Nest boxes: open or close? Feedback/ pros & cons appreciated!

bgmathteach

Free Ranging
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Aug 22, 2021
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Massachusetts, USA
Hi,

I made a movable tracker/coop, and still need to build the nest boxes. The coop is 4 feet wide, and I was thinking of 1 of the following 3 options for nest boxes:

1) A double set of 4 set of boxes ( 2 high, 4 wide) for 8 individual nest boxes

2) Bottom row 3 nest boxes with middle a 'double wide' in case I get a broody, top = 4 individual nest boxes.

3) both levels open, so 1 4' wide 'box' on each level.

Does anyone have experience with both 'open' nest box design and individual nest boxes? What are the pros and cons to each? I'm kind of leaning toward #2, and creating a removable door so if I get a broody, can keep her separated [i.e. not kicked out of nest box] with enough space for a small food/water dish and the chicks for a couple of days after hatch to 'get their legs' under them. Other than planning (hoping!) for a future broody, I have no idea which would be better. I've only used individual nest boxes before, and there always seems to be a squabble for the '1 special' box. Would an open plan alleviate this?

Please give me feed back on your experiences with open versus individual nest boxes...and let me know which option you think is best (or, suggest another version given my space - 4 ft. wide, enough height for 2 rows.)

Thank you in advance for your input & suggestions!!!

(P.S. at present, it will serve 26 hens that are about to come into lay.)
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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9 Years
Nov 27, 2012
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My Coop
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I've only used individual nest boxes before, and there always seems to be a squabble for the '1 special' box. Would an open plan alleviate this?
It might. I have individual nests with a fake egg in each to 'spread the love'.

P.S. at present, it will serve 26 hens that are about to come into lay.
How big is the tractor?
Pics?
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
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I'm trying to envision how you'd manage a 4' wide coop for 26 hens, sounds cramped for you to work in there. But it also sounds like it is already built so you need to make it work. A photo showing the framing where you plan to put the nests might help. I'll include a photo of my nests, that might make it easier to talk about.

Nests.JPG


I made my nests 16" cubes instead of staying with the 12" size. Three of those side by side would be 4' so they would fit. I regularly see three hens in one nest laying at the same time. These larger nests can handle more chickens. I've had a nest hog where one would not let another hen lay with her, plus she took about 3 hours to lay her egg, a real pain in the butt chicken. I was evaluating which hens to keep as part of my laying/breeding flock and which to eat. She made one of those decisions easy. I try to not keep a chicken that disrupts the peace and tranquility of the flock. A good friend called me ruthless when we were discussing that. I thanked her for the compliment.

A 2' x 4' "community" nest box can supposedly handle 24 hens by itself, but they are not good for broody hens. I could see you making one level a community nest but that presents some issues with access, especially if you make it 2' deep. My broodies regularly hatch in the higher nests. I don't have chicks falling out or chicks getting hurt when the broody brings them to the coop floor. I think one reason is that the nests are a little bigger than the usually recommended 12" x 12". Personally I would not do the open shelf nest if you expect a broody hen.

On the lower level I built it so I had that open space in the center I could open to either nest or keep it isolated. If you look closely you can see the pieces of plywood that can slide in those slots to isolate that middle. My thoughts were like yours, use it for a broody with chicks. I never used it for that, I let the broody hen raise them with the flock from Day 1. The bottom was 1/2" hardware cloth so it could be used as a broody buster, but I only used it for that a couple of times. And I isolated an injured chicken in there a couple of times. Having a place you can isolate a chicken can come in very handy but I typically use me brooder built into the coop for that if it is empty.

With my set-up and management techniques I would not include that middle section if I were doing it again. If the brooder is full with chicks I could use a dog crate to isolate a chicken or break a broody. I never really had to use it, other options were available. I think you have room to incorporate something like that which could be a really good idea. With a coop only 4' wide you don't have the room and flexibility to do much else.

