Chicken Nesting Boxes: Owner’s Guide

Chicken Nesting Boxes: Owner’s Guide

Chicken nesting boxes are central to owning hens – it’s where the magic of laying eggs happens!

 

Choosing the RIGHT nesting boxes is pretty important – I’m frequently contacted by owners who think their hens aren’t laying eggs.

 

But often, the issue is these hens just aren’t fans of their nesting areas – so they’re laying elsewhere.

 

And we all know that one of the best parts of being a chicken mama is being a chicken grandmama! The excitement can’t be contained when you find the fluffy butts sitting on eggs because they’ve gone broody.

 

But, as I said above, hens don’t just lay anywhere – just where they feel safe.

 

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know – whether you’ll buy your “egg depositories” or plan to use a chicken nesting boxes plans pdf to build your own.

 

If you plan to buy nesting boxes, these are the brands we recommend:

 

 

It’s most important that the nesting box is easy for your hens to get in and out of – the look or material is less important than your hens feel safe.

 

What can I use as a chicken nesting box?

Pretty much anything can be a nesting box – a basket, a box, 5 gallon buckets, you name it. The most important thing is that a nesting box is:

 

  • Quiet
  • Clean
  • Dark

 

You can find lots of DIY nesting box plans online – just choose a style that suits your flock and your coop.

 

How many nesting boxes are necessary?

Flocks of different sizes have different needs – you don’t need a million nesting boxes if you only have a few hens! While there really is no hard and fast rule about how many nesting boxes for chickens you should have, a basic rule of thumb is 1 nesting box per 4-5 chickens.

 

Why so few? Chickens are social animals, and hens like to share their laying space. In fact, if you enter your chicken coop at just the right time, you might find 2 or even 3 hens cluttering up ONE nesting box!

 

So, if you’re asking yourself, “how many nesting boxes do I need for 20 chickens?,” rest assured that 5 boxes is enough for 20 chickens.

 

They might only use two of those and making one nesting box for each hen is overkill!

 

How many nesting boxes do you need for 6 chickens?

Remember that for every 4-5 chickens, 1 box is best. So for 6 chickens, 2 boxes is enough.

 

What is the best material for a chicken nesting box?

Wood, metal, and plastic are popular choices for nesting boxes. DIY versions can be made from scrap wood left from a previous project, or plywood would be awesome! You can also make economical plastic chicken nesting boxes out of 5 gallon buckets, milk crates, and even cat litter boxes!

 

Some people like the Roll Out nest boxes you see on Amazon. These are usually made of metal, which is easy to clean and sanitize.

 

 

(Just remember that these contraptions take up space, and gravity plays a huge part for this kind of system – for it to work properly, the roll away nest box angle should be considered.)

 

Whichever material you choose, just remember that it’s important your hens’ living area is frequently cleaned – so choose material that’s easy to sanitize.

 

What’s the best bedding for chicken nest boxes? What do you put in a nesting box?

 

  1. Pine Shavings
  2. Straw
  3. Hay
  4. Cedar Shavings
  5. Grass clippings
  6. Recycled or shredded newspaper
  7. Shredded leaves
  8. Nesting pads

 

For bedding, we use pine shavings. They’re easy to clean, easy to find in farm stores, and economical.

 

Straw and hay are fine as well – you will likely need to change the bedding more often. Some people claim straw and hay can harbor chicken mites. This might be true (but really, any bedding can if you don’t change it often enough).

 

Grass clippings and shredded leaves aren’t recommended. They’re not very absorbent and will get dirty a lot faster. Grass in particular creates a gross, moist environment fast. Newspaper isn’t very absorbent either, and the ink will get on your hens and possibly the eggs.

 

Lastly, some people object to using cedar in their coops, claiming the scent of cedar might harm chickens. While the jury is still out on this, pine shavings make a fine substitute.

 

However, if you find you really have a lot of problems with mites, cedar shavings might be a safer bet – it’s far more likely your hens will be harmed by mites than by cedar.

 

Some people add herbs so their hens have a nice-smelling space and to help them relax and prompt laying.

 

If you want to use a nesting box pad, there’s lots of commercial options. Here’s some brands I recommend:

 

 

Remember: This bedding will basically be the mattress for your hens. Before throwing in anything you find, keep in mind that your hens will be sitting on it – and if they’re comfortable, they’re more likely to use the nesting box.

 

Make sure the bedding is soft enough for the eggs to land on, and that they won’t get cracked if your hens roll them around.

 

The nesting box material should should also be easy for you to clean and sanitize – and prevent chicken mites.

