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Article updated 11 Apr 2015   Provide a spot or box with some straw and your hens will happily lay eggs it's that simple, jobs done – sad to say it isn't quite that simple.

After much trial and error, open-eyed surprises, shaking head disappointments, wasted money, wasted eggs, and lost time, I have evolved my chicken nesting/laying box system into one which finally works. Hence, if you want to know the truth about egg laying and nesting boxes please keep reading.

Eggs in nesting box

Clean eggs - yabba dabba dooo! (image above)

Nesting boxes or even a nesting area for chickens is often a consideration made by people after they have made the decision to get chickens. Before I started keeping chickens, like many, I did a lot of research about these delightful animals: what types of hens to get, how to house chickens, how to care for chickens, what chickens eat, how often do they lay, and the list goes on...

However, whilst I gathered all this information I never remember seeing anything specifically focused on nesting. Yes, there was the standard - “ensure you have a safe place for your chickens to nest and lay,” with the odd tip and image of a nesting box or area. Still, the complete flippancy online and in literature about nesting lead me to believe chickens and the act of laying (and where) was the least issue concerning chicken keepers.

Well, I soon found out the above sentence couldn't be further from the truth. Indeed, where chickens lay is one of the most important considerations for chicken keeping, particularly for the backyard or hobby-farmer. And, to be totally honest, the simple act of a hen doing her business took me a few years to properly figure out.

Chickens roosting in nesting boxes

Hens squashed into nesting boxes for roosting at night

Hens all close and cozy roosting in nesting boxes (above)

This article also covers how to manage (not stop) chickens roosting in nesting/laying boxes. For most backyard or hobby chicken enthusiasts, hens roosting in the nesting boxes is a fact of life and completely normal behaviour. Most chickens like to sleep in the nesting/laying boxes.

To confuse the matter, not all chickens like to sit in a nesting box overnight and some actually prefer to roost on a perch. And, chickens lower in the pecking order may be forced to use the perch if there isn't enough nesting boxes for every bird – that isn't necessarily cruel or a problem as both roosting areas are fine; therefore, both types of roosting methods should be provided.

Often, I will find several hens squashed into one nesting box – it does look a bit comical but it does them no harm. The next night I might find two or three hens using the perches instead – it varies.

Hens roosting on perch in front of nesting boxes

Hens roosting on perch in front of nesting boxes (above)

But the point I want to stress is don't believe all the junk out there about hens roosting in nesting boxes as a behaviour needed to be stopped, because it will drive you absolutely nuts trying to stop chickens from kipping in nesting boxes through the night.

Egg collecting

Firstly, I wish I could say egg collecting was as easy as how it's portrayed in lifestyle or how-to TV shows with the perfect clean egg sitting in the nice clean straw but unfortunately it isn't always like that.

Poop in chicken nesting boxEver heard the metaphor – Don't poop in your own nest? Well, I'm certain that saying came from a chicken keeper because only they know how much of a pain poop in a nest really is. And, if there's poop in a nest when a hen is laying an egg guess what? That's right, poopy egg syndrome PES -  image (directly right).

The actual egg comes out clean during the laying process but it's the poop it touches after, which makes the egg dirty. Also, eggs can get dirty from dirt or mud especially in wet weather when the chickens come in to lay with muddy feet and inadvertently soil the nest or step on the eggs.

Mind you, most chickens will try to keep the eggs clean and often they will lay in the cleanest nesting box they can find. Hens will likely clean the nest (as best they can) before laying and sometimes even move eggs to a better spot within the box.

However, there’s only so much a chicken can do sanitary wise, so it's up to us to ensure the nesting boxes and materials within are kept as clean as reasonably possible. This means daily trips to the coop or preferably several quick trips a day. If only one trip a day is practical for you then a trip in the afternoon will ensure most of the egg laying has been complete so eggs aren’t sitting in the nest overnight.

Optimally, a visit in the morning and afternoon is the best because the morning trip can “re-set” the nesting boxes from the previous nights roosting by giving them a quick clean before the laying begins and the afternoon trip can collect the eggs.

