Since I wrote my
previous post about adding
a nest box to the chicken coop, Mark has installed two more nest boxes, both doubles. That adds up to
five egg-laying stations in two different coops, which is really
more than we need for the eleven hens outside the chicken
tractor. But since Mark has become such a pro at cobbling
together nest boxes out of scrap materials, we figured we’d err on
the size of excess.
The great thing about
making extra nest boxes is that it helped Mark figure out the
best-case scenario…which we can share with you! Here are
my top tips for nest-box building:
Your first decision
is: external vs. internal. External nest boxes have the
positive side that they don’t take up space in the coop, which
means both you and the chickens have more room inside. On
the other hand, you have to make sure the top of an external nest
box is waterproof and sheds rain away from the coop, and in our
limited experience, it seems to take chickens longer to find an
external nest box than an internal one. After Mark added the
nest box shown above, a couple of hens took to it right away, but
at least half the hens kept laying in the floor for a week until
Mark put a brick in their laying spot. In contrast, our
original, internal nest box was discovered and became the prime
laying spot within 24 hours.
Part of the reason that
first nest box was colonized so quickly, though, might be its
location. The main roosting station in that coop is right
beside the door, so it made sense to install the first nest box on
the end of the perch. I imagine the hens woke up the next
morning, looked straight into that straw-filled chamber, and
sighed with contentment. Whether or not that’s true, having
a perch in front of your nest box does seem to help matters.
(Mark also added a perch to the front of the external nest box to
make it easier for hens with clipped wings to get up there.)
The best nest boxes
have a door to the outside so you don’t even need to enter the
coop to collect the eggs. After some experimentation, Mark
decided against the option shown above, with a hinge at the
top. This kind of door has to be held up while you collect
the eggs, which can be a bit ungainly if you’re gathering a dozen
eggs at a time. Instead, Mark’s new method puts the hinge at
the bottom so the door hangs down by itself when open.
My final tip is
simple — try to install your nest boxes in the afternoon!
We didn’t, with the result that annoyed hens were squawking at
Mark throughout the project. “Get out of here and let us lay
our eggs!” they complained.
Do you have any other
next-box tips to add?
waterer makes coop care even easier.
I’m not sure how you guys don’t end up with hens roosting in that nest box in the photo: it looks like it’s higher than any perch around it, and my chickens all wanted to roost in the highest available spot.
Of course I managed to let my hens use the nest box before they were laying, so I guess I let them develop bad habits. So rather than taking away a nest box being used as a roost, I could try taking the next box away when I starting a new batch of hens. Let the older hens teach the younger ones the ropes.
I also prefer to have the nest boxes inside the coop – I found that when it gets really cold here in Wisconsin (it van get well below zero) the eggs freeze more quickly in external nest boxes, and even nest boxes mounted on the outer wall of the coop. My current setup has the nests more in the center of the coop.
I would love some nest boxes (lucky you).
I have previously designed some external boxes with a lift up roof for more visible access; we sometimes get snakes in the chook house and I don’t want to reach in without looking. These boxes also had an insert made from those square plastic, 15 liter jerry cans with one side and most of the top cut out(but with the handle left intact). The purpose of these inserts was to be able to lift the whole thing out easily for cleaning and also to be able to lift it out with a clucky chook installed on eggs and move it to a brooding cage. We hatch our replacements yearly and it is handy to not disturb the hen when she has just began to sit.
I hope one day to build these nest boxes, when time permits.
I have a few comments about nest boxes. I recently put up nest box curtains. I always thought these were silly but I have to say, my hens really appreciate the extra privacy they offer.
It’s hysterical when I go out to their run and peek inside the coop and ask, is anyone in here, a little head will pop out between the curtain, look at me, blink a few times and then pull her head back inside.
And my other comment is on the size of the bird. Maybe this really only applies to Jersey Giants which can get BIG but if you plan on raising Jersey’s, you need to make your nests a tad larger than the standard 12″ by 12″. My poor JG always has frayed and tattered tail feathers because my nests are too small for her.
Alex — I was wondering if they would roost in there, but luckily they haven’t. I’m guessing you’re right — they just got in the habit of using the roosts, so they’ve stuck to them.
Ruth — Good point! That would definitely be a good reason to keep the nest box inside.
Jude — I’ve noticed that the more complex our plans are, the longer it takes to get them done. That’s why we stuck to the simplest nest boxes. 🙂
Amy — Great tips! We may have to install some curtains. It seems a bit unfair to the hen on the nest when two others are waiting in line, cackling loudly.