Regardless of your flock size, nest boxes will be an integral part of your small-scale farm. Not only do they make your hens feel at home and give them a natural setting in which to lay their eggs, but they protect said eggs and keep them clean and intact before you collect them. Nesting boxes are also constructed in a number of different ways in order to accommodate the size of your farm, birds, or your flock. They are incredibly versatile in that no matter what type of flock you may have, you can probably find a nesting box that fits your farm and price range.
The first thing to think about when contemplating investing in some nest boxes is how many you may need. It’s typical to see one nesting box work for around 4-5 hens. If your flock is rather small and that’s how many laying hens you have, don’t worry about purchasing one nesting box per hen as that is unnecessary and pricey. Your hens won’t all be laying at the same exact time. Should you have a bigger flock or are planning on expanding in the future, you can bet on using the ~4 hens per nest box ratio as a pretty solid method to make sure you have enough space to maximize your egg laying operation.
Nest boxes also come in many shapes and sizes. For example, you can purchase standalone nest boxes to use in whatever setting you may like. Considering many available chicken coops for purchase have nest boxes built into them, you can also get them that way. Or you can build them! For the DIY type of person, or just someone looking to stay economical, this is a simple and fun project. Constructing a nest box is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can build a single, simple wooden nest box, or invest the time and money into more materials to create either more nest boxes, or ones made from plastic or metal.
This brings us to the size of nest box. Most egg-laying breeds of chicken, given their smaller size, will only require a 12” x 12” x 12” box to comfortably nest in. Ducks or larger chicken breeds may require a 14” x 14” x 14” size nesting box.
Another thing to take into account when creating or purchasing nest boxes is a roll out feature. The roll out feature takes the eggs once they are laid and deposits them in a place that you can simply roll out like a drawer. The beauty of a nest box is that it consolidates your eggs once they’re layed which makes them much more convenient to collect. A roll out feature takes this consolidation to another level. Not only does it keep your eggs in one place, but it protects them from the bird itself, which helps prevent broken or cracked eggs and your hens eating said broken eggs. The roll out feature also enables you to collect the eggs from the outside of the coop, preventing you from crawling inside a tiny or dirty coop.
Lastly, the material with which your coop is constructed can make a difference in what works best for you. Wooden nest boxes are aesthetically pleasing and can be extremely economical for you to buy or even make yourself. That being said, they are much more prone to rotting, bacteria and erosion. This can not only cost you more money in replacements and fixing, but it can expose your birds to infection and/or sickness.
Metal and plastic nesting boxes can be more practical, yet more costly in some situations. They are much easier to disinfect and in turn clean. This means they don’t harbor harmful bacteria and such that might transfer over to your hen and then your entire flock. Some downsides of the metal or plastic route is that they are often a little pricier than their wooden counterparts. They’re also not as appealing to the eye, if that’s something you’re worried about. Additionally, they can get quite cold to the touch in the wintertime. If you’re in a cold climate and want to lay deep into winter, this may be something to think about.
Nesting boxes are essential if egg-laying is going to be any type of component of your flock. Among many other things, they protect your eggs and henceforth your money or food. There’s a nesting box for just about anyone and any flock and if there’s not, you can simply make one yourself that fits your farm!