Chicken Nesting Boxes 101 and 13 Best DIY Plans

Chicken Nesting Boxes 101 and 13 Best DIY Plans Blog Cover

Nest boxes aren’t essential for hens to lay eggs, they can (and do) lay where they feel secure.

The nesting box is essential for you, the flock keeper, unless you enjoy searching the yard, outbuildings and under every bush or overhang for eggs!

In this article we cover the basics of nesting boxes including: best placement, recommended sizes, and how many you need for your flock.

We then present both, shop bought solutions, and also DIY plans with simple step-by-step instructions so you can build your own. We will show you the various types and explain their advantages and disadvantages.

Chicken Nesting Boxes 101

Chicken on NestThe nesting box requires a few things to make it attractive to a hen, it needs to be:

  • Quiet
  • Safe
  • Darkened
  • Private

These four things will encourage her to use the box to lay her eggs. If you place the box in a noisy, busy area where everyone can see her, she is not going to use it. A girl needs her privacy for some things!

Placement

Ideally the boxes will be placed in an area of the coop that is fairly dark and not too busy. The height of the nest box should be no less than 18 inches from the floor and can be as high as a few feet off the ground.

They should not be at the same height as your roosting bars or you may find your hens sleeping in the boxes! Although this is not a major catastrophe, you will get tired of mucking out the nest boxes each morning.

How Many Nesting Boxes Do You Need?

Chicken Nesting BoxThere really isn’t a definitive consensus of opinion on how many nest boxes you should have for your flock.

A couple of Government websites stated one box to 7 hens, however most people go by one box for every 3-4 hens. This number is in line with the ‘5 Freedoms’ recommended by animal welfare groups. If you want your flock to be ‘certified humane’ you must have one for every five hens minimum.

I can promise you one thing, no matter how many boxes you build, it will not be enough! They will all want that one box all at the same time.

Size

A standard nest box for regular chickens such as Leghorns, Sussex, Plymouth Rocks and hybrid layers needs to be a 12 inch cube; 12 inches tall, wide and deep. This will fit the average hen quite nicely.

Larger birds such as Jersey Giants will need 12 inches deep, 14 inches wide and 12 inches tall. Bantam hens can get away with a slightly smaller box of 10 inches deep, 12 inches wide and 10 inches high.

These measurements make the box snug and there are reasons for that. If the hens have too much room they tend to kick out the bedding material. It also discourages hens from bunking up together to lay eggs.

Which Nesting Materials to Use?

Curtains for Nest BoxThere are lots of different nesting materials you can use. Below we are going to run through the most popular materials used.

  • Pine shavings: easy to find, most farm stores sell them in convenient bales.
  • Straw: another favorite of chicken keepers. You can usually buy these from your local farmer or farm store.
  • Pine needles: free for the taking if you have a local source! The softer pine needles are the best.
  • Sawdust: can be obtained for free or very cheaply from a sawmill or perhaps a neighbor.
  • Leaves: raking and gathering all the fallen leaves in the autumn will not only give your ladies free bedding, but give you a workout too.
  • Nesting pads: can be bought from most hatcheries and online sources. They are washable and inexpensive.

Any and all of these can be used for nesting materials, either separately or together. When supplies are good I will fill a couple of boxes with pine needles, a couple with leaves and a couple with straw.

As always – they will all want the same box!

To encourage the hens to relax while laying and also to deter pests, add some fresh herbs to the boxes. Lavender aids relaxation while lemon balm gives a fresh lemony smell and deters pests too.

Training Hens to Lay in them

Training your hens to use the boxes really isn’t that difficult, but you must start training before they start to lay.

Placing a golf ball, ping pong ball or fake egg in the nest boxes usually gives them the right idea.

They may not get it right immediately, but will eventually get the hang of it and use the boxes accordingly.

If you have hens that just will not use the boxes, try to think if there is a reason why. Is it too public? Too noisy? Perhaps you don’t have enough nest boxes for your ladies. Try to remedy any short comings that you find, but if they still refuse to use the boxes, try a different approach.

