When buying or building nesting boxes for your chickens, there are a few things you need to consider. Hens like to have a semi-confined space for laying and enough privacy to feel secure. Chickens prefer to lay in a nest box when the interior is just big enough for them to turn around in.
Most backyard flocks contain chickens of varying size. Bantams are the smallest of the chickens weighing in at only 3 pounds, while some of the biggest laying hens can weigh 10 pounds or more. Most people choose to build one size or type of nest box that will accommodate all their birds.
A chicken needs just a few basics to comfortable enough to lay in a nest box. Your chicken needs to feel secure in the nest box, so always add a top cover. This will let them set on the nest undisturbed by the rest of the flock.
As far as space goes, most chickens will lay really well in a nest box that is 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. One foot tall is ideal for all types of laying hens. This will be enough space for your biggest birds and still be confined enough for your bantams to lay.
If the nest box is too big, other chickens will try to climb in with the laying hen and disturb her. A good rule of thumb is to build a nest box that is twice the size of your average chicken. The front of the nest box should be left mostly open. This allows easy access for the hens.
In addition nest boxes should be elevated at least 2 feet off the ground. When a nest box is higher than the ground, it allows the hen to keep a watchful eye on the other chickens in the barn. And this provides more protection from egg thieves like snakes.
Hens like their privacy when laying, so they like to nest in places that resemble little hiding holes. Make sure you fill your nest boxes with a nesting material such as hay or straw. This allows the hen to scratch out her own little nest inside the box and helps prevent broken eggs. You should have one nest box for every four laying hens.
If you need to get some nest boxes up in a hurry and do not have time to build them from scratch, you do have a few options. A 5-gallon bucket turned on its side makes a great nest box. Just put a couple of rocks on each side to keep it from rolling and fill it with hay. These can be temporarily left on the ground.
Milk crates make great nest boxes too. Just attach them to a post or barn pole with wire or nails so that they are off the ground and fill them with nesting material. A great temporary nest box can be made out of a cardboard box.