By the way, it isn't uncommon for smaller flocks to all only use one nesting box for laying. And if after all the best planning and effort, a few eggs still get a little poopy, don't worry, just carefully wipe them clean with a dry cloth or rub off the dried manure with a light grade sand paper - don't wash with water or wipe them with a wet cloth because eggs are porous and the act of washing may leach bacteria through the shell and into the egg. If an egg is heavily soiled then disgard it or give it to the dog (which is what I do).   

Cleaning chicken nesting boxes

Removing poop from chickens nesting boxes

Cleaning a nesting box is simple, easy, and effective, provided it is done regularly. The best way to do this is by inspecting the laying boxes in the morning and removing the poop piles produced fBin to store littler/straw for nesting boxes refills rom the nights roosting. This can be done by using an implement like a dustpan or I just use my hands by carefully “wrapping” the manure in surrounding straw grabbing it out for either collecting in a bucket or throwing it on the floor for raking up later.

Once a month, I remove all the litter from the boxes and give them a good brush out then a dusting with a mite powder before placing more fresh litter back in.

I have a galvanised bin with replacement litter situated next to the nesting boxes so I can immediately top-up the nesting boxes once I'm done.

Types of laying boxes for chickens

When chickens need to lay they will practically lay anywhere if they have to but of course it's best to provide a comfortable, safe place for them to nest and lay. The following are some different types of nesting/laying boxes for hens:

Hen nesting on milk crateOpen nesting – Old tyres or a milk crate make good open nests placed in the corners of a hen house they are simple and hard to beat. Fill the container with straw and the hens will make a comfortable divot in the middle to lay. Then it's just a matter of pulling out the dirty nesting material and topping up with more straw daily.

Open nesting boxes are particularly good for chickens that can't flap up to higher nesting boxes (breeds like silkies).

Drawbacks for open nesting: Tend to be close to the ground meaning more bending over to clean and collect eggs. More susceptible to predators like snakes, lizards, dogs and other animals.

Standard nesting boxes – A bit like open box shape shelving you might find in a house or shed. Normally, the boxes are about 1-2 feet high and wide and about the same deep forming a cube. A steep sloping roof on the nesting box is required (unless there's no space above it) otherwise the hens will also roost on top of the boxes and dirty them.

Hen in wooden nesting boxThese nesting boxes are best placed off the ground at least 1 metre (3 feet) to about 1.5 metres, as this makes egg collection and maintenance/cleaning easier. Also, off the ground at a safe height gives better protection from egg predators or even gives a second line of protection for the hen if, for example, a dog or fox got into the coop through the night.

Standard nesting boxes are usually fixed to a wall or secured on a stand in a barn or chook shed with access gained from inside, although, access to nesting boxes from the outside can be built if required. Either DIY or commercial nesting boxes are good with DIY being the cheapest option and not that hard to do really. All that is required for basic nesting boxes are some cheap ply wood (some 10 and 4 mil pieces), a qty of timber off-cuts (pine will do), some wood glue, and wood screws.

Commercial nesting boxes can be simple too and sometimes hobby farm retailers make their own basic boxes for reasonable prices. You can also get very elaborate nesting box designs like igloo boxes with insulation or accessories and pretty designer boxes all different colours if you have the money to spend.

Drawbacks for standard nesting boxes – None really, although cost can be restrictive if buying the commercial boxes.

Chicken house with contained nesting boxesContained nesting boxes – Very similar to standard nesting boxes and mainly seen in modern chicken houses or mobile chicken tractors in an urban environment but can also be employed in a chicken barn arrangement on farms. The hens have an enclosed housing area for sleeping and laying sometimes with a small attached run (but can also be free-range). These set-ups are really good for the small suburban flock and keep the hens cozy and safe when laying and roosting through the night. Egg collection (typically from the outside) is usually via a hinged door at the rear of the nesting boxes making egg collection an easy task.

