Chicken nesting boxes can be considered as hen furniture and are important for your flock.
Hens enjoy having a quiet spot where they can lay their eggs.
They can sit and lay their egg in private and when done, simply hop off the nest and carry on with important things like foraging or dust bathing.
In this article we cover everything you need to know about nesting boxes. How many your hens need, what size they need to be and much more. We also review some pre-made boxes and also give you 13 simple DIY nesting box plans to build your own.
Nesting Box Guide
What To Consider When Choosing A Chicken Nesting Box
It may surprise you to learn that chickens do not need nesting boxes at all – it is the humans that need them.
In the wild a hen will find a quiet, secluded spot and make a nest.
It could be in the hedgerow, in the barn or anywhere else she pleases and that makes it hard for predators to find her. After searching the fields and woods for the egg stash, humans finally came up with the idea of having a nesting box so that the hen could have a special place to lay her eggs and we could easily find them.
Of course, your hens will also be safer in the coop nest boxes than they would sitting out in the field.
How many nesting boxes do chickens need?
A good rule to follow is one box for every three to four hens.
Personally I prefer to have the ratio slightly higher (especially if you have more than a dozen or so chickens). Regardless of how many nests you have they will always squabble over their favorite box. Although most of the nesting boxes should be placed in the coop, you can have a couple placed around the inside of the barn.
This makes sure that there are enough boxes for everyone in a variety of quiet spots.
What size should they be?
This will mainly depend on the size of your chickens.
- Standard sized chickens will fit very nicely in a 12″x12″x12″ inch box.
- Bantams chickens can have smaller boxes of 10″x12″x10″.
- Larger breeds such as Jersey Giants will need slightly more room at 12″x14″x12″.
Each nesting box should only accommodate one hen. Although it may look adorable to have two girls laying in the same box, it can be hard on the eggs as they frequently get broken.
Where should I put the nesting boxes?
The nesting boxes should be inside your coop.
When hens are laying eggs they prefer a quiet area.
So your nesting boxes should be placed away from the feeding station and not underneath the perches.
They need to be raised from the floor too by about eighteen to twenty-four inches. If you can, place them in a darkened area of the coop.
Just remember that the roosts should always be higher than the nest boxes to prevent hens from sleeping in the boxes. Read the complete guide to chicken roosts for more advice.
If your chickens live in a barn or another large space, you can place your boxes in a couple of places so that your hens can have a choice.
Which material is best?
Your nesting boxes should be either wood or plastic. Both of these materials are durable and washable.
The benefits of plastic are that it is lightweight, washable and lasts for a long time. On the other hand wood can look nicer and is very sturdy.
How To Install Nesting Boxes
Most nesting boxes will attach to the wall of your coop.
You will need to make sure that the framework of your coop can support the number of boxes you will place.
If you are using wooden boxes then remember that they are much heavier than plastic and may need some extra supports to safely hold them in place.
Pre-made nest boxes will have holes pre-drilled that lets you easily screw them to the wall.
You will need to decide where you are going to place your boxes.
They need to be in the quietest and darkest area of the coop and placed between 18-24 inches from the ground. Do not place them under roosting perches as they will be covered in poop on a daily basis.
If you have birds that do not fly well (such as Silkies) you can place the boxes on the floor for them.
Whether you line the boxes up like soldiers or stagger them in height and location is a personal choice. Hens like to be fairly social when nesting, so lining them up is perfect for the ladies to have a chat while laying that egg.
Installing them should not take you too long once you have your boxes, tools and hardware gathered together. Your hens will want to help!
How To Decorate Your Nesting Box
Some folks love to decorate their nesting boxes, while other people not so much.
They do not care much one way or the other, but there are some decorations that are beneficial to your hens.
First of all you can use curtains.
Curtains will help with the privacy, quiet and dark that hens prefer to lay in. Your curtains should fit over the front of the box and be made of a lightweight fabric that is easy for the girls to push aside.
I am challenged when it comes to sewing so I prefer to use the empty feed sacks for my curtains.
You can replace these curtains when they get dirty or damaged.
Next you can also use herbs (pennyroyal, mint, lavender and chamomile).
If you want to add some color you can add some marigold flowers. They are great insect deterrents and hens like to eat them too.
Training Hens to Lay In Nesting Boxes
It can take a bit of time to train your hens to use the nesting boxes.
You need to start training your hens when they are at point of lay (usually around 16-20 weeks old). Once your pullets are thinking about laying eggs you should be able to tell from their behavior.
They may be restless, anxious and distracted wandering from place to place looking for the spot. Once they start this behavior you can help to guide them by placing fake eggs (or golf balls) in the nest boxes. If you have older hens then the newer pullets should follow the lead of the older girls and use the nest box.
You can expect a few hiccups along the way but once they get the idea they are usually more than happy to use the box.
Another trick to getting them to use the box is to sprinkle some scratch or cracked corn in the box for a couple of days.
Just make sure to keep the boxes clean and the bedding fresh.
They will be reluctant to use them if there is any poop or dirt in it.
Of course you will always have an independent hen that will lay wherever she wants to.
If you manage to find her in the act of laying elsewhere, try picking her up and putting her in a nest box. Some folks have good success with this method although it might take a few times before she takes the hint.
