Chicken nests, unlike the nests of many other bird species, are simple.
Whether making their own nest in the wild or part of a backyard flock, chickens will make a small nest anywhere they feel comfortable.
Chickens will choose somewhere relatively quiet and protected to make their nests. They like using straw, hay, leaves, or other soft materials for nesting. Chickens will simply make a small depression in plain old dirt for a nest.
It is said among backyard chicken keepers no matter how many nesting boxes you provide; the hens will all want the same one or even find some bizarre, unexpected place to lay eggs!
Four or five hens will happily share a nesting box.
Nesting boxes help humans by giving the hens a place to lay where we can find the eggs, rather than having to look all over the coop or run.
To find out more about chicken nesting habits, read on!
What Is a Nesting Box?
As a backyard chicken owner, you may have purchased a pre-built coop with nesting boxes attached to the side of the coop.
You lift the lid, put straw or wood shavings in, and the chickens shape it and make a nice cozy nest to lay their eggs in.
Otherwise, a chicken nesting box is simply a box.
It’s open at the front for the chicken to get in and out of.
They may also attach to the side of the coop or mount inside on the coop walls or even stack inside the coop.
A standard-sized nesting box for a regular breed of chicken such as Leghorns needs to be a 12″-inch cube.
Larger breeds need 12″ x14″ x12″ inches for their box.
Smaller hens such as bantams need 10″ x12″ x10″ inches for their box.
Nesting boxes need to be snug enough to discourage hens from doubling up to lay eggs, although it might happen anyway because hens are stubborn.
Sometimes hens will refuse to use a nesting box and annoyingly lay eggs on the coop floor in a cozy corner or outside in the run.
Making sure your nesting boxes are clean and inviting is very important.
Hanging pieces of cloth (we used old napkins) across the entrance of the nesting box helps make the hen feel safer and more secluded.
The nesting boxes need to be located lower than the roost bar.
Otherwise, the hens will sleep in them and get them dirty with feces.
If you plan on letting a hen go broody and raising a clutch of chicks, having nesting boxes close to the floor, easily enclosed in a brooder cage to protect them from the other hens, is a great idea.
Milk crates or something similar with straw or other bedding material on the floor of the coop make great, easy-to-clean nest sites, although hens occasionally perch on the sides of them.
Which Nesting Materials Do You Use in a Nesting Box?
The most popular nesting materials for chicken nest boxes are:
- Pine shavings – Wood shavings are sold at most pet and farm/feed stores and are easy to use. Do not buy fragrant shavings such as cedar. They are bad for your hens’ respiratory systems and skin.
- Straw – A favorite of chicken keepers. Although available at pet stores, your best bet is to buy a bale at a farm store.
- Pine needles – If you find these for free, the softer pine needles are best.
- Sawdust – Not recommended because the dust can bother your hens’ respiratory system, and the wood may have been chemically treated, but you may be able to find it for free from a sawmill.
- Leaves – These are free, also, and compost well.
- Nesting pads – Nesting pads are washable and available from most hatcheries and online sources.
How Do You Train A Chicken To Use A Nesting Box?
Some people use fake eggs or small balls like a golf ball to encourage their hens to lay in the nesting box, but some hens will kick them out of the box and lay wherever they want.
Make sure you have enough nesting boxes for all your hens.
The rule of thumb is to get one for every 4 or 5 hens, but not so many as to encourage them to sleep in the boxes.
A larger flock will require more nests, possibly in different locations, to prevent arguing.
Young hens who are new to the flock will follow the older hens’ lead and use what they use, although sometimes the older hens will kick the younger ones’ eggs out onto the coop floor until the younger hens are fully integrated.
Make sure you collect the eggs often, as leaving the eggs in the nest risks breakage.
Gathering eggs twice daily encourages egg production and keeps the hens from going broody sitting on a clutch of eggs.
Broken eggs are messy and lead to egg-eating, a hard habit to break a hen from.
If you have a stubborn hen who keeps laying eggs in the “wrong” place, block it off or put rocks there or something else to make the spot less appealing.
Do Free-Range Chickens Make Nests?
Free-range chickens will make nests for themselves if they do not use the coop nesting boxes.
As every backyard chicken enthusiast knows, hens love laying eggs in secluded, safe places that are always hard for humans to find and reach.
We had one hen who laid her eggs in the hollow of a cinder block, and we had no idea for two weeks.
Keeping your hens in until mid-morning, when most of their laying is done, will increase your chances they will lay eggs in nest boxes instead of outside of the chicken coop.
What Do Wild Chickens Do for Nests?
Like free-range domesticated chickens, a wild hen will find a quiet, secluded spot in thick undergrowth and either dig a depression in the dirt or arrange leaves and brush to be comfortable and lay her egg.
Chicken nests are simple, unlike birds who build complicated nests from twigs, mud, hair, feathers, and other nesting material.