Nesting Boxes: Everything You Need to Know About These Coop Essentials

By Mountain Peeps · Dec 21, 2016 · Updated Jan 15, 2017 · ·
  1. Mountain Peeps
    Nesting Boxes:
    Everything You Need to Know About These Coop Essentials

    While most chicken keepers are familiar with nesting boxes, some may not know of their importance and significance in the chicken coop. Many people think of a nest box as just that: a simple box birds use for laying their eggs inside. While this statement is in fact sound and accurate, nesting boxes are a lot more crucial and imperative for hens than you might think. Also, there are countless materials you can construct your boxes out of and numerous ways you can spruce them up for the benefit of your hens as well as for yourself. In this article, you will discover all you need to know about these vital, little boxes.

    The Basics
    Now that we’ve tackled the definition of a nest box and understand it is an object in which hens lay their eggs, we are going to look at how many a coop should have, what they can be made of, where to put them in the henhouse and other basic facts.

    The general rule of thumb as to how many nest boxes you need is 1 box for every 4 hens you keep. Now, while this rule is perfectly fine to apply to your chicken keeping lifestyle, you need to also take into account your individual birds. Do they often pile on top of each other in the nests? Do they stand in line to use a certain box? Is one frequently broody and does she hog valuable nesting space? You will need to bend this rule according to your personal flock and their nesting patterns and habits.
    I have three nests for my five hens. However, my girls must have decided to never use one of the nests as it has only held two eggs in the past five years. Three of my hens prefer the large nest while the other two can’t get enough of the small one. Every hen will choose her favorite box and often times it will be the favorite of other hens too. While you can’t change this fact, you can provide numerous nest boxes that are all similar in size, structure and coziness. This should limit hen squabbles and make choosing a favorite much harder.

    This leads in to our next topic: what should nests be made out of? There is no “right” answer here, actually. Many people use metal or wood as their box material, while others make theirs out of unique materials such as buckets or plastic storage bins. Some people like to get REALLY creative and use baskets, animal crates, flowerpots, laundry baskets and, (yes you read this right), old toilets for their nests! There really are no boundaries as to what you can make your nest out of. But, there are three requirements that every nest must meet:
    1. 1. It must be large and sturdy enough for one hen to sit and lay its eggs comfortably
    2. 2. It must be cleanable
    3. 3. It must not harm (or provide a way to harm) the flock in anyway

    Nest boxes should, obviously, be able to fit a hen. The size depends on the size of birds that you keep but, in general, every nest box needs to be at least 12 inches square and about 16 inches deep. If you own large, standard breeds such as Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, etc. you should plan on making your boxes 14 inches square or larger. You want the nests to be snug but not tight. The chicken should be able to stand and turn around in the nest but the box shouldn’t be big enough for two hens to fit comfortably.

    Nesting Material Options
    Just like how you can use many items or materials to make your boxes, you can also choose one of many different bedding materials to line the boxes with. Even if you’re not interested in having to change out bedding regularly or are worried that the hens will kick out the bedding, you MUST have some kind of soft material to put in the bottom of the nest. If you leave it bare, the eggs will break and the chicken will be uncomfortable and cold in the winter.

    The best types of bedding to use include: wood shavings, straw, dried grass and hay. Some people say shredded paper works too but in my experience it sticks to newly laid eggs and makes a big mess, more so than other bedding kinds. If you don’t want to use any loose bedding, you can line your nests with pads made specifically for nest boxes.


    It’s important that you keep the nest boxes clean. Hens hate laying eggs in a dirty area. Spot clean the nests as often as possible. Remove any droppings or wet bedding you see. AND always check for eggs whenever you make a trip to your coop. You never want eggs to sit without being collected for over 24 hours. If you do, it provides the opportunity for them to break, spoil or be eaten by the chickens. Also, if you don’t clean/check the nests frequently, you won’t be able to observe potential problems. Parasites often enjoy lurking in the nests and latching onto hens that enter. If the bedding somehow gets wet it can become moldy and cause illness in the chickens. And obviously, if you don’t clean the nests regularly, you are bound to end up with filthy, un-appetizing eggs.

