Nest Box Management

Okay, so these baby chicks have grown up and you are starting to get eggs, possibly lots of eggs.  You now have to think about the comfort and cleanliness of your nest boxes. How do you manage them and encourage the ladies (hens) to lay in the right spot and in a clean environment?

What Do The Hens Need?

    • Hens like a dark place to lay their eggs: private, dark, preferably quiet. I put a cardboard liner at the bottom of the nesting box, minimum, preferably cardboard sides too. If you are finding eggs random places in the chicken yard or coop, privacy/darkness or access to a nesting box is probably the issue.
    •  I’ve heard ratios like one nest box to 5-10 hens.  Our setup is 1 nest box to 8 chickens. We have four modified milk crate egg boxes in our ChickShaw for our 30-odd chickens
    • I either replace nesting material or add some every 3-4 days.  More often if you see droppings in the nest box. Just pinch some grass to pull out the chicken poo and toss it on the ground. We try to collect the eggs everyday late afternoon between 4-5pm and take a quick look at the nest box material and cleanliness.

Nesting Material

What kind of nesting material should you use?  What do you have on hand?

We have used wood shavings (the kind you buy in a big compression bag), old hay, plain cardboard, and grass clippings.

My favorite of all of these is grass clippings.  The wood shavings were too small and airy and too easy for the chickens to scrape out of the nesting box.  Hay works pretty good, except I don’t have it on hand consistently.  Grass clippings are everywhere in our yard.  I have a yard sweeper, so gathering grass clippings is no problem.  Or I could use a leaf rake to gather enough for the nesting boxes from a recent mowing.

I fill the nest boxes about 2/3 to 3/4 full of nesting material.  The chickens will form it into a nest and push the material out and shape the space to be comfortable for them.

We do not use roll-away egg boxes (even though I have been tempted at times) because of the influence of Joel Salatin and his book The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs.



Our Cats Have Wandered

Well…sad story at the Redeemed Homestead. Both of our sweet boy cats have wandered away.  We didn’t neuter them and they came of age…so now someone with nearby female cats may have a problem.

Oscar Leaves

Strong, sweet Oscar was first to leave. He’d started following us up the driveway to the mailbox, and the big new world out there was starting to grab his attention. Also, he was lonely because Coconut was an invalid in the house at that time. We were nursing Coco back to health, and Oscar was feeling left out, so it seemed the perfect time to seek his fortune in the wide world.

Sweet little Oscar, looking lonely

Coco Follows

Coco lasted longer. Because he had been mauled (that’s a story for another day), and  we nursed him back to health, we were sure he would stay close to home and not go wandering the treacherous forests at night again. We had gotten assurance from a friend that cats who get nursed back to health after a mauling incident generally stay home afterward, but apparently not forever… Coco did…but only for an while. He grew lonely because of Oscar’s absence, and meowed pitifully at nobody.  We thought he was recovering from his loneliness, but he wasn’t. He was just getting ready to go find another cat friend. One day, he too followed us up to the mailbox, occasionally stopping to survey the adjoining field. We swayed his interest then, but a few days later, he too was gone.

Coco lounging on the sidewalk, looking for someone to play with


So, what happened? Why did these little guys run away?

Well, we have a few ideas:

    1. Our little boys were growing up. We didn’t neuter our cats, and they were starting to look for a mate.  So if you want your pets to be free, and still stay with you, you’ll want to get them fixed so they don’t go looking for other cat company.
    2. They were lonely. When Oscar ran away, Coco was stuck in the house, so he had no one to play with. Coco ran away after Oscar had already left. In both cases, they were missing their brothers. Even though cats are generally independent and not super social, if they grew up together, they will miss each other if they’re separated.  So if you get two cats, just keep that in mind and give them lots of love.
    3. They were starting to realize there was a wider world beyond our farm.  These guys had both started exploring beyond our property before they ran away. Hunting in the woods at night is what got Coco mauled. Following us up to the mailbox preceded both the runaways. And not locking them in at night facilitated both of these run-ins (and outs.) So teach your cats early on that you are their family, and maybe lock them in at night, even though it curtails their hunting opportunities.

So, it looks like we’re fresh out of cats. But there is still a glimmer of hope. A friend told us that their cats have run away and stayed away for a few years, and then suddenly reappeared, ready to start over. So maybe they’ll return. But then again, maybe not. You never know. Maybe we’ll just have to get some new ones.