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.
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 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.
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.