    The nest boxes should not be outside. If they are, it will allow predators easy access to them and provide better opportunity for them to freeze or spoil depending on the time of year. You can hang/mount your nests on the henhouse walls. Make sure they aren’t placed directly over the food and water since bedding and droppings will more than likely be kicked out. Also, if possible, try and not put the nests on the same wall near the roosts where the birds sleep. The chickens might get the wrong idea and start sleeping in the nests, which is not good. Additionally, be sure to not elevate the nests higher than the roosts. Chickens have the natural instinct to seek out the highest place possible to sleep at night and if the nests are higher than the roosts, they will choose to sleep there.

    Don’t worry if your nests are built out of a material that can’t be hung on the wall. Nests can be easily positioned on the ground. I would recommend putting them in a corner or someplace where they won’t be in direct line of chickens coming and going.

    Fun and Healthy Additions
    You might be thinking that the nest boxes in and of themselves are boring. Do not worry! There are tons of ways that you can decorate the nests, many of which can even benefit the hens’ health as well. Plus, one of the best ways to train hens and pullets to use nest boxes is to make them enjoyable and comfy. Below is a list of several different nest box decoration ideas that are sure to brighten up the entire coop.

    My number one go-to to spruce up my nesting boxes is a handful of herbs. Not only do they smell and look nice, but they also boost the flock’s immunity. For example, lavender is highly aromatic and makes for a wonderful way to aid a hen’s respiratory system while she is sitting in her nest. Additionally, lavender acts as an insect repellant and stress-reliever. Thyme, mint, marigolds, rosemary and dill are some of my favorite herbs that I frequently add to my girls’ nest boxes.

    If you’re worried that your herbs won’t last all year due to the changing of seasons, do not fret. Many ranch supply stores and online chicken stores sell dried herbs that come packaged and ready to be added to the nests or other parts of the coop.

    This may seem like overkill to you but nest box curtains have actually been proven to be very useful and healthy for laying hens. Hens enjoy a dark, secret place in which to lay their eggs and by installing curtains you can make the nests instantly seem more attractive. Darkness also promotes the urge in a hen to go broody, which can be both a good and bad thing. Another benefit of the darkness provided by nest box curtains is the fact that they will better hide the eggs from a hen’s sight. Many chicken keepers struggle with egg eating in their flock. Once a hen gets a taste of a raw egg, it’s hard to stop her from eating the eggs she lays. What’s worse is that other chickens will catch on and start eating any egg they can get their beak on. With the curtains aiding in darkness, the hens will have a harder time seeing their eggs and thus won’t be able to find and consume them as well.

    Fake Eggs
    Fake eggs are a must-have for nest boxes, in my opinion. Hens like to lay eggs in a place where they see other hens have laid. By placing fake eggs in the nests, it tricks the hens into thinking another hen has laid there and will make her want to lay her eggs there as well. Plus, if your hens are eating their eggs and you fill the nest with a bunch of eggs that won’t break when pecked, it will confuse and discourage them from eating their own when every other egg they peck doesn’t break.

    You can buy fake eggs at most ranch and poultry stores. If you don’t want to buy fake eggs, you can use golf balls or white whiffle balls instead. They’ll work just as well. Don’t feel you need to put many fake eggs in the nests either. You can put just one or two inside. However, if your hens have a high tendency to go broody, I would not recommend using fake eggs. Hens love having eggs underneath them and the more they feel the eggs, real or fake, need to be kept warm, the more they will want to go broody and quit producing.

    Other Decorations
    There are many other miscellaneous things you can put on or around your nesting boxes to brighten them up. Colorful duct tape, flowers and even posters or signs can be added to the nests if you like to spoil your chickens like I do. Just be sure that none of the items you choose to decorate with can harm your birds or frighten them.

    Why Nest Boxes are so Important
    Okay so we’ve learned all about what makes up a nest box and all the many things you can add to them to make them unique and enjoyable for your birds. However, we still haven’t learned exactly WHY they are so crucial.

