Think of chicken nesting boxes as furniture for your chickens. To keep your chickens healthy and to enjoy fresh eggs, you want to have an inviting space for them to nest.
Nesting boxes give your hens a comfortable, private place to lay eggs. They’ll learn to leave the nest and go outside to stretch, run, and forage. Providing chicken nesting boxes gives them privacy, so they’ll feel safe while laying eggs.
Before you buy or make chicken nesting boxes, learn all about their purpose, requirements, where to put them, and how to use them with your backyard chickens.
Note: Chickens shouldn’t sleep in their nesting boxes. If you find a hen is sleeping in one, remove her and put her in the roost. The roost should be higher than the nesting box.
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Why Do You Need Chicken Nesting Boxes?
Technically, chickens don’t need nesting boxes at all. They can lay eggs anywhere they feel comfortable. When chickens live in the wild, they will find any secluded space to make a nest and lay eggs, as birds do.
Having nesting boxes for chickens is beneficial for you because the hens will have a place to call home. This keeps you from having to search for your hens’ nests when you want to collect the eggs. After all, hens will make a nest in a location where predators won’t find it, so you might be hunting for a while.
Having nesting boxes available for your hens will also ensure that the eggs won’t become contaminated. If you keep the nesting boxes clean, there will be a smaller chance of the eggs encountering bacteria as the outer layer of the shell dries.
Keeping nesting boxes separate from chicken perches will minimize the traffic going in and out of the boxes. This also cuts down on bacteria. Once chickens learn that they need to roost on a perch instead of in the nesting box, you’ll have less fecal matter around the eggs.
How Many Nesting Boxes Per Chicken?
It’s important to have enough nesting boxes. You can determine this by how many hens you are raising.
In general, you want to have one nesting box for every three or four hens.
If you have more than one dozen chickens, you might want to have one nesting box for every two hens. It seems like a lot, but if you have space for it, it’s ideal for offering more quiet locations for them to lay eggs.
No matter how many nesting boxes you have, the hens will have a favorite.
It’s similar to how you might have a chair at the kitchen table where you always sit. Chickens do this as well, so there might be some squabbling over who gets to use a certain box at a certain time.
While it’s not necessary to have one nesting box per hen, you do want to make sure there are options available for each chicken.
Having a few nesting boxes in the coop is ideal, but you can also put additional boxes in other quiet places around the property as long as the area is protected with wire for chicken coops or other security.
This will give hens a choice of where to lay eggs.
Three or four hens can share a nesting box in rotation, but there should never be more than one hen in a nesting box at a time. It looks cute to see two chickens cozied up together, but the eggs can get broken since they’ll have less space to move.
Also consider if you are raising the best egg laying chickens which will lay more eggs than if you are raising meat birds.
What to Put in Chicken Nesting Boxes
You need to provide comfortable nesting materials for each chicken nesting box. The hens will be sitting here for long periods. Whatever material you choose should add to their comfort.
Plus, you want to ensure the eggs don’t crack or break before you collect them.
It should also draw moisture down and away from hens. This will keep everything more sanitary.
Good bedding materials to put in your nesting boxes include:
- Pine shavings
- Cedar shavings
- Construction sand
- Grass cuttings
- Shredded, recycled paper
- Nest box pads
You can buy most of these nesting materials in bulk, so you always have them on hand for cleaning. You need to fully remove all soiled matter and materials several times a week. After a few cleanings, you’ll learn how much new nesting you need each time so you can be sure to have enough available.
Hay and straw
Hay and straw have a firm yet springy texture and a nice earthy scent that’s pleasant for chickens and humans alike. They’ll also provide some warmth in colder weather.
Cedar shavings and pine shavings
Shavings made from cedar or pine are perhaps the best nesting material. Cedar has an inviting aroma that doubles as an insect repellent. It’s slightly more expensive than pine, but the bonus of keeping away bugs makes it worth it. Pine shavings are easy to find at pet supply stores.