 

Here at the farm, we add ¼ cup of our WormBGone nesting herbs 3-4 times a week to each nesting box to keep internal parasites away and MitesBGone to ward off chicken mites. We also make sure that we change the bedding mix once it gets soiled or wet.

 

The amount of material you use should correspond to the nesting box size as well – you want the nesting box to look full without seeming stuffed (and too stuffy for your hens to easily get in and out).

 

Do nesting boxes need to be elevated?

They can be sitting on the floor or raised. Keep in mind, however, that your hens are prey animals, and they’re easily startled during egg laying time. Nesting boxes that are elevated will help your chickens feel safer and prompt egg laying better than those on the ground. It also keeps the roosters from bothering them during a private moment. It’s also easier to keep poopy shavings away if you elevate the chicken nesting boxes.

 

How high should nesting boxes be off the ground?

18 inches to 2 feet is best so that all your hens can reach them. Chickens can’t fly very well – heavy breeds like brahmas or specialized breeds like silkies don’t fly much at all. So, you’ll want the boxes easily accessible, and any higher than 2 feet might be difficult for some breeds to reach.

 

If you plan to install the boxes higher (or if your coop came with them elevated), it would be great if you also install a perch or ladder to help the flightless members of your flock.

 

When should you open nesting boxes for chickens?

Once hens reach their laying stage at approximately 17 weeks, you can cut the ribbon and pop the champagne! At this stage they will already be accustomed to sleeping in the roosts they won’t get into the habit of sleeping where they should be laying.

 

How do you get chickens to lay eggs in a nesting box?

If your hens aren’t naturally using their nesting boxes, you should first try to figure out why. Are they not safe? Is the area too noisy? Are they dirty? Do your hens free range (which means they might choose a different location to lay)? Again, hens lay where they find it safe and comfortable. Make the nesting box bedding fluffy and clean. You can also use nesting herbs to attract your hens, and if you get really stuck, you can put training eggs in the boxes. These are fake eggs you put in nesting boxes to let pullets know that that is where they should lay their eggs. While this seems silly, chickens really do take the hint!

 

If your hens insist on laying their eggs everywhere, you can block the “wrong” places. This makes them go on a hunt for another safe place.

 

Just remember that if your nesting boxes aren’t:

  • Quiet
  • Clean
  • Dark

You might have a hard time getting your hens to use it!

 

How big do nesting boxes need to be?

Your chicken nesting box size is also important when talking about comfort. 14” x 14” x 16” boxes would be cozy enough for Brahmas, Ameraucanas, Araucanas, and other breeds. Consider how large your chicken is – you want the nesting boxes to be big enough for your hens, but not so big that they feel unsafe or exposed (remember, dark nesting boxes are best!).

 

How do you stop chickens from pooping in their nesting boxes?

It can be hard to stop them pooping in their boxes – chickens (like all birds) don’t have a bladder, so when they gotta go, they just go. Additionally chickens poop and lay eggs from the same area (the vent), so when your hen is laying an egg, some poop might accidentally slip out.

 

That being said, your chickens are more likely to poop in their boxes when they’re NOT laying an egg – meaning, if they’re using their boxes as a bed.

 

No matter how many nesting boxes per chicken you have, remember that the boxes aren’t their sleeping quarters. That’s what roosts are for.

 

Chickens would only poop in the nesting boxes when they treat them as their home (sleeping in them) because they do a lot of pooping at night. So it is essential for them to be trained to sleep in the roosts first before opening the boxes.

 

If you have chickens using their nesting boxes as a sleeping place, evict them! Shoo them or gently remove your hens when you find them getting too comfortable snoozing in those boxes.

 

How do you keep a nesting box clean?

You need to clean it regularly! Make it part of your egg gathering routine to do some housekeeping. Remove soiled bedding, feathers, and poop that you find. If it’s really gross, you’ll have to completely remove all the bedding and wipe down the laying area. You can use water, all-natural wipes, or other cleaning solutions to do the job.

 

Shavings are the easiest to clean while straw is the hardest! It is also the perfect place for pests to hide so it would also help out big time when you think about what to put in chicken nesting boxes.

 

How do you clean your chicken nesting boxes? Leave a comment below!




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Create The Best Chicken Brooders For Baby Chicks!

Create The Best Chicken Brooders For Baby Chicks!

Heard of chicken brooders, but not sure what the fuss is about? Getting chicks, and not sure which brooders are best? In this article, we’ll give you all the details so you can pick the perfect home for your newest pets!

Chicks! Little balls of down that are so adorable you just want to eat them up! Or maybe that’s the family cat, we’re talking about… So maybe eating them up is a terrible idea. A good idea, however, is bringing them into the family. Soon, these day-old fuzzy butts will grow into amazing full-sized chickens: hens of the greatest laying potential and roosters whose protective skills are without peer! 

