If you’re planning on raising chickens in your backyard, one of the first things you need to get (or build) is a nesting box. That way, your hens will have a place they can call their own where they’ll be comfortable enough to lay eggs. So, how large should a nesting box be?
A typical nesting box for traditional chicken breeds (Leghorns, Plymouth Rocks, etc.) should be 1 cubic foot (12 × 12 × 12 inches) per hen. Larger breeds like Jersey Giants will need larger nesting boxes with 6 square feet of roaming space. Ducks, on the other hand, require at least 18 cubic inches of space.
In this guide, I’ll explain what a nesting box is and what size it should be. I’ll also offer a few basic tips on how to get the most out of your nesting box.
What Is a Nesting Box?
A nesting box, which also goes by the moniker “nestbox,” is an enclosure for nesting fowl. Nesting boxes have been around for centuries, but modern boxes follow Charles Waterton’s early 19th-century design where an individual hen seeks refuge in a box of its own.
As an aspiring flock keeper, you should know about the significance of nesting boxes. These boxes create a safe, comfortable environment for nesting hens to lay their eggs. The box is comprised of one or multiple cubic rooms for individual hens. Though they’re not usually covered in the front, which is done to allow easy access for the hen, it keeps the bird’s eggs out of predators’ way.
While traditional nesting boxes are made of wood, you can turn virtually any spare material you have lying around into a nesting box for chickens and hens. Some people even use old wine barrels to create a roomier environment for larger birds, such as Long Jersey chickens.
Most chicken farmers, even backyard hobbyists, will have a series of nesting boxes placed side to side. This allows them to easily harvest eggs while also keeping on top of maintenance without much fuss.
Nesting boxes can be used by both domesticated and wild birds. Non-bird animals, such as bats, will also seek refuge in nesting boxes to raise their pups away from harm’s path. A wood duck box, which is a man-made structure made almost exclusively for woodies, is a type of nesting box that existed to boost the species’ population.
What Are the Nesting Box Dimensions?
The size of a nesting box can be determined by deciding what type of animal will live in it. However, most nesting boxes, especially those used by farmers, are made for hens and ducks.
A nesting box for ordinary chicken species—e.g., Leghorns, Plymouth Rocks, etc.—should have at least 1 cubic foot (12 × 12 × 12 inches) of space inside. It should provide enough space for the hens to spread their wings, rotate their bodies, and check on their eggs without bumping into the walls.
Larger nesting boxes made for Jersey Giants and other oversized chicken breeds will usually have around 6 square feet of floor space. The walls will stand 1 foot tall, giving large birds at least six cubic feet of space to move around.
Ducks will usually require a bit more space to waddle their long tail around. Most farmers can get by with 1-cubic-foot nesting boxes, but a duck might feel happier in a slightly larger enclosure that measures closer to 18 cubic inches.
Tips for Using a Nesting Box
Place the nesting boxes inside the chicken coop
Hens generally prefer a nice, quiet place to lay their eggs. Ideally, it will be in a spot that they are familiar with, even if they’ve never stepped a foot inside your new nesting box. So, the first thing you should do is place the nesting box inside the chicken coop. Just make sure the boxes are elevated by a foot off the coop’s floor.
Line the nesting box with soft materials
There are several types of nesting materials you can place inside the nesting box. Here are a few options for those who aren’t too sure of what to choose.
Pine shavings—Easily accessible year long or sold in bales. The dryer, the better.
Straw—This is a classic material used for coop beddings. It’s loose enough that your chickens might enjoy scratching or pecking them to create some sort of order inside their nesting box.
Sawdust—One huge benefit that sawdust has over other bedding materials is that it absorbs moisture. The longer your chicken stays in its box, the more it will release fluids in its own housing and the more the sawdust will pick up. It can also help reduce odors to a certain extent.
Nesting pads—You can purchase pre-made nesting pads for chickens. They’re generally made of a soft, organic material like wood shavings or pine needles.
Add a sloped roof to the box
Both roosters and hens love perching on tall structures, including nesting boxes. However, this isn’t something you want since they may leave their droppings on top of the box, which can find their way inside the box and all over the inner lining.
To prevent this from happening, add a sloped roof to the chicken box. A plastic sheet can work beautifully since chickens struggle to gain a footing on slick surfaces. Make sure you can easily lift the roof off the box to clean the inside of the box more easily.
Add a golf ball into the box to encourage your hens
One problem many amateur chicken farmers experience is their hens will lay eggs in random locations. However, there’s a simple trick you can try to encourage your hens to lay their eggs inside their nesting boxes.
Place a golf ball inside the nesting box. If a hen warms up the golf ball by sitting on it, then there’s a pretty good chance that it will lay its real eggs in there. You might want to try placing one golf ball inside each nesting box to encourage your entire flock to lay eggs in their boxes.