one lays…others will follow.
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What Do I Put In the Nest?
Finally, let’s talk nesting material. Whatever you use for a nesting box liner, it should be soft. When a hen comes into a box to lay, she is going to step on other eggs that have already been laid.
You want a good layer of something that will cushion the eggs. You can use wood shavings or straw. In the milk crate nests, I use fake grass mats. They last for ages, and the chickens will not scratch out the bedding. In my larger coop with the metal nesting boxes, I use wood shavings.
Just like the container you choose, figure out what works for you!