    Again, hens have the instinct to lay eggs in a secret, comfy place. If you do not provide nests for your hens, they will venture out to find their own. This is bad. Period. It makes gathering eggs nearly impossible, it makes hens easy targets for predators, it might cause the hens to go broody more easily and frequently, their nesting locations will change and there’s a big possibility that you will never be able to find it. By providing nests for your hens, it ensures that they themselves are safe and that you know where the eggs are being laid.

    Also, believe it or not, nest boxes also keep the stress level in the coop down. When hens don’t have enough or any places to lay, they become frantic and frustrated which stresses out the rest of the flock. No one likes grumpy hens. If the hens grow to be too upset, they may stop laying altogether. Nest boxes provide a peaceful way for you to receive top-notch, healthy eggs every day.

    Nest boxes are an imperative feature that every chicken coop should have. Not only can they add personality to the henhouse, but they are also vital for your hens and their egg laying. Happy hens lay healthy eggs and hens cannot be happy without a proper nest box in which to do their duty.

    Nesting boxes don’t have to be boring and, as we have previously read, can actually be quite unique and elaborate. Herbs, curtains and fake eggs are all wonderful add-ins that can instantly perk up any nest. No coop is complete without nests for its hens. I hope this article has provided you with further insight into nesting boxes and why they are so important.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. Macchickenman
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 25, 2018
    Thanks for this excellent article....
  2. N F C
    "Importance of Nesting Boxes"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 3, 2018
    This article covers nesting boxes, a subject not written about often. Good tips on making them chicken friendly.
  3. Anonymous
    "Great Article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 24, 2018
    I love the idea about adding herbs to the nesting boxes!
    Mountain Peeps likes this.


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  1. BigATC
    Thanks for all this info. My hens have another month plus before laying so I'm starting with plastic baskets in the boxes lined with coarse pine shaving. I have some bigger birds, Orpis/Brahmas, that may feel confined so I'll start with a couple of boxes sans plastic bins and see what happens. I am definitely working on curtains now! :thumbsup
  2. Serenityintheverse
    Great article! I just finished building the nest boxes for my coop. Chickens coming in May!! My question is this...should the boxes be treated with anything? For example...Butcher block oil? I don't want to paint or treat the inside as I am not sure of the safety of that. Or do I leave the wood bare? I am looking for a wait to make cleaning a bit easier, to be able to scrub the wood etc. Thanking you in advance for your assistance..
  3. rir264
    My girls have recently decided to lay in a corner where my hay is and I couldn't figure out why and your article just told me what I am doing wrong. I am going to do some upgrades to the boxes so I can get the girls to move back. Thanks for the great article. Your article has a lot of good information and ideas of how to create a great laying space for our layers.
  4. lilapot
    Great article! I will try adding herbs and curtains to make other nest boxes look attractable, as right now they will only lay in one which is a problem.
  5. lilapot
    Mine refuse to go in any other nesting box than a particular farmer's market crate that they chose instead of our provided nesting boxes. This hasn't been a problem when we only have two, but I'm worried about when our new ones start laying.
  6. Chericolette
    @Mountain Peeps Yes, today I let them out a while then when I saw them in the nest, I shut the door till they finished. But I know I wont see them everytime so Im thinking of building them a nest, on a shelf higher up (with out a ladder-they are very good at jumping up).
  7. tohbi
    i use spruce shavings for the nest boxes augmented with a handful of cedar shavings on the bottom. the cedar shavings keep the tiny critters away. at least, in ten years of raising chickens i've yet to have ticks, mites or lice on the chickens [or myself either].

    i know it's said that cedar can harm a chicken's respiratory system but, here in arizona, i have a wire coop that is open, no henhouse, so maybe the fresh air helps. it is nice not to worry about parasites.
  8. Liberty For All
    Another great article.
  9. Liberty For All
    Another great article.
  10. menice56789
    Thanks! I will try these things.
  11. DonHess
    I believe I went overboard with my first hen house nesting boxes. I attached a row of 5 boxes to the wall of the hen house, about a foot above the floor. I made a big deal over making a slanting roof so that it was un-perch-able, and so on. They worked well, but...

    My current hen house, a prefab, is more spartan. It comfortably holds 15 hens who share 5 nesting boxes. But, the boxes are not raised at all, they are right at floor level. Only a 1" x 1" curb separates the box from the main floor. They have walls, of course, and the roof of the boxes lifts up from the outside so I can steal their precious eggs.