Shavings will provide good padding for the eggs. They also dry quickly.
You can put sand in chicken nesting boxes, and it makes for good nesting material. However, be sure to choose construction sand which is denser than sandbox sand.
Play sand can cause respiratory issues for your hens.
You can clean sand in nesting boxes like a cat’s litter box. Use a scoop to remove any waste and turn it occasionally to keep it dry. Generally, they won’t poop where they lay.
Grass cuttings are nice to use as bedding because you’ll make more every time you cut your yard, and there’s no additional expense. However, only use cuttings as nesting materials if your lawn isn’t treated with pesticides. Chickens always peck at their bedding, and you don’t want them to ingest any chemicals.
Recycled paper is an environmentally friendly way of providing bedding for your chickens. Shred the paper into small strips, so the hens can easily bunch it around. Make sure to not use glossy paper because this is coated in ink and will be toxic to your chickens.
Nest box pads
Some companies, such as Cackle Hackery, Backyard Barnyard, and Petmate Precision Pets makes nest box pads. They are usually 13″ x 13″.
These are nesting squares you can insert right into the box. They are easy to remove and replace with a clean one. There’s no sweeping or scooping.
This can become expensive if you have a lot of boxes. However, the time you save may make it worth it. You may also need to change them out less frequently than cleaning the other materials because of the way they are designed.
Lining the Nesting Boxes
If you find that insects are burrowing in your bedding, consider adding herbs to the mix. Lavender helps relax the hens in addition to deterring bugs. Mint is an herb with a fresh smell, which can be a huge benefit around the chicken coop! The plant deters both insects and rodents.
You’ll need to provide extra material in winter to keep your chickens comfortable while laying eggs. You can save on bedding by winterizing the coop itself, especially caulking any openings that are allowing in drafts.
Nest Box Liners
Nest box liners are premade squares that you can put over the bottom of your nesting box. These are especially great to use if you have a wooden nesting box. Since wood can absorb moisture and bacteria, covering it will ensure your eggs don’t get contaminated.
Even if you have a nesting box made from plastic or metal, you might want to invest in liners for the ease of cleaning. These squares of plastic, aluminum, or turf are easy to remove from the base of the nesting box. You can hose them down for quick cleaning and put them back in the nest.
Nest box liners are not a substitute for padding.
Chickens still need nesting materials to comfortably lay their eggs. If you use a liner, make sure you’re putting the hay, straw, and other materials on top of it. Every time you clean the liner, put fresh bedding back on top.
You can even DIY nest box liners. Cut a piece of plywood to fit the bottom of your nesting box. Cover it with linoleum to protect the wood from water, bacteria, and dirt. You can also cover it with some astroturf if you prefer the look and feel of that material.
Both the linoleum and astroturf will be easy to hose off. Since they adhere to a piece of wood, you can remove the liner from the nesting box easily.
Training Hens to Lay In Nesting Box
Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. You can make them enticing but installing nesting boxes doesn’t mean your hens will instinctively know how to use them.
You will have to invest some time to train your hens. It’s best to start when they’re as young as 16 to 20 weeks old.
If you’re starting your backyard chicken journey from scratch, you can leave the nesting boxes out of the coop until your hens are of egg-laying age. If nesting boxes aren’t available for the young chickens to sleep in, they will naturally associate them with laying eggs.
Hens typically start laying eggs when they’re about 24 weeks old. You can tell when their combs and wattles turn red. You might also notice that they seem restless and frequently walk around as if looking for something.
If you have older hens who are used to laying in nesting boxes, the younger hens will naturally follow their lead. If the nesting boxes are new to all hens, or if you only have young hens, then you can train the young ones fairly easily.
You can put fake eggs, golf balls, or ping pong balls in the nesting boxes so the hens understand the purpose of the space. You can also sprinkle extra scratch in the box to encourage them to enter. Keep the boxes especially clean during this point. If they’re dirty, the hens won’t want to go into the box.