The question, then, is how to ensure that these chicks do reach adulthood. What can we do to protect these helpless little bundles of cute? Where can we keep them until they are ready to join the flock? What tips and tricks can we utilize to ensure that the cat stays away from them long enough to get big enough to defend themselves?

The answer to the above questions is quite simple: you need to get yourself a chick brooder. 

What is a Chick Brooder?

A brooder is a safe environment where a group of baby chicks can stay warm and comfortable until they’re ready to join other chickens in the run. All told, a chick will spend about 8-10 weeks in a brooder. It is a relatively short, but incredibly important part of their lives. 

Anything can serve as a brooder, from a plastic bin to a pre-fabricated brooder sold on Amazon. I personally just use a plastic tote bin because they’re cheap and easy to clean. 

You can see my brooder set up in this video:

Why Have a Brooder?

In the wild, chicks have a very unique personal defense system that they do not have in the adoptive world of your family. That defense system is called a mother hen. The mother hen digs or builds a nest for her chicks and there, she sits on them, defending and protecting them from all manner of dangers: from predators to chill weather. When a person decides to take on chicks and raise them, that person volunteers themselves for the role of mother. It’s obviously not a good idea for you to sit on a clutch of chicks for several weeks – we don’t have quite the warm, protective tail feathers that mother hens have (in addition to being far too heavy). As a result, we need a safe place to keep our developing chicks. That is where the brooder comes into play. 

What Size Brooder Should I Have?

It goes without saying that those cute little chicks will grow. Because of this, you’ll want to consider two recommended sizes for a good brooder. The smaller brooder should be about 12 inches tall, and should be large enough so that each chick has about 6 inches of space when they’re day olds – 4 weeks old.. This smaller brooder will become obsolete, however, at or around week 4 of their lives. At this stage of their development, you’ll want to upgrade them to a 24-inch tall brooder that gives them 1 square foot each. This will keep them safe and in check until they complete their developmental phase.

 It is possible, however, to forego the smaller brooder for the larger one. Your chicks will outgrow the smaller one, after all. If your resources are limited, then there is much to be said for that option. 

Where Should I Keep My Brooder?

A brooder is a safe place for your chicks. You’ll need to keep it in a secure place that can hold heat and protect your hatchlings from any and all of those great dangers just lurking out in the wider world. You could put it in a barn, a workshop, a garage, a basement, or even right in the house. The key is to keep it very safe from predators, such as cats, raccoons, opossums, and rats. 

Because you will need to provide your chicks with heat, a reliable power source is key. You’ll also want your brooder to be easy to get to, as you’ll probably want to check on your chicks at least a couple of times per day. I would also strongly recommend putting some kind of cover over your chicks – a mesh one for warmer weather or a piece of insulation in colder weather. 

Chickens are birds, after all, and once their wing feathers start coming in, they just might succumb to the urge to test out those flight enablers. The other reason for a covering your chicks are the curious whims of the family cat. Or dog. Or child. As much as we might love the other beasts in our menageries, they might not have the best interests of your chicks at heart. 

How Many Chicks Should Be In A Brooder?

I personally only put between ten and fifteen full sized chicks into a brooder at a time. This helps to ensure that there is enough space for each one, at least 6 inches of space per chick. Ten to fifteen chicks is easy to keep track of (for example, if one gets sick, it should be easy enough to identify that one.) It is also small enough to start getting to know the chicks’ personalities. If you’re like me and hope that these chickens become family, then it’s best to start familiarizing yourself with them sooner rather than later. Why not start right from the brooder?

If you’re going to have a clutch of bantams, up to 17 chicks is a good number. This is mostly just to help them stay warm, as being smaller chickens, they could use just a touch more heat. But the clutch should be no more than that. Otherwise, your chicks might squash each other.

At farm stores, you sometimes see there might be 50 chicks in a big bin. Farm stores do that because the chicks aren’t going to be there for that long. Many stores sell out in a day! 

So most farm stores don’t need to worry about whether a chick has long term access to food and water. At home however, if you have a lot of chicks in your brooder, you can’t guarantee that everybody’s getting the food that they need. So stick to a smaller clutch size, and get more than one brooder if necessary.

It’s harder to keep track of everybody and everybody’s health when a lot of chicks are in one brooder. They’re all running everywhere, and you can’t look at everybody really closely. 

Smaller numbers in your brooder make it easier to keep track of everybody’s condition. Is everybody getting the food that they need? Is everybody developing correctly? Is everybody warm enough? Does somebody look too cold?