Drawbacks for contained nesting boxes – With exception to the larger walk-in barn types of contained nesting boxes, the urban designs (including mobile chicken tractors) can become a little overcrowded and messy when the flock passes half dozen. Also, cleaning inside the boxes and immediate housing can be difficult.

Nesting boxes in chicken tractor

Roll-away – A nesting box set-up where the egg rolls into a collection area either at the rear or front of the box. Typically, plastic mesh inserts or special matting act as the nesting material on a slight gradient, which tunnels the egg to the collection area.

Roll away nesting boxes can be a handy method to overcome certain probRoll-away nesting boxlems like: hens eating eggs, other animals getting to the eggs, and dirty eggs. It's also a convenient way to collect the eggs as they all roll into one area.

Hens seem to be fine with the plastic inserts and tend to happily sit on them to lay.

DIY roll-away nesting boxes are also easy enough to make. The plastic nest inserts can be purchased separately (without the box) and the nesting box can be home made saving considerable costs.

Drawbacks for roll-away nesting boxes – I have my own prejudices when it comes to roll-away nesting boxes and whilst I acknowledge the system does work for some people, I personally don't recommend roll-away nesting boxes for backyard chicken keeping. I have written more about why I'm not a fan of roll-away nesting boxes later in this article (myths section).

Pseudo nesting box - If you begin to notice missing eggs or the hens just don't seem to be laying much lately, then before blaming predators, egg eating hens, stealing neighbours, chicken diet etc for the puzzling egg shortage, firstly, do a walk around to check the hens don't have a secret laying spot.

Chicken nest eggs inside hollow treeSome organic free-range farmers actually use this method for real and “hunt” for the eggs every day letting the chickens decide where they wish to lay. My uncle Ernie had a farm near Crows Nest (past Toowoomba, Queensland) and he used to do the same with his chickens but not for commercial reasons – his hens used to roam all over the place and lay anywhere. Then occasionally there'd be a bunch of little chicks wandering around (obviously a clutch missed).

I once had a hen with a odd fetish for laying in my garden shed under my tool rack where I kept my shovels and garden forks. Nearly every day she would leave the rest of the flock and trundle up 70 metres to the shed when it was egg laying time. Another hen would lay in the compost heap until I decided to only let the girls out of the hen enclosure after laying was done (usually after lunch).

Pseudo nesting spots can be particularly evident for large backyards where chickens are allowed to free-range and occasionally the hens will find a better spot than what we've provided to lay, like a tree hollow or under a shrub (or a tool rack). If this happens blocking access (even temporarily) should get them laying back in the nesting boxes provided .

Open nests only attract predators and scavengers like snakes and crows so it's usually prudent to nip it in the bud quickly.

Myths about laying boxes for chickens

Myth 1 – Perch height

Keep the nesting/laying boxes lower than the perches because chickens like to roost on the highest spot - then they won't roost in the boxes .Silkie Chicken

I have never seen any evidence to support this notion. I believe it's a complete myth. Not withstanding the fact this technique doesn't work to encourage hens to roost on the perch instead of in the laying box through the night; but also, laying boxes lower and closer to the ground are: more susceptible to predators, and harder to get to for egg collection.

Unless the hens are soft feathered (silkies, for instance) the nesting boxes should be at least above waist high. If the hens are soft feathered and can't fly too well then closer to the ground it has to be; although, I'd look at creating a step or ramp first to see if the girls can't be helped jump-up a little higher.

Myth 2 – Screening off nesting boxes or area

A screen in front of the nesting boxes will stop chickens roosting in them at night.

Some claim chickens like privacy when laying but don't like being closed off when roosting; therefore, a screen in front of the nesting boxes (within a foot or so) will allow the hens to lay but deter them from sleeping in the nest at night. This doesn't work – I tried the screening method for months and noticed no change in behaviour.

Myth 3 – Roll away nesting boxes

Roll away nesting boxes are an easy way to keep the eggs clean, stop cannibalism (hens eating own eggs), and ensure eggs are safe from predators.

Not really. Ok, yes, they do work but are the benefits worth the effort and cost? I have to say in my experience, no.