    In the almost one-year history of the fab 15 and their house, only once or twice has a hen laid an egg outside of the boxes. It is funny how they use them: box #1 is the big favorite, followed by box #5 and then box #2. I do not believe that a single egg has ever been laid in boxes 3 or 4. It is common to go out there in the late morning and urge a girl to let me feel around underneath her in box #1. I have found as many as 5 eggs, less so in the others. They seem to take turns with the popular boxes and then let a broody take over until Big Bad Don comes and collects the harvest.
  12. brandichick
  13. Isay Willow
    Great article enjoyed reading
  14. ampho
  15. Mountain Peeps
    @Chericolette you could try using a pest repellant around the nests. But you must be sure the repellent won't harm your birds. Otherwise, you might just need to close them in or move the nests elsewhere.
    @Willoughby you have a few options here: 1.) Remove the nests for a while so that the birds are forced to sleep on the roosts, 2.) put the birds on the roosts yourself each night until they get in the routine of doing it themselves, 3.) make sure the roosts having nothing wrong with them.
    @jeansweezey when they sleep in the nests, they usually poop in them and make a big mess. Messy nests discourage hens from laying there which usually just causes more issues.
  16. captbridgers
    Wow! Thanks so much for a terrific article. I need to do a little more work! Keep up providing us with needful info like this!!
  17. Willoughby
    Thank you for your input. And jeansweezey, I wouldn't mind if they slept in the nesting boxes, the problem is that they are messing in them and it isn't clean for the eggs. The nesting boxes are a mess!
  18. JDelage
    @Willoughby - we had the same problem with a hen that was kicked out of the roosting bar by the rest of the flock. She was a sickly runt and wasn't much liked by the others... If I were you I would remove the nesting boxes and/or add a temporary roosting bar (something built like a single parallet bar - plenty of DIY instruction for those on the net).
  19. jeansweezey
    Why is it bad for hens to sleep in the nests? I have 6 nesting boxes for 30 hens and don't have any problems. Usually 2 or 3 hens will sleep in the lower boxes at night.
  20. Willoughby
    Wonderful article! I hope you can help me solve my problem with the chickens sleeping in the nesting boxes. I have 11 chickens, 8 of which are hens. 6 nesting boxes. When I just had the 3 hens there was never a problem; now with newer hens they all want to sleep in the nesting boxes, which create a huge mess EVERYWHERE. Since they aren't laying right now I've blocked off the boxes but don't want to do that indefinitely. Now they're sleeping on top of the boxes and making a mess. I have plenty of roosting bars for them. How can I resolve this???
  21. Chericolette
    Lovely article...Im sure going to add some aromatherapy to my girls nest.
    Ive had a problem last few weeks, the hens free range and get let out every morning and return to the house to lay. A few times now they have been interrupted by a goanna and its coming more often to steal the eggs. Any suggestions how I can make the nests safer (other than locking them in)?
    1. trigger212
      My question is when should one have the nesting boxes all prepared? As soon as your gals are transitioned into the coop at 6-8 weeks or wait until closer to egg laying age at around 18 weeks of age. My coop has the bare spots where nesting boxes will be. I just need to place the nesting materials in there
      Invergrove likes this.
  22. robomb
    chickadee55 my nesting box is a black plastic milk crate with hay bedding. has worked great! but after reading this article, i'm going to add curtains and fresh herbs :)
  23. robomb
    Love this article! Never thought of adding curtains - or placing fresh herbs in the box. I often have 2 hens trying to fit in the box, maybe the curtains will help.
  24. JDelage
    Anyone has an idea for a sturdy *plastic* nesting box?
    1. Chickenchip
      Plastic milk crate was mentioned above. Great idea especially if one is not handy.
  25. mymilliefleur
    Great article Sarah. Well written as usual.
  26. henny1129
    Great article and loved the pictures!
  27. cluckcluckgirl
    Another awesome article!!!
  28. Chicken Girl1
    Great article Sarah!!
  29. N F C
    Well written article Sarah!
  30. chicken4prez
    Very helpful!

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