If you use apple cider vinegar, it’s easier to make sure that everybody gets access to that. If you have one waterer and a large number of chicks in your brooder, maybe not everybody’s getting enough water or the apple cider vinegar in the water that they need. This is all the more reason to keep numbers manageable in a brooder. 

What Do Chicks Need In A Brooder?

For a brooder to be 100% effective, it will need a few key components. The first is warmth. Newborn chicks are covered in down, which is lovely and soft, but not that great at providing your precious little ones with the warmth they need to develop strong, hale and hearty. In their first week of life, the ideal temperature is about 95 degrees F. You will want to adjust this as your chicks start to feather out, as feathers provide them with natural insulation against the cold. 

The 95 degrees that was good in the first week might be too hot in the second week. If your chicks are too hot, they might start panting or moving far away from the heat source. Having a thermometer on hand will help you identify whether or not your heating source is too close to the clutch. When you test the temperature, be sure to be on the same level as your chicks. You want the readings to be as accurate to your birds’ experience as possible. 

Next comes food and water. A chick has to eat, right? Provide your clutch with a couple automatic waterers and feeders. If you put them in the corners of the brooder, it will help to reduce how much waste your chicks will deposit into the feed or water troughs. Most will spend their time in the warmest sections of the brooder – especially on colder days – and will then have to disperse to fill their other needs. The water and feed should be changed daily. If your chicks are especially messy, then this could be upgraded to twice a day refilling. 

Countless chicken lovers will tell you that waterers could use an anti-drowning preventative. Chicks are just getting their legs, so to speak, and as such, they might have a mishap or two with regards to how they drink. Shallow as their drinking troughs are, there is still a risk of drowning. To prevent this, put a number of marbles into the trough. This will give your chicks full access to water, but it will prevent them from dunking their heads.

The final thing your brooder will need is bedding. Chickens of all ages have the potential to be terribly messy. 

The Best Options For Flooring And Bedding

It seems like the go-to for bedding across the USA is pine shavings. This is very similar to what horses get in their stalls, and it tends to be light, fluffy, and holds chick waste quite well. In the first couple of weeks, it will need cleaning and changing every couple of days, but as your chicks get bigger, they will start producing greater quantities of waste. If pine shavings are unavailable in your local farm store, other options include straw, shredded paper towels (for the first week at most), or newspaper. Of all of these options, pine bedding works best for absorbency and overall comfort. You’ll need between an inch and three inches of bedding for your chicks. 

What Types Of Heaters Are There?

There are a few varieties of heaters to use in your brooder. The most common are a heat lamp and heating pads. A simple heating lamp can be clamped right onto the side of the brooder or dangle above it. These then produce powerful localized heat that spread out quite well over a general area. This actually provides both hot zones and cooler zones within the brooder. In the event that the weather shifts in your brooder’s shelter, your chicks will have temperature escapes. However, I don’t personally use or recommend heat lamps. They’re very dangerous.

Heat lamps produce tremendous heat. That much heat concentrated over wooden bedding is a fire hazard waiting to happen. When setting up your heat source, be sure that it cannot fall – secure it thoroughly with clamps or a bungee. 

Heat plates are a solid pad that is elevated off the ground and provides a surface area of warmth. Their height is adjustable so that your chicks will not bump their heads on the pads. These pads more closely simulate the localized warmth of a hen sitting on her clutch, but they tend to be far more expensive than heat lamps. 

You can also use space heaters.

Is There a Do It Yourself Option for a Brooder?

Brooders are remarkably affordable or easy to make. They require some basic and easily accessible materials, and can be quite durable, usable season after season. The simplest ones can be made from a large plastic tub or a large wooden box or coop. 

When Should I Get a Brooder?

It is imperative to get your brooder before you bring your first clutch of chicks home. You will want to set it up and test it out for any problems that might arise before your chicks get into it. You can trouble shoot anything that might hinder your chicks’ development or cause them undue stress. You can also check that  there is enough bedding, the heat lamps are secure and safe, and their water and feed is all set up. The latter is very important because when your chicks arrive. You’ll want to orient them to their food and water by dipping the beak of each one. This will ensure that they know where their essentials are.  

Sharing your home with a clutch of chicks is a truly amazing experience, and it all starts with having a good brooder for them. It’ll ensure they’re healthy and safe from predators. You’ll also get lots of hands on experience with your new pets! 

What’s your best chicken brooder tips? Leave a comment below!

Why Won’t My Hens Use Their Nesting Boxes?

Why Won’t My Hens Use Their Nesting Boxes?