Hens Not Laying in Boxes
You might catch a hen laying an egg elsewhere. If you catch her in the act, pick her up and move her to the nesting box. It might take a few tries, but she’ll learn to make the association between laying an egg and the nesting box.
If your hens aren’t using the nesting boxes, try to figure out if something is wrong with them. Consider:
- Are they in a high-traffic area?
- Is the box not clean enough?
- Do you need to add more bedding?
Solve these problems and re-train your hens to see if they get the hang of things.
Sleeping in Chicken Nesting Box
Don’t let your hens sleep in the nesting boxes. If any eggs are in the nesting boxes, they will get crushed by sleeping chickens. Chickens might even get in the habit of eating their own eggs. They also pile on each other if sleeping in this small space and might overheat or smother.
Chickens have a nonstop digestive system and poop even when they’re sleeping. If they’re sleeping in a nest box, they will make a lot of waste in the same place where they lay eggs. This increases the bacteria that will contaminate the eggs.
If you let chickens sleep in the nesting boxes, you’ll be changing out the nesting material very frequently. This will financially cost you more in nesting materials and supplies while also costing more of your time.
It’s best to train your hens to only lay eggs in the nesting boxes.
Nesting Box Requirements
Nesting boxes will have different requirements you’ll need to take into consideration. The size of your nesting boxes will depend on the the size of your hens. Different chicken breeds are different sizes.
The height of the boxes can make things easier for you. You’ll need to place the boxes strategically around your property.
It’s important to consider how much space chickens need. This applies to their coop, free range area, and their nesting box space.
For standard chickens, the nesting box size can be 12” by 12” and 18” deep.
If you have Bantam chickens, you know these are smaller than average. You can size down the nesting box, so it feels cozier for them. Aim for a nesting box that is 12” by 10” and 10” deep.
For flocks of mixed breeds, you want to have a nesting box that fits the largest breed of chicken. This means that if you have smaller Bantam chickens in a flock with Jersey Giants or Brahmas, you’ll need a nesting box that is 14” by 14” and 20” deep to best suit the larger chickens.
Regardless of the nesting box size, make sure you have a four-inch lip on the box so the eggs won’t roll out and break.
You can put your nesting boxes on the ground, and your hens will happily climb in and lay eggs there. But you most likely want to position it a foot or two off of the ground.
This height will make it easier for you to reach in and collect the eggs. If the box was on the ground, you’d have to squat or bend down to get the eggs, which can lead to back pain.
The nesting box will also stay cleaner if it’s off the ground.
Chickens can fly, but not very high or for very long, so having to fly up a short distance to a nesting box will give them privacy from the others in their flock.
Regardless of how high you install your nesting boxes, make sure the roosting poles extend above the top of the box. This will prevent chickens from roosting on top of the box, which would lead to contaminated eggs. You can also prevent contamination by putting slanted roofs on the nesting boxes.
Chickens instinctively look for the highest place they can get to when they’re ready to sleep. This makes them feel like they’re out of the way of predators.
If the nesting boxes are the highest spot available, that’s where they’ll sleep. Having the roosting poles up high will keep the chickens from sleeping in the nesting boxes.
Therefore, it’s essential to have roosting areas higher than the nesting boxes for chickens. You absolutely don’t want the chickens sleeping in them. It will be more work to keep the nesting spaces clean.
Place your nesting boxes in various places around your yard. It’s best to have the majority of the boxes inside the coop. This is where the chickens rest, so they already know it’s a quiet place where they can safely lay eggs.
Having the nesting boxes in the coop also makes things easier for you. You’ll be able to go to one central location to collect most of the eggs and clean the boxes.
If you have over a dozen chickens, you’ll want to place nesting boxes in other locations around your yard or field. If you have a barn or open shed, you could also put some nesting boxes there for privacy.
Be aware of potential predators who will eat the eggs. Also, if you don’t collect eggs every day, you will want to have the chicken nesting boxes where animals won’t get them.
