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.

 

 

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Rotational Grazing Techniques

Why do Rotational Grazing?

If you’re just starting, you may not know exactly why you should rotational graze your animals. But there are many benefits that can be unlocked when you move your animals around consistently.

Lower Your Load

Worms live in your animals’ stomachs, and if your animals have them, they come out in the poop, back onto the grass. And if your animals eat the grass, they get the worms, who absolutely love having a safe place to breed and grow. In this way, the worms can easily spread from animal to animal. But if you move your animals  daily, or at least give them fresh grass, they won’t be as likely to eat the contaminated grass and get worms. This is an especially important benefit to ruminants.

Save on Food

Sheep, cows, and goats were make to eat grass and leaves. And, they love the fresh growth of a juicy pasture. Chickens might need a little extra grain, but they can also forage for leaves and bugs, and they love kitchen scraps! So why waste money on unneeded feed when you could feed your animals mostly grass? True, it does take a little extra labor and devotion, but it’s worth it for your animals’ health, and the cost.

You Don’t Have Time To Mow

If you move your animals around, they will eat the grass down and then you don’t have to mow it. You can also plan ahead and allot a few days worth of grass not to mow, so they’ll have something to eat after you mow the rest of your yard. (Hint: you don’t have to mow that part!) Depending on how big your yard is and how many animals you have, you may still have to mow parts of your yard to keep it from getting out of hand, but it definitely cuts down on how much you have to do.

Lie Down in Green Pasture

OK, the fertilizer is poop, but it works great. Wherever the animals go gets the love, so moving them around is best. Also, eating the grass helps stir up the locked-up seed bed, introducing new plants into your pasture ecosystem. You can restore a ruined pasture this way, and make it a beautiful green again.

The chickens scratching in some beautiful green pasture that has been created by rotational grazing.

 

Hacks and How-To’s

OK, now that you know why, lets dig into how. Because there is no guarantee it will be easy. But there are ways to minimize the hassle of rotational grazing.

Fold Your Fence

We use this hack every day in summer with our sheep, and we love it. Depending on how many animals you have, how much they eat, and which fences you use, you might not be able to do this, but it works great for a smaller flock. Basically, you set up a fence that has three of four days worth of grass inside, and then collapse the corners into the middle. The next day, you can expand it out again and easily supply your animals with fresh, un-pooped-on grass.

Baby sheep in a folded fence
The left side of this fence looks like a zigzag– that’s the folded fence technique. We’ll fold those triangles out later for an easy morning of chores.

Plan Ahead

On a day when you’re not as busy, set up and fold some extra fences to have available when the animals run out of their current pasture. That way, you can just move them in quick on the days when you are in a hurry. After all, moving and setting up fences is the hardest part.

Go Portable

Conventional animal housing is really hard to move. It was not made for rotational grazing. So if at all possible, upgrade to lightweight housing, or housing with wheels so you can actually move it with your animals. For chickens, we recommend the ChickShaw, which is a coop-on-wheels that fits forty chickens, and conveniently deposits the droppings on the ground. For sheep, we just built a shed out of 2×4’s, which is sort of heavy, but doable.

Practice Makes Perfect

Last but not least, try to get in a routine that makes the most of the time you have. We carry out all the food we all need at once so we don’t have to make multiple trips back to the garage. We set up fences in advance and use the folded fence method. And of course, the kids help, so that makes things a lot faster and more fun.

Are you ready? You can do it! It just takes a bit of getting used to.

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