If you’ve decided to raise chickens for eggs, nesting boxes will be an important part of your coop and run planning. Here’s a quick fact list to help you set your chickens up to be successful layers!
Security. Oddly, security means something slightly different to your hens than it means to you. Think back to when you were a kid, laying in your bed, secretly afraid of whatever was living under it so you… security meant you wrapped yourself in blankets to hide. You couldn’t even let a toe stick out – the monster might see it! Some chickens want this kind of security when they lay eggs. They prefer secluded nest boxes – and even darkness and quiet – although you wouldn’t know this by the noises they, themselves, make while they’re in the nesting box. These chickens will want to lay in nesting boxes that are stuck off in dark corners, and may prefer covered openings (think, chickie curtains). You can be rustic and hang up empty feedbags or flour sacks, or you can be stylish and put kitchen curtains over the nest box openings to offer more security for your layers who like to be fully enclosed while they take care of business.
Location. You’ve already said it in your head three times, right? Location for nesting boxes can be confusing to figure out – some of it depends on the birds. Flighty birds might prefer nest boxes that are 4 or 5 feet off the ground so that they literally have to fly up to the entry. Heavier birds might be content with nesting boxes that are relatively low, stacked on rocks or old tires. Some hens prefer nest boxes inside the coop – others prefer nest boxes that are outside in the run. It’s ok to offer both. Some hens would rather look for inconspicuous hidey-holes on their own and refuse to use nest boxes their human caretakers so lovingly provide. If you have a hen or two that should be laying but you don’t see their eggs in the nesting boxes with the other hens, you might have some of these little adventure-seekers who have staked out their own digs somewhere.
Comfort. They don’t need a Sleep Number bed or anything crazy, but most laying hens would rather lay their eggs in a nest box that includes amenities like fresh, clean bedding. There are a lot of suitable materials, including (but not limited to) Astro-Turf, hay, pine shavings, grass clippings, wood mulch, straw, pine needles, leaves, and more. If it’s a suitable material for an animal to sleep on, it’s probably suitable for a hen to lay on. Sometimes this bedding will get too dirty for your hens’ liking and they’ll ask you to change it by “not laying any eggs.” Hint: they are probably laying their eggs in a hidey-hole you haven’t found yet. Once you clean up their private rooms,. They’ll usually be back in there laying within a day or two.
“Open” Signs. Some new layers or even newly acquired mature hens will need a little help finding the “good spots” to lay their eggs. You can place wooden or ceramic eggs in a nest box to let the hens know that’s a safe place to lay. You can even use a store-bought egg, and egg-shaped rock, or a golf ball. New layers will usually take the hint and begin laying in these designated areas, although you can’t always keep that one “special hen” from doing her own thing where ever she feels like.
Do you have any go-to amenities that make your nest boxes irresistible? Drop us a line in the comments. We talk more about the “physicalities” of nesting boxes in What’s A Nest Box?