Learning Centre

Expert tips and tricks for backyard chicken keeping

Nesting Box Tips

General, Getting started

I get a lot of questions about chicken nesting box tips, whether it be the best nesting materials, nest boxes, and the most common “How do I get my chicken to lay in the nesting box?”

How do I get my chickens to lay in the nesting box?

New layers are the most likely to lay somewhere other than the nesting box provided. This is because they don’t actually know WHERE we want them to lay!

If they lay outside of the box, we end up with dirty, broken eggs. And sometimes we don’t even find their secret stash! Chickens love eggs. If you end up with broken eggs, the hens will eat them. Once they get a taste for them, it is much harder to discourage this behaviour, so starting them from the outset in the nesting boxes is ideal.

➡️ A good rule to start with is one nesting box for up to three hens. For a really small flock, it doesn’t hurt to have extra nest boxes. For example, if you have four hens, consider providing two nests. A hen that doesn’t have to wait her turn is less likely to lose patience and lay her egg on the floor.

➡️ Secondly, make the nesting boxes appealing! Choose the best nesting material you can afford. Keep your nesting boxes clean, soft, and comfortable.

➡️ You can train your chickens by putting a ‘fake‘ egg in the box. You can purchase plastic or ceramic eggs for this purpose. I try and make sure I put a similar coloured egg in the box to the colour the chicken will lay – but this is not absolutely crucial.

➡️ Keep your hens confined until mid-morning. Most hens will lay before around 11 am. If they are in the coop with the nest box, they are more likely to lay there. If they are free-ranging, they will make a nice nest in the garden somewhere!

➡️ Make sure the location of the nesting boxes is ideal. Hens have a strong instinct to lay in a dark safe place, located out of direct sunlight.

➡️ Install nests early enough for your pullets to get used to them before they start laying.

Nesting Materials

Hens will lay eggs in just about anything, but if you don’t have any soft material inside you will end up with a lot of broken eggs. You should change your bedding fairly regularly, particularly if you notice any poop in the boxes. Leaving hens nesting in their own filth can breed harmful bacteria.

➡️ Wood Shavings:

Ideally, the wood shavings will have been dust extracted, otherwise, your flock may experience respiratory issues, due to the excess of sawdust. Wood shavings are very absorbent, hygienic and fairly cost-effective, and easy to source. Look for premium quality, untreated, non-toxic kiln-dried pine.

➡️ Lemon-Grass:

This is derived from the lemongrass essential oil, the fragrance is long-lasting and will provide your chickens with a superior bedding experience. Finely chopped and dust extracted it can be blended with other fodder, for instance, blending with wood shavings will enhance hygiene, fragrance, and animal comfort. Lemongrass is very soft and pillow-like!

➡️ Hemp:

Hemp bedding is made from the stalk of the cannabis plant known as the hurd. Hemp Bedding will keep your chicken coop smelling fresh thanks to its neutral and natural odour and high absorbency, especially if you add a few drops of eucalyptus oil.  Hemp Bedding is naturally pest repellent and will help prevent poultry pests like mites, flies, and other creepy crawlies from bothering your hens.

Hemp Animal Bedding makes ultra-comfortable bedding for your chickens along with insulating in cooler temperatures.

➡️ Straw:

I wouldn’t recommend straw for your nest box, but it can be ok as a base material on the floor of your coop. Some straws, like wheat and oat, are particularly absorbent, which can make cleaning your coop easier. However, straw doesn’t hold up too well in the rain and can become mouldy, unhygienic, and smelly. If you do use this, make sure to change regularly.

➡️ Sawdust:

Sawdust is definitely discouraged. Sawdust is dangerous for your flock because it is very powdery and dusty, which can cause your girl’s respiratory problems, especially inside a sealed coop. Sawdust isn’t particularly absorbent and is also prone to developing maggots.

➡️ Diatomaceous Earth:

I mix DE in with my nesting material. The DE I use is food-grade, so can also be mixed in with their feed. Diatomaceous earth is proven to be effective in controlling external parasites on your chickens, such as mites, fleas, lice, and other external parasites that might infest near feather follicles or your hen’s vent.

The Importance of Nesting Boxes

➡️ Less Breakage

It’s frustrating enough to bring home a dozen eggs from the supermarket and see that some are broken, but dealing with broken eggs is even more frustrating when you’re doing all the work of raising the chickens yourself. While they are fairly common, you can decrease the number of broken eggs by investing in a roll away nest box. These allow the eggs to be removed easier and reduce the possibility of breakage. Any type of easy-to-clean nest box will assist in reducing broken eggs.

➡️ Durability
Chicken nesting boxes are known for their strength and ease of assembly. Boxes are designed to withstand all of the various daily activities of the chickens. Heavier boxes are made of thicker materials and will last for many years and egg-laying cycles.

➡️ Easier to clean:
Keeping your chicken nesting boxes clean is an essential part of being a successful chicken owner. Dirty nesting boxes can negatively impact the health and egg-laying capability of the chickens. Many nesting boxes offer features designed to make the cleaning process as quickly and efficiently as possible. Keeping your chicken coops clean will result in happier chickens and better eggs.

Types of Nesting Boxes

There are many different nesting boxes on the market. You can also use things you find around the home such as an old lawn mower catcher!

I personally prefer a plastic nesting box. Mites are unable to live in plastic. But LOVE wood. Once you have mites, it is extremely hard to eradicate them. Plastic is also super easy to keep clean and hygienic.

➡️ Plastic Wall- Mounted:

Ready-made plastic laying boxes are generally the cheapest on the market. Great to keep pesky mites away, and being plastic makes them very easy to clean. The wall-mounted boxes need to be fixed low to start with. As the pullets learn to lay, you can move them up the wall. Ours have a sloped roof to also prevent roosting and therefore being pooped on!

➡️ Rollaway Nest Boxes:

Rollaway boxes generally come in plastic or metal. Or a combination of both. A rollaway box has a slightly slanted floor which encourages the egg to ‘rollaway’ from under the hen. This prevents pecking or accidental breakage from trampling and keeps the egg much cleaner.

The eggs roll away to either the front or back of the box for easy collection by you. These can be wall-mounted, mounted on legs, or on the ground of the coop.

➡️ Standard Ply Boxes:

Traditionally chicken keepers have used bought, or DIY plywood nesting boxes. These are definitely the sturdiest option. As long as you keep up with your pest treatment these are also ideal. They can be mounted upon legs, or on the floor of your coop.

The reality is your chickens will not mind what the nesting boxes are made from provided it meets their basic needs.

You can find a lot of these products in our nesting section on our website

Let us know your experiences with nesting and leave a comment below!

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