Is your flock refusing to lay eggs in their nesting boxes? Want to spoil your hens by creating a nesting area that’s beautiful and inviting? In this article, I’ll show you 7 most common reasons why chickens refuse to use their nesting boxes, what to do about it, and how to provide the best nesting area possible.

It can be heartbreaking and confusing when your flock lays their eggs on the ground instead of the carefully designed nesting boxes you provide. Nobody wants dirty, poop-crusted eggs! It’s also disappointing when they start hiding their eggs or stop laying completely. You spend so much time and money setting up their nesting area, after all! It can be really, really frustrating. 

Getting your flock to consistently use their boxes can take some trial and error, but it CAN be done. It all starts with providing an attractive and inviting nesting area. With the easy ideas below, you can discover if you’re making some very common mistakes in your own coop. If your hens aren’t laying eggs, be sure to print this article out. You can use it as a checklist.

Let’s cover the common reasons why your chickens might avoid laying eggs in a nesting box.

Common Reasons Chickens Won’t Use Nesting Boxes

  1. Too much noise & commotion
  2. There’s mites in the nesting area
  3. The boxes smell or are dirty
  4. The bedding is wrong
  5. Nesting boxes are too high or too low
  6. Your hens don’t like the material your nesting boxes are made out of
  7. They don’t have enough nesting boxes 

Chickens Like Their Privacy

It’s true. Even though they’re incredibly social animals, chickens like privacy when doing their most intimate business – laying eggs. Why is this? When a hen lays an egg, it can take up to 1 hour for the egg to actually emerge from her vent. She must stay still and quiet the entire time. In the last few moments, before the egg is laid, she might even have to strain a little. As you can imagine, it’s not a time when she wants roosters, humans, or other hens bothering her!

If you locate your flock’s nesting boxes in a busy area, your hens might avoid it. Similarly, if they’re easily accessible to roosters or bossy alpha hens, it’s likely too stressful for a quieter hen. In these cases, she will find her own, more suitable, area. 

Make sure your flock’s nesting boxes are inside the coop. Choose a corner where there’s no feeders, waterers, dust bathing areas, swings, or anything else that can attract another chicken to the area. Dedicate that nesting area just for laying eggs. Your hens will appreciate it!

Are Mites A Problem?

We all know what mites are. But did you know they can hide in nesting boxes? Not only that, they can turn a cozy, daydreamy nesting box into a nightmare. Eventually, mites can even cause death. If your flock’s nesting boxes are infested, your hens might avoid them altogether.

So, how do you know if there’s mites? Personally, I automatically assume mites will creep in, especially if I don’t do preventative maintenance. Regularly cleaning nesting areas helps. Spraying the area down with a cleaning solution and scrubbing it regularly is a simple but effective strategy. An all natural cleaner made from citrus is a cost-effective option. 

But don’t stop there. Cleaning prevents existing mites from making the boxes a home, but it doesn’t stop the invasion completely. Do double duty by adding herbs traditionally used to prevent external parasites to your nesting area. Herbs are a cost effective and all natural solution that can discourage mites from returning. Mites can cause anemia, which usually requires a visit to the vet to diagnose and cure. So preventing them is cheaper than a big vet bill. Always make sure to source your blends from a reliable source. We use this herb blend because it’s created specifically for chickens.

chicken mites and lice
A chicken with mites isn’t a comfortable chicken! Mites can make their nesting boxes an unhappy place to lay eggs. Get rid of them ASAP!

Does It Smell Bad? 

Finding eggs on your coop floor? Not always cleaning your nesting boxes when they need it? Then your hens are likely avoiding the smelly, confined areas. 

Who wants to lay in a dirty, stinky bed? Nobody. And your hens aren’t any different. Lots of things happen in nesting areas that humans can’t see. As the box gets dirtier and dirtier, problems compound. Eggs break. A hen drops manure or urine. Ammonia builds up. Their eyes start stinging. Feathers get stuck everywhere. It’s unpleasant.

The simplest way to avoid this is to clean the nesting boxes weekly. Remove all bedding, and do a wipe down. Then, add clean bedding and herbs. For a more detailed explanation, you can read this article to learn how to clean a coop.

It’s also important to clean any unusual messes as quickly as possible. For example, if an egg breaks, don’t allow the smell to fester and the egg to dry. It’ll be hard to get the stench out of your flock’s feathers. You’ll spend even more time cleaning. You’ll end up with stinky chickens in addition to no eggs. You want to avoid wetness, stickiness, and bad smells. Clean the box immediately, and replace any bedding and herbs. 