If you’re placing the boxes with the hens’ comfort in mind, consider what type of location they’d want. Hens prefer to lay their eggs in a place that is dark and quiet. They want to feel safe as they lay their eggs and also want to know that the egg is safe once they leave it.
Don’t place nesting boxes in high-traffic areas, like underneath perches or next to the feeding station.
Nesting boxes attach to the walls of your coop. Before installing the boxes, make sure your coop is sturdy enough to handle the number of boxes you’re going to hang.
Wooden boxes will be heavier than plastic, so you might have to add supports to install them without damaging the coop’s structure.
If you’ve bought nesting boxes, pre-drilled holes will make installation a breeze. You can line nesting boxes up in a single-file line or stagger them around at different heights and locations throughout the coop.
DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes
There are plenty of premade nesting boxes you can buy online, but it’s possible (and fun!) to make your own nesting boxes.
There are plenty of coop inspiration images online to get your creativity flowing for ideas. But remember, a chicken nesting box can be basic.
Consider what material you want to use for the boxes.
It can be easier to clean boxes made of plastic or metal, but wood is easier to use if you’re building from scratch. Wood can retain moisture, so you might have to repair or replace them over time.
You can repurpose items from around your house and use them for nesting boxes for chickens.
Chicken nesting box ideas
- It’s possible to cut part of a plastic bucket and make a round nesting box.
- Circular boxes are a great idea because there won’t be a sturdy place for the chickens to roost on top.
- If you have plastic milk crates, you can cut off one side and use them as a well-ventilated nesting box. Removing one side ensures that there is no flat space on top of the crate for the chickens to roost.
- For a more enclosed plastic nesting box, you can use a big storage tote. Discard the lid so the top is open and the chickens won’t have anywhere to roost. Then cut an entrance in the side so hens can get in and out.
Whether you choose to buy or make chicken nesting boxes, you have lots of options. Much will depend on how many hens you are raising, the amount of space in the coop, how soon you need them, and your budget.
Many people also have a certain design or look and want everything to look insta-worthy. You can find many nesting box designs online to find the best nest box.
After you buy or make nesting boxes, you can decorate them to customize them. You can choose a paint color to match or complement your coop.
If you are going for no-frills, it’s easy to make functional boxes your hens will love.
Painting Nesting Boxes
To protect your wooden nesting boxes, you can paint them on the outside to help seal them against moisture and bacteria. If you do paint, use one that has a low-VOC (volatile organic compound). However, it’s not necessary to paint them.
You can also hang curtains on your nesting box. This might sound like a frivolous decoration, but it gives hens the privacy and darkness they need. Use a lightweight material so they can easily push it aside to enter and leave the box.
You should clean the chicken droppings out of the chicken coop daily.
If there are high-traffic spots that get soiled often, be sure to clean them as needed and replace the hay, so the hens feel comfortable and won’t stray.
Cleaning excrement frequently will cut down on the potential bacteria that gets carried into the chicken nesting boxes and to the eggs.
Also be sure to clean if eggs break, if the hen lays a lash egg, or if the hen is laying eggs with no shell.
Should Chickens Sleep in their Nesting Boxes?
No, they need to roost at night. Resting high up at night provides them with a sense of security. Be sure the roosting areas are higher than the chicken nesting boxes. Also, chickens shouldn’t poop where they lay eggs. Chickens will poop at night.
Sleeping in nesting boxes together means some chickens can become smothered or overheated.
While nesting boxes aren’t necessary for the hens themselves, having several in your coop will make collecting eggs much easier on you!
When considering premade chicken coops, factor in how many nesting boxes it has and if the layout will work for how many chickens you plan to raise.
Make sure you create nesting boxes that are inviting but don’t allow chickens to roost on top. Remember, when planning the nesting box size, consider the size of the hens. You should construct or buy boxes that all can fit the largest hen.
Keep them clean and enjoy the benefits of your backyard chickens.