Keep them locked in the coop until they have laid eggs; make sure only the nesting boxes have bedding. Do this for a few days and then see what happens when you let them out.

There are hens that will steadfastly refuse to use nest boxes and nothing you can do will make them do otherwise. Newer hens that have been integrated with older hens will get the idea very quickly and you really don’t have to do anything for them.

Readymade Nest Boxes

If you aren’t very DIY or simply don’t have enough time to make your own, then shop bought nesting boxes will work for you.

They can be built from wood; however the metal and plastic varieties are more common.

Plastic

Plastic Chicken Nesting Box
Plastic Chicken Nesting Box Miller Single Hen Nesting Box

  • Easy to clean and will not rot or corrode
  • The sloped roof stops them roosting
  • Inbuilt mounts to easily fasten to wall

See Price on Amazon

Ready-made plastic laying boxes are generally the cheapest ones on the market; they are ideal for beginners and small flocks.

As you buy them individually, it gives you the flexibility to fix them to the outside of the coop or other suitable locations (such as nearby trees or outbuildings).

Also, being plastic makes them very easy to clean.

Metal

Metal Poultry Nest
Metal Poultry Nest 6 Hen Metal Nesting Box

  • The bottom of each nest can be removed for easy cleaning
  • Includes roosting bars which makes access to the nests easy
  • All exposed edges have been folded to protect your hens

See Price on Amazon

Metal boxes are the chosen type for small to mid-sized flocks. They are easy to clean, withstand a lot of abuse and are relatively lightweight when compared to wood.

You will generally find as well that metal nesting boxes are sturdier than their plastic or wooden counterparts; making them more suitable for larger breeds such as Jersey Giants.

Conventional nest boxes are sold singly, but most metal come in multiples of 2-10 boxes.

Roll Away

Roll Awat Nesting Box
Roll Out Nesting Box Roll Out Nesting Box

  • Roll out design to keep eggs safe
  • Has fitted curtains which stops egg eating
  • Removable nesting area, making it easy to clean

See Price on Amazon

There is also the ‘rollaway’ nest box.

They can be made out of either plastic of metal; however the metal ones are generally much better quality.

A rollaway box has a slightly slanted floor which encourages the egg to ‘rollaway’ from under the hen. This prevents pecking or accidental breakage from trampling and keeps the egg much cleaner.

The eggs roll away to either the front or back of the box for easy collection by you.

13 DIY Chicken Nesting Box Plans

This is the fun part! What can you use to make nest boxes for your hens? The list of possibilities is almost endless – some folks have been very innovative.

You can even make your own rollaway boxes if you so desire!

WhiteNest

$$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Medium
WhiteNest
The WhiteNest is a simple, classic design; it even has a vaulted ceiling. Like the “GooseBox” this design is also portable meaning you can place them throughout the run to provide your girls some privacy.

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WineBarrel

$$$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Easy
WineBarrel
Built by Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily, this nesting box started out as a wooden half wine barrel. Each nesting box takes around 10 minutes to ‘build’ and can accommodate up to 3 laying hens.

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BucketEgg

$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Easy
BucketEgg
Each one of these buckets will provide enough space for 3 egg laying hens. You can use them as free standing or you can fix them to a wall. My preference is wall mounting them because the hens seem to prefer this.

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RaidersNest

$ cost 12+ hens Build Difficulty Easy
RaidersNest
Again this is a very simple nest box to create and requires very little DIY know how. This particular layout is suitable for 18 laying hens, but you can add and remove crates to make it suitable for your flock.

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ToteNest

$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Easy
ToteNest
What I love about this creation is the simple yet effective nature of it. Anybody can build one of these and it takes a matter of minutes. Each nesting box can accommodate up to 3 laying hens; so just repeat as many times as needed for your flock.

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BeeBeeNest

$$ cost 12+ hens Build Difficulty Hard
BeeBeeNest
This huge nesting box can accommodate up to 24 laying hens. One of my favorite features of this plan is the roll away design. It stops egg eating and also prevents accidental breakages.

