You’re not alone if you have problems figuring out how to get your hens to lay in the nest box. Sometimes those girls just have a mind of their own (especially if they free range and can lay eggs anywhere). The good news is, there are ways to help ensure all those beautiful fresh eggs are laid in the right spot. Here are 10 tips to help you (and your hens) get those eggs into the nest box where they belong.
Do you have problems talking your hens into laying in the nest box? It might seem like a mystery as to why they aren’t and even more so, how to convince them to start. Often it’s a simple fix and in time at all (hopefully) you’ll have figured out how to get those hens to lay in the nest box!
Does the Nest Box Feel Cozy?
First, let’s make sure the nest box is optimal for hens wanting to hang out in there to lay eggs.
Do you have enough nest boxes for your flock?
Ideally, you should have 1 for every 4-5 birds. If you have less than that, could create a situation where a hen doesn’t have access to a box when she’s ready to lay, so she finds an empty place somewhere else that will work. It also makes it tougher for those hens lower in the pecking order to get a chance at a box.
Are the Boxes the Right Size?
A nest box should feel cozy to a hen. Not too big (sized for just one). They like to feel safe and protected.
Is the Nest Box the Right Height?
Optimally, a nest box should be around 18 inches off the ground. This also helps with the cozy protected feeling. Hens feel safer higher up. Plus, getting a box off the coop floor smells better, too. (Side note: Make sure your roosting poles are higher than the nest box or else you might have chickens that would rather sleep in the nest box than the roost.)
I do have an add on nest box that’s only around 8-10 inches off the coop floor. I added it because my youngest birds were getting picked on too much at the regular nest boxes. Interestingly, it does get used from time to time, but nobody prefers it. I would have placed it higher, but there was no good place to put it. I knew it wasn’t optimal, but it was the best I could do with the situation. So, don’t stress out too much if your boxes aren’t exactly 18 inches off the ground or any other specification I’m giving you. These are optimal, but they’re not deal breakers.
Are They Located in a Low Traffic Location?
Again, cozy is the goal. A nest box should be darker and quiet. A place that’s relaxing and not stressful. Hens don’t like to be in the center of commotion to lay their eggs. And if the nest box isn’t calming, they’ll find a better, out-of-the-way (and often out of reach to you) to lay them instead.
Is the Nest Box Padded?
Well, wouldn’t you rather lay an egg in a nice fluffy place over some hard location? The hens are the same. Plus, a fluffy nest box will also keep eggs from breaking when they hit the ground (a hen stands up at the end when she lays an egg).
Is the Box Too Hot?
Temperature plays a role on hot summer days. My hens would rather lay eggs under the blackberry bushes or in the barn than in the hot, stuffy nest box. If there’s a way to create a cross breeze, or cool it off some inside the box, your likelihood of them laying in there goes up considerably.
Is the Nest Box Buggy?
Hens don’t like hanging out in a nest box full of mites or other things that are going to nibble on them while they’re in there. A sprinkling of Diatomaceous Earth (like this) in the bottom of the nest box helps some with this. (If you want to learn more about DE, and ways to use it in the coop, here’s some information).
Also, you can use herbs and essential oils that repel bugs as well.
Is it All Clean?
It might surprise you that a hen prefers a clean nest box over a dirty one. Maybe this is just built-in hygiene for times when she’s broody and sitting on a nest (during those times, she’ll save up and do a giant poo on a rare time when she’s off the nest, to keep the nest box clean for her soon-to-be-hatched-babies). Cleaning out the nest box weekly and filling it with new bedding is a good idea, even if they’re already laying consistently in the box.
Other Tricks of the Trade
Maybe your nest box is perfect. Location, softness, lighting. Everything. Your hens are like the Princess and the Pea. Life couldn’t be more perfect. And yet, they’re still missing the mark (or the box in this case).
Don’t Let Hens Sleep in Nest Boxes
This goes along with the above keeping the nest box clean. Invariably, chicken poop in their sleep and you will get yourself a poopy nest box. The cleaner, the better for everyone–not only do you have happier hens, we can also be happy with clean eggs!
Don’t Let Them Out Until Later
I generally don’t let my flock out for free ranging until noon. I do this mostly to encourage them to use the nest box before ‘recess’. No, not all my hens lay before noon, but many of them do. And once they start laying (and the others see the eggs in the boxes) in encourages the others to do the same. It keeps me from playing hide and seek with the eggs all over the yard or beyond.
Use Fake Eggs in the Nest Box
You can get some great fake eggs that look real (you might want to mark them somehow for your own reference so you don’t bring them in with the real eggs). They’re great to put in the nest boxes to encourage the hens to lay in the boxes. Seeing eggs in the boxes gives them the great idea that that’s where they should lay too!
I’ve tested this theory with fake eggs. Somewhere along the line, I’ve lost one of my fake eggs, so one box is without. If I move the eggs around (therefore leaving a different box without a fake egg) invariably, that empty box STAYS empty and the hens will lay in a fake-egg-populated nest box instead.
You can get fake eggs in ceramic, or in these cool wooden ones (painted in the realistic rainbow of backyard flock colors). I’ve heard others say they use golf balls successfully. I tried that and it didn’t work for my girls. Maybe my hens just have a higher IQ. ha.
Now that you’re a pro on how to get your hens to lay in the nest box, hopefully your problems will disappear. But, hens will still be hens. And sometimes I think they like to send you on a good old fashioned egg hunt just to keep things exciting!
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