In roll-away nesting box set-ups the inserts quickly get messy and covered in manure; therefore, inserts need to be regularly removed and washed for the system to be effective.

Roll away nesting box plastic insertThe eggs still get dirty and sometimes the eggs even break during the roll away action and this messes up the bottom of the box potentially attracting flies and maggots making an awful mess.

When I used the roll-away system (and paid handsomely for the boxes), I found the maintenance and effort involved to keep the inserts clean and collect the eggs was just not worth it. The type of retail roll-away nesting boxes I got did have the ability to block access to the hen so they couldn't roost in the box through the night by a galvanised flap; nevertheless, the practicality of remembering to put this flap up in the evening and down in the morning is self evident.

 Commercially, roll away nesting boxes work only because the birds are kept as battery hens in cages,Battery Hens which have gaps to allow manure to fall through and not remain in the nest. Or, for commercial free-range farming the nesting boxes (cages) are automated to kick the hens out of the box and close at night to stop the chickens roosting in the boxes.

Furthermore, keeping the eggs clean via these commercial practices isn't 100% anyway, that's why they use egg cleaning machines which wash and spray the outer egg shells with disinfectant.

I no longer use the roll-away laying boxes (as designed) but to save costs I did modify the boxes and incorporate them into the system I have today.

Honestly, the standard nesting box method using a litter like straw or sugar cane mulch is more practical because, unlike a plastic insert, the litter helps absorb the manure somewhat which can actually help keep the eggs cleaner. Whereas, only one poop on a plastic insert is needed to dirty any eggs laid after until the insert is removed and cleaned. 

How many nesting boxes?

One nesting box per 4 hens is usually the minimum rate for conventional set-ups. However, I believe in striving for a ratio of 1:1 if the nesting/laying boxes are considered “roosting” boxes also. If the nesting boxes are large enough often hens will roost together - this is the case in my set-up; therefore, 1:1 probably isn't necessary.

 My laying/nesting/roosting boxes set-up

My chickens are housed in a large open roofed compound; therefore, I need to be mindful of egg predators that can fly or climb into the coop and gain access to the nesting boxes (predators like crows, and goanna).

So what do I use? After trying every method possible I prefer to have my hens lay in a standard type nesting box set-up and I don't restrict the chickens access at all if they want to roost in them through the night, in fact, I encourage it. 

Standard nesting box setup chickens roosting at night

Nesting box set-up with chickens roosting at night (above)

I have ensured there are enough nesting boxes (or space within) to easily accommodate all my hens if they decide to all roost at the same time.

My nesting boxes are a DIY job made from standard pine and ply wood combined with the roll-away nesting boxes, which I modified by removing the front galvanised flaps/hinges and turned them into standard boxes. The centre divider in my wooden boxes is removable by sliding out for easy cleaning. I have incorporated a perch in the centre of the nesting boxes as an alternative roost for the birds and also as an easy entry point for them to jump up and gain access to the boxes. 

DIY nesting boxes

DIY nesting boxes with front perch & gap in wood at front of box makes for easy sweep out (image above)

The nesting boxes are situated at the back of the coop and off the ground about 1.5 metres high and are secured (by screws) to a stand made from a pine sleeper and Besser blocks. Due to an egg predator problem I have called the Australian goanna, the nesting boxes overhang the stand making it impossible for the lizard to climb up and reach the eggs - the shed being aluminium means the walls can't be climbed either. I have also secured the boxes to the wall for extra stability and made a simple angle cover from thin ply wood to prevent roosting on top of the boxes.

 Under side of chicken DIY nesting boxes

Underside of nesting boxes showing the brick and sleeper stand (image above)

This system, as simple as it is, works well and as long as the soiled litter is scooped out and replaced daily the eggs remain clean (mostly).


My nesting box set-up may not be everyone’s cup of tea and that's fine. Whether the nesting/laying system employed is the roll-away, a simple open box type using an old tyre, or a similar method to mGrumpy hen on perch nesting boxy standard box set-up, is a choice made by summing up one's own circumstances.

