Raising your own chickens can be a great source of fresh eggs and meat, as well as an enjoyable hobby. Providing your birds with well designed nesting boxes placed a proper distance off of the floor will help to keep them more content and, therefore, more productive.
Chicken hens are not overly picky about where they lay their eggs. If given no alternative, they will kick together a nest of yard material and lay eggs directly on the ground. Many people use old wooden crates or large bowls filled with nesting material that are placed directly on the floor. While these alternatives will provide nesting areas that chickens will use, it is common knowledge that proper nesting boxes are essential for maximizing egg production and minimizing damages to laid eggs.
There are many, many resources available for purchasing manufactured boxes and construction plans for building your own. Chicken nesting boxes can vary in size from small to large and are typically made of wood, metal or plastic. The type and size of the nesting boxes you chose should be suitable to the breed you are raising, the size of your flock and the dimensions of your coop. The type of material the boxes are made from should be solid and easy to clean.
The standard size nesting box is 12 inches wide x 12 inches deep x 12 inches high. This size is suitable for almost all breeds of chickens, but should be altered if you find too many hens brooding in one box or damages to eggs like cracking or the eating of eggs by the birds. Smaller size boxes, as opposed to the larger and longer boxes, will help keep your hens more productive and minimize egg damage.
Many people have found that making the entrances to the boxes slightly smaller than the interior also helps minimize damage to eggs and saves on nesting material being kicked out of the nests. For the above described standard size, altering the entrance to 9 inches wide x 6 inches high serves several purposes. It gives the boxes a small, dark and cozy feel which most chickens seem to prefer. It also provides a perch area in front of the nest box to create easy access for the chickens. If the box entrance is not altered to be smaller, it is important that a perch area be available in front of the boxes so the birds have something to land on before entering the nests.
It is best to place some soft nesting material in the bottom of all boxes. The preferred nesting material is straw as it is inexpensive and easy to replace when boxes needs cleaning. A good, soft nesting material will help to keep eggs from cracking when they are laid and also make the birds more comfortable.
Nesting boxes are best placed between 12 inches to 24 inches off of the floor. Again, the placement should be at a height that is suitable for the breed you are raising. Smaller breeds will prefer placement lower to the floor, while the larger breeds usually have no problems with reaching higher levels. Placing nesting boxes at least twelve inches off of the floor will also help with keeping the nesting material cleaner as the birds are less likely to defecate in the nests.
If you find you are experiencing low egg production or damages to laid eggs, do not hesitate to alter the size or placement of your nesting boxes.