This is a tractor, not a coop, so coop rules don't necessarily apply. But I think with a 4' x 10' tractor you are going to have a challenge getting enough roost space for all of your chickens. You may be told that you need anywhere from 7" to 15" per chicken in the roosts. There is nothing magical about precise roost lengths, each set-up is different and each flock has it's own dynamics. The roosts need to be higher than the nests as they tend to sleep as high as they can. They do need enough roosts that they can all fit. You may find that some want to sleep in the nests when they are really crowded.

You are in Massachusetts. What do you plan to do when winter hits and they can't be outside? A 4' x 10' space is not nearly enough room for all your chickens then.

I think Plan 1 or Plan 2 will work as far as the nests go, either with 12" of 16" nests. My real concern is the size of that coop section. It might work in ideal conditions, maybe. It will be very tight. But you have no flexibility to handle anything except ideal conditions. That concerns me.
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
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Southeast Louisiana
Anyways, back to my quandary about the nest boxes.
You never know how chickens will behave or where they will lay. I sure cannot give you any guarantees about any of this. I think you are looking for some place you can lock a broody hen and isolate her during incubation and for a few days after hatch and enough room for them to all lay (if they will use it). Don't add any more weight than necessary. Have I missed any of your criteria?

My suggestion is to put the nests on the bottom row with one of them being a double so you can lock the broody in there. On the second row go with the open nest, 4' wide. See if they use it. If you get a broody up there move her to the lower double nest.

Basically I think you are overthinking it. You cannot make them do what you want them to do, as much experience as you have you should know that by now. Make something convenient to you and see what happens. If they don't like it try something different, maybe like adding partitions to make individual nests. Or maybe hang a curtain on part of the front to make it darker. If all the eggs wind up in a nest instead of scattered around does it matter how many nests are used?
 
Jul 17, 2021
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Northwest Iowa
I don't have enough experience to offer advice. I just wanted to say I really like this design - especially serving so many for the amount of space. And being able to lift up the roosts is awesome. We were thinking about a tractor design at some point so saving this post for future. 🥰
 

bgmathteach

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Aug 22, 2021
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Massachusetts, USA
I don't have enough experience to offer advice. I just wanted to say I really like this design - especially serving so many for the amount of space. And being able to lift up the roosts is awesome. We were thinking about a tractor design at some point so saving this post for future. 🥰
Hi @OurSufficientLife, I'm glad you like it!

I will say that I would strongly suggest one 'tweak' - that I will be making on the next one. I assume you saw that there was a door on the front. I would keep that (I have 2ndary waterer and 2ndary feeder on either side of the door.). However, I would add a 2nd people door at the back between last roost & nest boxes. If you have to go in to get a bird at night when they are all roosting, THEY ARE HEAVY., so it is daunting to lift roost. This way, you can reach everyone - from one end or the other. Other than making the next one a bit lighter (not an issue if you have a real tractor), I think that is the only change I would make after having used it for a close to a month.

[Note, I have a movable electric fence that gives them about 200+/- sq. ft. of 'pasture space' each day, and I have hooks running along side of tractor @ 2' intervals, as I 'cover' the electric fence pasture with a mesh tarp, as I have too many girls that fly over the 4' electric fence otherwise (even with 1 wing's flight feathers clipped!]
 

bgmathteach

Free Ranging
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Aug 22, 2021
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How big is the tractor?
Pics?
I've attached pics. The ones showing a big hunk of plywood...that is where the external nest boxes will go. As for dimensions, I was thinking 14" deep, bottom nest box 14" high, top one (with slope of roof) 15" at max, 12" at low, and 12" wide (all) if I went with all single boxes. Again, any configuration of single, open, etc. is on the table. (Will access nest boxes from outside/back of tractor.)

IMG_1418.jpg

We had rain a day ago. Tarp hanging on side keeps rain from blowing into PVC feeder.
IMG_1419.jpg
IMG_1420.jpg
IMG_1421.jpg

FYI: the pic of the hitch pin - that attaches the roosts (at back) and allows me to lift the entire set of roosts (from front) should I need to get to the back of the tractor - acts like a hinge
IMG_1422.jpg
IMG_1423.jpg
.


Seems like feedback so far is for my option #1 or #2, not completely open.
 

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