I hope by elaborating on the different nesting box systems this article has given a better insight into what's often an overlooked consideration when people are planning to get into chicken keeping. And, possibly by reading this article choosing a nesting box system will be made easier thus saving unnecessary costs later down the track.

Why not have your say? Do you have a question about nesting boxes or perhaps an idea you'd like to share with the readers? Join our forum (it's free) and we have a great little chicken section to browse. You can also leave a comment below in the comments section – your email is not required to be entered.

Some useful links for chicken nesting boxes

eBay Australia  (a little bit limited on stock)

eBay USA (good variety of nesting boxes)

Amazon USA (heaps of nesting boxes)

Amazon UK (good selection of nesting boxes) Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.

Look, and see the Earth through her eyes

Mark Valencia – Editor SSM

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  • Guest - War

    In Texas, we use monofiliment fishing line strung a foot or so above head height in random directions ( i use 3/4" conduit in 10' lengths buried 2' deep as tie points for the line) to ward off seagulls, hawks, and other aerial predators. This came to mind when reading your article and you mentioned having an open top pen. Monofiliment is important, colored, or braided line wont work, and you need to replace it when it isn't shiny anymore ( 1/year)

  • Thanks War for your comment. I haven't tried fishing line strung above the pen as a measure to prevent wild birds but it sounds like a tip worth trying. If it works for you guys in Texas then it should work here, I guess. I'll give it go and write about the results, cheers, and thanks for visiting the blog!

  • Guest - Tia

    Do the box height suggestions still apply if the chickens wings are clipped? We are first time chicken owners and they just started laying but don't seem to like the boxes we have for them (they just let them drop from their roost or lay in the yard which has been okay so far, but obviously don't want this to continue)

  • Hi Tia, it is normal for new hens to take time to get into a laying routine but you can help them get there faster. Firstly, clipped wings shouldn't stop them from flapping up into a nesting box. Have you tried placing a fake egg or golf ball in the box where you want them to lay? This can help show them. Or, sometimes a step-up to the boxes like in my example (pics bottom of page) I have a low perch, which can be used as a step-up. A home made ladder to the boxes made fm scrap wood can work too. If you have more questions go to our forum (click the frog) and we can write or post pics as much as we want to solve the issue as this comments area is rather limited. Thanks for asking a question!

  • Guest - Lorraine

    Well for all i have seen online THIS one i love the best. I'm a lady and by no means a carpenter so needed something that I could do on my own. And i have found what i need. THANK you :D

  • Hi Lorraine, "I'm a man and by no means a carpenter" and if I can do it so can anyone! I'm wrapped you found an answer to what you were looking for and thanks heaps for taking the time to let us know what you thought. Cheers :)

  • Guest - Jennifer

    I have 6 Hens and one has started eating her own eggs. What do I do? She has been doing it for some time and nothing seems to work. Would the roll away system break her of the habbit.If so where can I buy the inserts,I live in Cairns.

  • Hi Jennifer, chickens eating her own eggs can happen to the best of us! The roll-away inserts with a bowl shape & ramp can be purchased online but they are not cheap. I purchased mine from Ebay in UK got them sent to Oz and it was actually cheaper - it's up to you. It's probably easier & cheaper to buy the "flat insert" material (bit like long pile carpet only made of rubber) & make the "nesting box" on the tilt instead of the insert. A roll away egg system may break her habit but I doubt it & I would personally weigh the costs of a new nesting system compared with the cost of a replacement hen (but that's me). Good luck. More concerns? Then let's discuss this on the forum - I will make a special thread on this subject under chickens.

  • Guest - Jennifer

    Thanks Mark I think I might agree with you and replace the hen as the changing of nesting system might be to big a cost. Shall retire her to the country (my sisters place)where she can roam free but still be cared for.She also is getting cranky with the other chooks so retirement might be best option

  • Guest - Shari

    Mark, great web site. Just starting to set up a chicken house from a pre loved timber cubby house. We are trying to work out what face to place the external nesting boxes. We live in a colder environment, usually 3-5 degrees colder than Melbourne. Can you please advise?