Which brings us to an important point: great smelling herbs are an easy way to keep your flock using their nesting boxes. Chickens are animals, and smells are very important. It’s how they understand their surroundings. They use scent to determine if an area is safe or not. We’ve found that adding herbs and dried flowers creates a more inviting area that smells better. Instead of repelling our chickens, the herbs invite our flock to use their nesting boxes. 

We like this product, which is full of fragrant, healthy herbs and flowers like calendula, lavender, chamomile, rose petals, and more. The herbs are all healthy for chickens, and other buyers report the herbs attract their chickens to nesting boxes better than just bedding alone.

Herbs can make any nesting box more attractive. This blend smells great, and chickens love it!

Is The Bedding Wrong?

Have you always used a certain type of bedding? Or, are you not using bedding at all? Chickens are sensitive, like a lot of prey animals. Bedding that doesn’t suit them – for whatever reason – can stop them from using their nesting boxes. If your flock won’t use your nesting boxes, try out different bedding options. Straw and pine shavings are two popular options. Adding herbs to bedding can also help attract your hens. In our coop, we use pine shavings from Tractor Supply and Best Eggs Ever! Nesting Box Herbs. Our flock enjoys them, and our hens always give us about a dozen eggs a day. 

Adding ENOUGH bedding is important, also. What would you rather sit on: a thin cushion or a nice, fluffy pillow? Personally, I’d opt for the fluffy pillow. I’m sure your chickens feel the same. 

When they lay eggs, the hens tuck their legs under them and bed down. Sitting on hard, cold metal hurts the shank of their legs and their toes. If their coop floor offers nice, fluffy shavings, they’ll likely opt to lay their eggs on the softer area. Add at least 1 inch of shavings per nesting box, and top it with ½ cup of herbs and flowers. Adding extra bedding and herbs can cost a bit extra, but it’s better than spending money on feed with no eggs to show for it! Your hens will show their appreciation by giving you lovely butt nuggets!

Whatever bedding you choose, just make sure to stay away from cedar shavings. While they smell good, some studies have shown that the aroma can have a long-term negative impact on your flock’s health. 

Are The Boxes Too High Or Too Low?

It’s true, sometimes chickens can sometimes be picky. While we have a lot of nesting options in our coop, for whatever reason, our flock refuses to use any that are placed too high. There’s a Goldilocks zone. If a new nesting box isn’t within those parameters, they ignore it. 

For example, a company sent us some nesting boxes to test out. The product looked perfect. But we committed a cardinal sin (at least a sin in the eyes of our chickens): We placed the boxes higher than our other nesting boxes. The hens promptly ignored them. As soon as we lowered the boxes, our chickens used them. 

It can go the opposite way, too. Sometimes nesting boxes are TOO close to the ground, and hens avoid them. This happens especially if the nesting boxes are directly on the ground. There’s a lot less privacy, and potential for opportunistic predators to infest the area to steal eggs. Bossy hens, roosters, rats, snakes, skunks, or other predators can easily enter the box. Because it’s not safe, chickens then lay their eggs in undesirable areas. 

If everything else in your coop seems okay, then perhaps the height of your boxes is the problem. Try lowering them or raising them to see how your flock reacts. It can be a chore, but so is an Easter egg hunt every day. In the long run, you’ll be happier with the results by finding your flock’s “ Goldilocks Zone.”

Choose Materials Your Hens Prefer

When we purchased our new coop, I had visions of easily removable plastic nesting boxes. I wanted to power wash them weekly to keep them dirt free. My flock had other plans. To this day, they refuse to use plastic nesting boxes. Instead, they’re fans of stainless steel. I’m still scratching my head, but that’s just the way it is.

Nesting boxes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made of wood, stainless steel, plastic, wicker, and any other material you can imagine. Like people, chickens have their own preferences. This is especially true if you have an opinionated alpha hen. She can influence an entire flock. And sometimes, chickens just prefer one type of nesting box over another. 

For example, if your nesting boxes are made of cedar, it’s possible your hens want to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. If the boxes are plastic, maybe they’re just too slippery. If it’s winter, maybe the stainless steel gets too cold. In the summer, maybe it’s too warm. Maybe it’s too sharp or too hard, and it hurts them. 

Examine your own flock’s habits. Observe them as they interact with the nesting boxes. From there, you can figure out if they’re avoiding their boxes because they don’t like what the boxes are made from. You’d be surprised what you can learn by spending a few hours watching your chickens. You might end up investing in new nesting boxes,  but it’s cheaper than getting a big feed bill with no eggs to show for it.

When they love their boxes, hens will double up to use them!

Make Sure You Have Enough Nesting Boxes

It’s best to have approximately 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. Yes, sometimes your hens will all use the same nesting box. But please give them plenty of options. For example, if you have 5 chickens, 2-3 nesting boxes is best. For 10 hens, then 3 nesting boxes is a good number. If you have 15 hens, 5 boxes is best.

