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 Chickens are Eating Eggs!

So our chickens are eating their eggs, and it is cutting our egg production by 10% (minimum), and makes a mess of the remaining eggs (yolk is on them and bits of straw/hay/nest box material sticks to them!)  Ugh!

The big mistake: laziness and not understanding the why around the what I am about to share here.

Justin Rhodes talks about washing and crushing egg shells to feed back to chickens for a good source of calcium.  But I didn’t understand the reason to wash and crush the egg shells.  It’s because of the egg residue left on them. Chickens love it! And if you don’t crush the egg shells, they can tell by the shape that that tasty residue came from…you guessed it! An egg! More recently I’ve heard you should even possibly “toast” your egg shells to remove the taste entirely.

If you don’t wash, crush, and possibly toast/heat up the egg shells, your chickens will get a taste for egg yolk, which is what they ate while in the egg.  (Ah, the good old days.)

If they get a taste for it, they will eat eggs!

So How Do You Fix It?

Some options for remedying this problem:

    1. Calcium supplement – oyster shells –  we get a 50lb bag for ~$10 at our farm co-op.
    2. Golf balls in the nest box to give the birds are sore beak if they are pecking at objects in the nest.
    3. Roll-away egg boxes (this isn’t an option for us and it doesn’t really fit with God’s design for the chickens in my opinion.)
    4. Collect the eggs more often – don’t leave any tasty treats for them to eat!
    5. The Hamilton Beach vacation for those offending hens.

We have tried most of these options and the behavior has settled down quite a bit.  #4 above has been the most helpful and… wait, I forgot the best option:

Pray and ask the Lord to change the chickens’ taste buds.  Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you!  1 Peter 5:7