The chicken, of all the farm animals, has made our lives pretty easy as far as egg collection is concerned. Simply provide them a box, and they will deposit a neatly packaged protein source available for easy retrieval. It’s like a mailbox for breakfast.
But being that the nesting box is what holds our “food item” until we come in with our egg basket to collect, I feel like the boxes should be the cleanest part of our coop. Because of this, I have very strict criteria for what makes a good nesting box. The box design plays a large role in keeping eggs clean and healthy.
If you’re in the market for a nesting box, whether you’re looking to purchase one already made, or plan on designing one yourself, be sure that the box fits these 5 criteria.
Easy to Clean
Nesting boxes need to be super easy to clean. If they’re not easy, because of human nature, it tends to become a dreaded chore and not done as often as it needs to be, then eggs get dirty, the boxes get gross and chicken keeping isn’t as fun as it could be.
The boxes shouldn’t be kept clean only to keep our breakfast clean, but to encourage our chickens to use the nesting boxes. They will turn their nose up at a filthy box and start laying eggs elsewhere. Like on the floor or in a corner where the eggs can be easily broken.
Clean boxes are also healthier for your chickens. They harbor less pest like bacteria and parasites that can make your chickens sick.
Non-Porous Building Material Like Plastic or Metal
We’ve had our fair share of homemade wooden nest boxes. And the nice thing is that they can usually be made with scrap material, costing little to no money. It’s also simple enough to make a nest box if you can use a saw and a drill, you can make a nesting box.
The problem I’ve found with wooden nesting boxes is that they’re difficult to keep clean, and to clean thoroughly. The porous wood gives little pests like bacteria, and parasites lots of nooks and crannies to borough. They also hold moisture in the form of wet dropping residue, old broken eggs and lots of other pleasantries. I recommend if you do choose to use wooden nesting boxes, to paint them to seal them and make them easier to clean.
I prefer metal or plastic boxes because you can scrub them to their original state of cleanliness.
A good size for a nesting box is around 14” x 14” x 14”. If you keep larger chickens like Jersey Giants you could go up with this number, likewise, bantam boxes can be smaller. You want them to feel as though they are enveloped in the space without having to squeeze in.
How high up off the floor?
Boxes mounted off the ground tend to keep cleaner. We mount ours anywhere from 2 -4 feet off the ground. This makes for easy egg collection. If you keep breeds that don’t fly well, like Silkies, make sure that you mount them low enough so that the poor flyers can reach the boxes, or build a ramp up to the box height.
Clean bedding is the key to clean boxes. The box must allow a deep enough bedding layer (usually controlled by some sort of rim on the front of the box) so that the eggs don’t break when laid, or if they’re jostled around by other chickens using the same box.
Bedding also helps prevent egg eating. If the chickens accidentally break an egg, the instinct is to eat the egg to “hide the evidence” from potential predators. The problem is that once chickens learn how delicious their own eggs are, they will then break the eggs on purpose. This behavior is hard to stop once it starts. And you will find yourself with an empty egg basket.
I prefer pine chips because of the pleasant pine aroma, but straw will also work.
How many nesting boxes per chicken?
You need about 1 nesting box per 5 hens. Less than this and you might get some territorial issues.
If you have more than this, the chickens will more than likely start using the boxes to roost and sleep in. If this happens, the boxes get dirty very quickly because chickens poop where they sleep.
A good nesting box discourages roosting both inside and out. The problem with many homemade nest boxes is that they have a flat top/roof. To a chicken, this presents a nice area to sleep on. After a few nights, the top of your nesting boxes will be disgusting.
To discourage top roosting, the roof of your box should be slanted at a steep incline, or made from a slippery material like plastic.
Inside roosting is another problem where the chickens decide to sleep inside the nesting boxes. To prevent this, don’t offer too many boxes, (as mentioned above) but I’ve also found that any sort of partial, frontal closure helps discourage this behavior, whether it’s curtains or some sort of structural design to make the box more “cave-like”.
They are easy to install, really easy to clean and can be cleaned thoroughly because they are made of rounded plastic. The plastic also prevents parasites from borrowing in the material. It has a sloped roof to prevent roosting on the top and the front of the box turns toward the entrance to discourage inside roosting. I LOVE these boxes!
To learn more about the Free Range Nesting Boxes click the video.