Why is this ratio important? It comes down to promoting good behavior and cleanliness. Let’s pretend two or more hens need to lay eggs at the same time. Where will all these lovely ladies lay? Sometimes, two chickens can pile into a nesting box. 

But most boxes can’t accommodate more than two hens. More importantly, they shouldn’t. When hens pile into a box, chaos happens. Eggs break, and fights start. If it’s hot, your hens can overheat. Somebody can get smushed or suffocate. Your hens might avoid the boxes altogether because it’s too stressful.

Having plenty of nesting boxes also prevents bullying. If you have a dominant hen, she might stop other hens from laying in “her” box. Then, the other hens start laying in undesirable areas. They have to lay somewhere! To avoid all these disasters, just follow this simple strategy. Build 1 nesting box for every 3 hens. You’ll get better eggs and have happier hens!

Final Thoughts

Yes, some chickens can be picker than others. But if your flock has suddenly stopped using their boxes altogether OR if they never used them to begin with, it’s pretty safe to say your flock’s tastes aren’t the only issue. Likely, the problem is environmental. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few ideas you can test in your own coop. You don’t need to implement every single strategy we discussed. But if you notice your flock is laying eggs in undesirable areas, it’s worth printing out this article and using it as a checklist. From there, you can determine whether you’re making any of the mistakes we covered. Good luck and let me know how it works out by leaving a comment below!

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

The controversy around bedding for chickens and baby chicks always makes me giggle. 

 

Mostly because, to me, there are clear winners in the quest to keep your baby chicks’ pens clean. 

 

In this video, I break down pros and cons of some of the most common types of bedding and provide my own recommendations for them. 

 

 

The six types of bedding discussed are as follows:

  1. Shavings (small flake, large flake, saw dust). I personally use large flake shavings.
  2. Newsprint
  3. Paper towels
  4. Sand
  5. Straw
  6. Hay

 

While it may appear to be a random listing of bedding, to me, there is a clear order, where my strongest recommendations are at the top, and as we go down the list, we get into types that are less ideal as bedding for baby chicks. 

 

Shavings (Small Flake, Large Flake, Sawdust)

We use shavings because they’re cheap and they are easy to find. They’re also easy to clean, and they keep everything clean. 

 

You have some options: 

  • Big flake (they literally just have big flakes in them.)
  • Small flake shavings
  • Sawdust

I prefer big flake shavings because it’s really hard for the chicks to actually swallow them. Because they’re curious by nature, you’ll see chicks try and eat the shavings. 

 

They’re not going to be successful in 99.9% of cases because obviously it’s just too big. 

 

However, with smaller flake shavings and particularly sawdust, there’s a chance that they could swallow the wood shavings.

 

It’s dangerous because they’re eating something that’s not food, and it’s taking up space in their digestive system where actual food could be. 

 

Small flakes and shavings also can cause choking, or it can cause obstructions in their digestive system

 

The type of wood in the shavings is also something to consider. Pine shavings are best, because cedar shavings give off fumes that can harm the chicks. So stick with pine and you can’t go wrong. 

 

Newsprint, Paper Towels, & Cloth Towels

Something else that’s pretty popular to use is newspaper and/or towels. These are both okay, and I’ll use them in a pinch. However, the newspaper is not very absorbent.

 

For example, if they spill their water, you’re going to have a mess. And the last thing that you want is for baby chicks to get wet – because once they get wet, they get cold. And then once they get cold, they stop eating.

 

Newsprint also has ink on it, which might harm your chicks. We don’t know exactly what’s in these newsprint inks!

 

I’ve used towels before and they’re okay. But they’re not very absorbent for smells. If your chicks poop on towels (and they will), it can smell a lot more than shavings because there’s nothing to mask the smell.

 

Sand

Sand is another bedding that’s become more popular in the past few years. Sand is not my favorite for a few different reasons. 

 

The particles are pretty small, so the chicks are going to try and eat it. Additionally, you don’t really know what’s on it. Chemicals? Loads of bacteria? You get the point.

 

It also doesn’t absorb very well. Your chickens will be pooping on the sand, which means it’ll smell in the rain.

 

A lot of people like sand because it’s easy to clean. While it is a little bit like kitty litter, it doesn’t absorb the smell very well, and it gets mushy and gross.

 

Personally, I don’t use it and to the people who follow me, I don’t really recommend it for baby chicks.

 

Hay and Straw

I’ve used hay and straw in the past. Hay is not quite as good as straw. Straw tends to be more absorbent, and it is easier to get. It’s little more sterile than hay. 

