The 5 Best Free Nesting Boxes for Your Laying Hens

brown eggs in nest

‘Cheep’ Nesting Boxes & Tips

If you’re raising a few laying hens for their lovely eggs, it’s a good idea to have at least one or two nesting boxes. A good nesting box provides a safe and secluded spot for your hen to ‘nestle down’ and lay her egg. However, you don’t need to spend a fortune on this feature for your chicken coop and you might even be able to repurpose another container. In fact, I’ve never purchased a nesting box or built one and have always made do with another option.

So what is a nesting box, why do your hens need one, and what can you use instead of purchasing or building a fancy one?

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dirty nesting boxes
Keep the nesting boxes clean!

What is a Nesting Box and Why Do Your Hens Need One?

The answer might seem obvious, but let’s start with the basics. A nesting box is a container that provides a soft, secure, and secluded space for a hen to settle down and lay her egg in hiding. If a suitable space isn’t provided, your hens will find another place to lay their eggs… and that could be just about anywhere. Sometimes they pick the dirtiest spot in the coop!

This can make searching for eggs a lot of… um, fun? Sure, let’s say it’s entertaining to search under roosting bars, in the corners of a dusty barn, or under shrubs on a perpetual Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately, this can mean discovering a nest full of rotten eggs or, if the hens tried laying on the nest, you might find partially developed embryos in your omelet… yum.

nesting hen

“My Hens Won’t Use Their Nesting Boxes”

Some chicken keepers complain that their expensive nesting boxes sit empty and the hens hide their eggs all over the place. It’s a pretty common problem in backyard flocks. So let’s take a look at some reasons your hens hide their eggs everywhere ELSE:

  • Nesting box isn’t secluded enough
  • Not enough nests for the number of hens
  • Bedding materials are too coarse or uncomfortable
  • Box is dirty or infested with lice or mites
  • Hens are bothered by egg collection
  • One hen takes over the nest
  • Rodents are getting in the box
  • Box is too small

To help you reduce these problems, make sure that your hens have access to a clean, secluded box with comfortable and clean bedding that is free from rodents and parasites. Provide one nest box for every 3 or 4 hens to reduce stress and fights. Some flock mates get along well enough to share a larger nest box, but the typical size should be at least 12-inches by 12-inches and about 6-inches deep. Bantams don’t need as much space and large breeds will need more. It’s also important to provide a comfy, cozy spot for your hen with some nesting materials.

My hens fight over the kitty litter nesting boxes
Here’s what my hens are currently using! I took the lid off for a better view. 🙂

5 Free and Easy Options for Nesting Boxes

You don’t have to buy or build a nesting box for your hens because there are some free or cheap alternatives. Here are some ‘cheep’ options for nest boxes:

  • 5-gallon buckets (clean the ones that paint comes in)
  • Plastic kitty litter buckets
  • Storage totes (reuse old ones that would be thrown away)
  • Covered kitty litter boxes (clean thoroughly)
  • Cardboard boxes (replace often and compost the old ones)

Make sure that whatever you use, it is secure and won’t tip over when a hen climbs in or out. It should also be easy to clean and doesn’t have nooks and crannies where parasites can hide.

Plastic materials are easier to keep clean than wooden boxes and they don’t get as cold in the winter as the metal boxes do. If you don’t have any of these inexpensive alternatives to a purchased box, you can build one with simple plans or purchase a readymade nesting box from your farm store or online. Here are some other ideas to get you started.

What Nest Box Do My Hens Prefer?

What do I use for a nest box in my coop? I’m glad you asked! I use the covered kitty litter boxes made from plastic with a removable hood. This was a super cheap option for me because they came along with my kitty but he doesn’t like them. I cleaned them thoroughly with bleach water and placed them in a quiet, out-of-the-way spot in the coop.

hemp bedding in the nesting box
I tried some hemp bedding in the nesting box… check out my thoughts, below!

What Are the Best Nesting Materials?

Of course, everyone has their own idea of what works best for their chickens and I’m sure this is no different. However, there are some things to keep in mind when you fill up that nesting box.

Here are some materials to avoid using in a nest box:

  • Hay or straw that is coarse or has thistles
  • Sawdust that has large slivers of wood
  • Materials that can get tangled around feet (no string, twine, or frayed fabrics)

Here are some great options for filling nesting boxes that your hens will love:

  • Pine shavings
  • Clean hay or straw that has a fine texture
  • Hemp bedding
  • Shredded paper
  • Dry leaves
  • Dried herbs to repel parasites

Mini Hemp Bedding Review…

I recently had the chance to try out some hemp bedding from Eaton Hemp and when I opened the bag it looked like great nesting material. So guess what my hens are trying out? And they actually seemed pretty ‘eggs-cited’ about it! 😁

Here’s what I liked about the hemp bedding for filling a nesting box:

  • Fine texture
  • Low or no dust
  • Absorbent
  • Soft

The only downside that I can see to this hemp bedding is the price point, which is higher than purchasing bales of straw from the farmer down the road. For bedding down a flock of 25 chickens (the size of my flock), this wouldn’t be affordable. However, I think this bedding product is a good option for those who keep a few pet chickens, hamsters, rabbits, parakeets, or other small animals. I think you would find this hemp bedding to be beneficial for keeping dust down in the home. It also looks like the used bedding will compost down into a great soil amendment!

Using the Hemp Bedding in a Brooder Box…

I’m planning to hatch chicks this spring and I think this product will make great bedding for lining the bottom of the brooder. The pieces of hemp are small enough that chicks shouldn’t have any problems tripping over it, like they do with straw. It also seems like this bedding will be much more absorbent than the pine shavings I’ve tried.

Because their hemp bedding is sustainably grown, very absorbent, low in dust, and helps control odor, I think it will be a great option for my brooder. The first couple of weeks they are always in the house to keep them warm, so it usually gets pretty stinky. I’ll let you know how the hemp bedding works out for controlling the odor!

Disclaimer: I received a bag of this bedding to try for free from Eaton Hemp and they are sponsoring a giveaway here! All opinions are my own and are not affected by receiving a free sample.

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The 5 Best Nesting Boxes for Your Laying Hnes

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