  • Guest - Mark

    Hi Shari and thanks for visiting our site! Using a disused cubby house for a chicken coop is an awesome idea. Chickens shouldn't have too much problems coping with kind the temps in your location. You ask, where to face the nesting boxes? My thinking is, even though you live in a cool climate still try and position the nesting boxes so they DO NOT get the hot afternoon sun. Chickens like an enclosed, safe spot, which is not too hot, for laying. I'd love to see a pic of your coop when your done on our forum? Cheers, Mark :)

  • Guest - Lanaki

    Thanks for all the info on things to do to help. I have just started setting up for my home in So. Carolina. I am planting my large garden, making the coop and I got a nesting box with only 2 nests. I only have 4 hens now, and they seem to be doing fine. Hope that the 2 hole nest box is good enough for them. I got them from "" online and they have a 3 hole and 4 hole also. When will I need to add more next boxes? I am guessing when there is a problem with them laying. I will just wait for any problems to determine if I need more nests, i guess.

  • Guest - Mark

    Hi Lanaki. thanks for commenting! For 4 to 8 chickens you will find 2 nesting boxes are plenty (most of the time they will all lay in the one box). If you plan to have the nesting boxes double as a roost and have no roosting bar at all then you may need more boxes but if you do have a separate roosting for your hens two nesting boxes will do. Cheers, Mark

  • Guest - barleysinger

    Wonderful information. The one reason for seriously looking into a 'rolling solution' is having your hens (or crows) eating your eggs. I spent a lot of time breeding my (once 13) all organic mufti-generation birds (I have 3 now due to a bad fox year) and I WANT those eggs. The truth is that any cage a chicken can get into, a crow can get into (they are smart rats with wings) and they you have snakes, stubbytails, goanas , magpies (etc). So if I want to eat eggs (not just feed everything else) I need to make a small insert at the front of each laying spot - *IF* I can get them to LAY THERE.

  • Guest - barleysinger

    one last thing - they refuse to lay in boxes. No trick works. Fake eggs don't work, Neither do REAL hard boiled real ones. They lay where they please...the middle of the cage...on a shelf in one of the cages...on a tiny 2x4 that they roost on (idiots).

  • Hi Barleysinger, thanks for your interesting comments and advice! Crows "rats with wings" I love that lol... I totally agree, it's difficult to protect your valuable chicken eggs when you have an open pen like us. A rolling egg solution does stop crows but I found the ones I tried too messy and too much work cleaning out etc. I don't have a problem with crows unless an egg is outside the laying boxes (sometimes my ducks will lay an egg outside on the ground and the crows get it). Sorry to hear about your losses to foxes my pen is fox proof but my free-ranging area is only dog proof so I know what it's like to lose poultry to foxes - awful :( I would like it if you joined our forum

  • Guest - Don_in_Odessa

    The secret to keeping chickens from roosting in the nest boxes is to set the nest boxes about 1 foot off the ground and your lowest roosting bar 2 feet off the ground. I used to have the same problem of chickens roosting in the nest boxes until I made the change. Even my old ladies finally capitulated and resigned themselves to roosts.

  • Thanks Don - I guess the roosting bar being higher than the boxes encourages the hens to roost on a spot higher. Nice advice, cheers :)

  • Guest - gemstatemom

    Thanks for the reasoned info on nesting boxes. We made nesting boxes from 5 gallon buckets for our 20 buff orp hens, but they will only use one...if it is in use, they either try to crowd in, or will lay in the corners of the coop. So I'm going to build simple boxes and am considering one long box with no partitions as they don't seem to have an issue with being right next to each other - or even on top of each other on occasion.

  • Hi Gemstatemom, I think you make a lot of sense and perhaps expanding the space of the nesting boxes will help. My boxes are quite large (the last example in this post) and I don't have problems with hens laying outside of these compartments. But, often the hens will lay where another hen has and collect several eggs together. Thanks for commenting and giving your experience with the bucket nesting box system - very interesting! -

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