Common Problems With Nesting Boxes
You should expect to come across many problems with your nesting boxes.
The biggest issue you will find is getting the hens to use them for laying (read our training advice above).
Another common issue is chickens sleeping in the boxes. Unless you enjoy cleaning out the boxes every morning this should be discouraged. The easiest way to discourage them from this habit is to block the boxes each night.
You can use cardboard doors to close the nests and then re-open the boxes in the morning ready for the hens to start laying.
Next up is sharing nesting boxes – this is a common habit which should be discouraged. Hens are sociable creatures and enjoy the company of their sisters. They may look cute sitting together but you will likely end up with broken or at least dirty eggs. Chickens nesting together should be picked up and placed in another nesting box.
Now onto broody hens. These chickens will choose a nesting box and sit, and sit and sit. This can be frustrating to the other chickens who may try to move her out, but if she is determined she will start screaming at them to go away and will be dishing out pecks to anyone who tries to move her. If you do not want chicks then you will need to hoist her out of the nest and break her from her broodiness.
Finally, you will find that sometimes hens will completely ignore a nesting box. Take a look at the setup from their perspective. It needs to be safe, quiet, semi-dark and secure.
If you have it placed in the busiest area of the coop with no privacy and lots of light then the hens are not going to use it. Hens are smart creatures and will try to minimize threats to their offspring (eggs) by laying in places they consider secure and well camouflaged.
Best Chicken Nesting Boxes
Best Pack: Rite Farm Chicken Nesting Box
The Rite Farm Chicken Nesting Box comes in a pack of 6 nests. Each nest is made of durable molded plastic and measures 18″x12″x12″. These nests are very sturdy and have an egg gathering hole if you want to gather eggs from outside the coop. Each nest can either be placed on the floor or fixed to a coop wall. If you are looking for affordable nests that are easy to install then this is a good option for you.
- Each nest is washable and easy to keep clean.
- They include an easy wall mount so you can fix them to your coop.
- Pack includes 6 nests so they are ideal for up to 18 chickens.
- Nests have a very deep tray which helps keep the egg safe.
- Nests are a touch small for larger breeds like Jersey Giants.
- Because of the design it is easy for birds to remove bedding.
- You will need to fit curtains to create some privacy.
Best Nest: Little Giant Single Nesting Box
The Little Giant Single Nesting Box is more of a traditional nesting box that allows the hen some privacy. It is made of high density plastic so it will last a long time. Also because it is plastic it will be easier to clean. There is also a perch outside the doorway for them to be able to fly up to the box. This is perfect for anyone looking to add a few nests into their coop.
- This nesting box has an outside perch.
- Each nest is wall mounted.
- Made from plastic which means it is easy to wash and keep clean.
- Comes with fitting with instructions.
- The perch is a touch flimsy for heavier breeds.
- Entrance hole is too small for large birds like Brahmas.
- Does not include fitting hardware.
13 DIY Chicken Nesting Box Plans
The ingenuity of the Dakota nest design makes it a prime choice for backyard chicken coops. What makes this box special are the holes which allow for easy egg pickup.
The Bailey plan is a touch more challenging to build than the previous plans. This plan features two nesting boxes combined into one unit, so it will fit six hens.
The Cali nesting box has a simple yet sturdy design. It can be used by three hens and you can add additional boxes to suit your flock. Overall this choice is a perfect simple nest.
This design has six nests stacked in two tiers. The roof is slanted to prevent chickens perching on top and the wooden perches fold down for safe perching too.
This nesting box has a unique A-framed design and because it is so tall it can accommodate larger breeds as well. Overall a great choice for anyone looking for an outside freestanding box.
The Sierra plan has three chicken nests. These nests are suitable for either bantam or regular sized chickens. Overall a simple, affordable and straightforward nest that anyone can build.
Delaney features four nests that conveniently stacked two on two. This is perfect for those who do not have too much space inside their coop.
Eleanor is a classic side-by-side nesting box. If you have a larger flock and are looking for a cheap and simple design then this is the option for you.
If you are looking for a large nesting box that can be fixed to a coop then the Beverly design could be for you. This nesting box has six separate nests which makes it suitable for a flock of up to 18 chickens.
This plan is very similar to the Tabitha, except it includes an additional stack of three nesting boxes. This means it can support a further 9 chickens without taking up much more room.
If you are looking for a large and easy to build nest then this is the design for you. You can also adapt the design by removing one row if you do not need that many nests.
This design has a total of eight nests and each has a rollout nest. Overall this plan is suitable for smaller coops that need the nests to be stacked on top of each other.
This is one of the largest plans in our list. It contains ten nests which makes it perfect for up to 30 hens. Each nest has a perch as well so your chickens can easily access the nest.
While your hens can do without nest boxes, they are very helpful to us humans.
Once your hens are ladies trained you do not need to search the yard for those tasty eggs.
There are many different types of nest box and you can either buy or make them yourself.
Buying is easier for those of us challenged in the DIY skills department, but if you are handy, making your own can save a lot of money.
Used items such as plastic crates, old grape crates and five gallon buckets can all be used – the only limit is your imagination.
Let us know which was your favorite plan in the comments below…