Our very first nesting boxes were 2 individual cubes built from plywood. They were cut with a sawzall and a bit funky, but they worked. The moved with us and our 5 hens from Petaluma, and as the hens took up their new temporary residence in a shed, the boxes simply sat on the floor in a corner.
After we built the hen house, we got more hens, and I built a different set of nesting boxes. They consisted of 6 cubbies, made from scrap fence boards, a sloped tin roof, and a scalloped board on the front that matched the trim on our front porch. I painted the cubbies white, and backed them with teal wall paneling my friend Adriann pulled off her walls from her newly purchased home. They were cute and I felt very accomplished at my creation.
Except as time went on, I noticed that my design had flaws. Because my boxes were large, multiple hens would shove in one box, even though there were plenty of empty cubbies. The partitions between the cubbies weren’t high enough, so the hens would have a hard time choosing a cubby, and regularly walk between the boxes, or would fight over the half-walls. It was madness I tell you, MADNESS! In the process of the daily chaos , eggs would get broken and cause general mess. When we had pullets, the half partitions also encouraged roosting, making the boxes filled with poo, which was just gross and unsanitary for the hens to sit in, and also made my eggs constantly dirty.
The only way to clean the boxes was to scoop the shavings or straw out with your hands, and I was never really able to get it all and there would always be a layer of dirt and dust. If there was a broken egg, which happened pretty regularly, the shavings would get all wet and nasty. Because the boxes were a pain in the ass to clean, I procrastinated on it and they weren’t cleaned nearly as much as they should have been.
The bottom layer of boxes had a false walls that reached the floor on the front and sides, but not the back, which turned out to be an entry way to a safe and cozy nest for about 15 rats. To solve that issue, the bottom three boxes were removed, and I was left with just 3 boxes flat on the floor. After a few months I determined was not enough to accommodate my 15 hens without more chaos.
So I decided it was time to remodel the nesting boxes! My goal for the new boxes were to make them be easy to clean, cozy enough for the hens to come and lay, but also discourage fighting and indecisiveness. I wanted the boxes off the floor to prevent the rat nest issue again, and also to possibly give me some storage for things like the heat lamp, chick waterers and the bag of Diatomaceous Earth that currently live in the garage.
So behold- my new and improved nesting boxes!
I used a piece of plywood as the base, and used plywood for the sides.The partitions and the back were made from more of the reclaimed wall paneling. To fasten the plywood sides and thin paneling to the plywood, I screwed each panel to scrap lenght 2×2 wood at its base, and then came in at an angle with screws through the scrap wood to the plywood. I extended the partitions between each cubby all the way to the roof. The side boards were braced with another scrap 2×2 along the front and the back, which also provided “rafters” to hold up the roofing. Made from more scrap corrugated roofing, it keeps the hens from roosting on top and it matches the hen house roof.
The most brilliant feature of these new boxes is the removable tubs. I measured all the other components of the boxes to revolve around and fit 4 plastic dish tubs that I got from Target. Each tub fits perfectly in each cubby, and when I need to clean each box, I simply lift the tub out and dump the soiled bedding into the compost. Easy-peasy! To prevent the hens from jumping onto the edge of the tub and flipping it over, I fastened a front panel of plywood that fits just under the lip of the tub, making it so they don’t move.
The boxes sit on small logs 18″ off the ground. The tubs make the cubbies about 12″ wide, 16″ long, and 6″ deep, which is the perfect size for my average sized hens. They seem to be working well, and the hens seem happy!