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EasyEgg

$$$ cost 12+ hens Build Difficulty Hard
EasyEgg
This is one of the largest nesting box designs featured in this list. It has an inventive design, which makes collecting the eggs very easy. The downside to this particular style is you need to fit it to an existing coop for it to work properly.

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SwedishNest

$$$ cost 12+ hens Build Difficulty Medium
SwedishNest
The SwedishNest is an expensive nesting box to build. I’d only recommend this style if you’re having problems with egg eating and breakages; its roll away design will prevent these problems.

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PlasticBowls

$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Easy
PlasticBowls
If you don’t want to spend much money, this nesting box is for you. Each ‘nest’ costs $1 and will accommodate up to 3 hens. Just remember to place them in a sheltered, private space.

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BucketNest

$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Easy
BucketNest
The BucketNest is one of the simplest and most innovative designs featured here. Made from a recycled 5 gallon plastic bucket, each nest will accommodate up to 3 chickens. Remember to keep the lids; they are used to keep the bedding material inside the bucket.

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TheTriplex

$$ cost 7-12 hens Build Difficulty Medium
TheTriplex
The Triplex is an affordable and versatile nesting box. My favorite feature about this particular design is the roosting rail fitted to the front of the box. If you’re building this as a portable nesting box remember to fit a wooden back to it.

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ToyNest

$$$ cost 12+ hens Build Difficulty Hard
ToyNest
This large nesting box was originally designed as a toy store. Built in under a day it is suitable for larger flocks and can accommodate up to 27 egg laying hens.

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GooseBox

$ cost 1-6 hens Build Difficulty Medium
GooseBox
Don’t be fooled by the name. Although they are called goose nesting boxes, they are perfectly suitable for chickens. This simple A-Frame design is cheap and quick to build. These boxes are also portable so you can place them throughout your run.

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This should give you a general idea of what’s available for use. In a pinch an old cardboard box will do, but they won’t stand up to too much usage. When making your boxes, ensure they have a steep pitch to the roof so that the hens can’t roost on top of them.

Unless you use ‘open plan’ boxes, the nest box should have a 4 inch lip to make sure the egg doesn’t roll out and break.

Accessorize Your Nesting Box

You can take any of the plans above and turn them into a unique design with some simple accessorizing.

Curtains! Hens do like privacy when laying their egg, so hanging a simple curtain over the entrance will do a good job of screening her from prying eyes.

You do not have to get the sewing machine out for these curtains. They can be as simple as burlap sacking, feed sack, old napkins from the ‘nearly new’ shop or old tea towels you no longer use. They can be held in place by staples or a push pin – it doesn’t need to be fancy.

Summary

If your hens are anything like mine, they will all want the same box at the same time! Failing that, they will lay elsewhere and make you hunt for the eggs. Although mine have been trained to use boxes they still occasionally lay somewhere else if it pleases them.

Accordingly, I have made a few extra cozy corners that they can use if they want to. I am lucky to be able to accommodate them in this way, not everyone has sufficient room to do this.

Unless you use ‘open plan’ boxes, the nest box should have a 4 inch lip to make sure the egg doesn’t roll out and break.

So there you have it in a nutshell. They are relatively cheap to buy, even easier to make and essential for you if you don’t want to play hide and seek with your hens!

Let us know your thoughts on nesting boxes in the comments section below…

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Comments

  1. Kristine says

    Very interesting solutions. Would you write about creative and easy ways to get water to a coop that isn’t near a hose?

  2. Sharon Howard says

    Thank you so much for all this welcomed information, I have been outside for most of the day, I am converting my shed into a coop and this information will really help me with my project.

  3. MJ says

    Thanks so much for another great article! Perfect timing – reminding me we will need to be sure our current next boxes are large enough for our next round of girls – Buff Orps, Brahmas, and Cochins scheduled to arrive in June. Our lone hen, a Plymouth Barred Rock, fits cozily into the ones in the hen house, but that would indicate to me that our new girls (once they grow up) will not!

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