Chickens will lay their eggs almost anywhere, but they prefer to have a cozy, private area. Providing nesting boxes for them meets their needs, and is also a good way to ensure that you won't be spending valuable time searching for eggs. Nesting boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be made from many different materials, and some chicken keepers even repurpose items like milk crates and cat litter boxes. However, the most important thing to remember when building a nesting box is size. Each nesting area should be at least 12 inches square so the hens will have ample room to move around and lay their eggs. Making them larger, maybe up to 18 inches square, is fine as long as there is enough room in your coop for them. Another good idea, although not completely necessary, is to make sure that the top of the nesting box is slanted or otherwise prevents the chickens from roosting on top of them. Wherever chickens roost they leave messy droppings that make for an unsightly nesting area.
The design detailed below is made by using 1/2 inch plywood to create three separate nesting boxes in one structure. Each nesting area is a little over 15 inches deep, providing plenty of room for a hen of any size to move around. This type of nesting box can be securely fastened to the coop wall or placed on a base made of cinder blocks or wood; I fastened mine to an old saw horse and that worked quite nicely. Keep in mind that if it's fairly high off the floor, the chickens might need a ramp or some other way to easily access the nest boxes. I placed an old crate in front of mine and the hens can jump from the crate to the roost along the front of the structure.
There should be one nesting box for every two to five hens. This design would be ideal for anywhere from six to 15 hens. The nesting areas should be filled with pine wood shavings, straw, or some other similar bedding material. The hens will form a nest and begin laying in the boxes usually with no guidance. If they do continue to lay outside of the nesting box, simply gather the eggs and place them in the boxes to encourage them to lay in the designated area. It shouldn't take long before they catch on and lay in the nesting box every time.
Step 1 - Measure and cut the back and bottom pieces
Measure and cut the piece that will be used for the back and the bottom of the nesting box. Use the circular saw to cut the plywood using the following measurements:
Back piece = 48 inches by 28 1/2 inches.
Bottom piece = 48 inches by 14 1/2 inches
Note: Plywood comes in a standard size of 4 feet by 8 feet, so measuring 48 inches on these pieces is not necessary because one side is already 48 inches.
Step 2 - Attach the back and bottom pieces
Attach the back piece to the bottom piece with wood screws. Space the screws no more than 12 inches apart to ensure sturdiness.
Step 3 - Measure and cut wall pieces
Measure and cut four wall pieces. The measurements are 28 inches down one side by 14 inches across the bottom by 17 3/4 inches on the other side. There should be an angle along the top of the wall pieces to allow for the roof piece to slant. Using a pencil, mark the top of the 28-inch cut and the top of the 17 3/4-inch cut and draw a line diagonally. Use the saw to make a cut on the diagonal line.
Step 4 - Attach end wall pieces
Place two of the wall pieces on both ends of the back/bottom unit and secure with screws. Set the remaining two wall pieces aside.
Step 5 - Measure and cut the front lip piece
Measure and cut the front lip using the measurements 48 inches by 4 inches. Place the lip flush with the bottom piece and use screws to secure it to the bottom and two wall pieces.
Step 6 - Attach remaining inner wall pieces
To create three separate nesting spaces, measure approximately 15 5/16 inches from the end wall piece and screw in another wall piece into the back, bottom, and front. Do the same on the other side.
Step 7 - Measure and cut roof piece
Measure and cut the roof piece using the measurements 50 inches by 20 inches. Place the roof piece on top with approximately 1 inch of overhang on all sides. Secure with screws.
Step 8 - Measure and cut roost braces
Measure and cut two roost braces using the measurements 12 inches by 2 inches. Secure the roost braces on the bottom about 6 inches from either side of outer walls. Leave about a 1 to 2 inch gap in front to hold the roost.
Step 9 - Attach dowel rod
Secure the dowel rod onto the roost braces to form a roost.
Step 10 - Place nesting box in desired location
Secure finished nesting box to the coop wall or raise it off the ground using cinder blocks or wood.
If you like, you can paint the nesting box or add fancy, yet functional touches like curtains. If you decide to paint the nesting box, it's wise to sand it first so the paint and primer will adhere to the surface better. Give your nesting box your own personal touch that reflects your personality!