 

Hay could have bugs in it. It could have seeds from who knows what weeds, which can poison your chicks.

 

They’re pretty good substitutes for shavings when you can’t get shavings. They’re not super absorbent, and they don’t really mask the smell. 

 

With straw and especially hay, I’ve found you have to clean it two or three times a day to keep the scent down. As your chicks get older, and they start eating more, and their poop starts to get stinkier, a brooder with hay or straw can turn into a gross mess very quickly. So that’s another reason why I just prefer shavings. 

 

I hope this helps you decide which bedding for chickens is best for you!

Chickens, Frostbite, & Care

Chickens, Frostbite, & Care

Chickens, frostbite, and cold. These three things don’t necessarily all mix well, do they?

Yes, chickens can get frostbite, and yes, they can spring back from it. Every year on our farm, we have to tackle frostbite on combs, wattles, and the occasional toe.

 

You’d think living in the South, we wouldn’t have chickens getting injured from the chilly temperatures. It’s typically in the 30s and 40s here in the winter!

 

It’s not very much fun, but it’s just one of those parts of chicken ownership. And honestly, we’ve not had any chickens effected long term by it.

 

This article is an excerpt from my book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock You can buy it on Amazon or directly from me (and get the digital version free).

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

Most of the chickens just go on about their business.

 

If your chickens free range and aren’t kept in a coop during cold temperatures, they’re even more susceptible to frostbite, so it’s important to observe them daily.

 

In this article, I’m going to show you what frostbite in chickens looks like, when to call the vet, and how to help chickens when they do become victims of frostbite.

 

The information below is for informational purposes only and isn’t meant to treat, diagnose, or cure. Use your best judgement and always seek a vet’s advice first.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

What exactly is frostbite & how do I know if my chickens are effected?

In case you’re not 100% sure what it is, here’s a working definition of frostbite (chickens, humans, etc) from Wikipedia:

 

Frostbite is when exposure to low temperatures causes freezing of the skin or other tissues. The underlying mechanism involves injury from ice crystals and blood clots in small blood vessels following thawing.”

 

It’s hard to give an exact temperature when frostbite is an issue for chickens. Just’s just going to depend. In our area, it’s very cold temperatures of below 20 degrees where we’ve had the most trouble.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

The thing about frostbite that’s a problem for chickens

With frostbite, there’s an extra quirk. It’s not just about cold temperatures.

 

Unlike conditions like hypothermia, frostbite occurs not just when temperatures are very low, but more often when there’s cold temperatures plus moisture.

 

Yep, good ol’ moisture. Those extra bits of water droplets freeze on the skin, causing more damage than cold temps alone.

 

Which means that when our chickens drink water (aka dunk their wattles in the water), and can’t get dry (or run away when we try to help them dry), their tiny bodies are more susceptible to frostbite.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Signs of frostbite in chickens

The first thing to remember about frostbite and chickens is the condition doesn’t always present in a dramatic way. It might just be a spot here or there on the comb, rather than effecting the entire area. 

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

And it can also be extreme, with blackened areas that have clearly gone necrotic.

 

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Dark or blackened areas on the comb, wattles, or feet
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Limping
  • Lying down/not wanting to stand

 

It’s easy to confuse frostbite with fowl pox since they can look similar from blackened areas, but it’s important to also consider the season.

 

Chickens are unlikely to get frostbite in the summer, for example. Fowl pox, which also effects the combs and wattles, also looks more raised and scabby.

 

(You can see photos of fowlpox right here)

 

It’s also possible to confuse frostbite with bumblefoot, since both can cause the pads of the feet to swell.

 

While there’s varying degrees of frostbite, what I’ve observed in chickens is that their skin will turn either white or black (depending on severity), and in extreme cases turn black, harden, and start to curl.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

At the point of hardening and curling, it’s likely the skin on your chickens’ combs and/or wattles has died (confirm this with a vet, however).

 

Toes and feet are relatively rare victims of cold weather here, although in other areas of the USA, it’s a frequent occurrence. (If toes or feet are involved, you can follow the procedures below.)

 

Just remember that if this happens to your chickens, it’s not the end of their lives unless it goes untreated.

 

In nearly all of the cases of frostbite we’ve had on our farm, it’s been mild enough that the skin returns to normal and the chickens are perfectly fine, although it can take a while for the skin to return completely back to normal – it’s been damaged after all!

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Preventing frostbite

First, let’s talk about how to prevent frostbite because it’s relatively easy as long as you can catch your chickens.

 

Petroleum jelly is approved by the Food And Drug Administration as a skin protectant, and that’s because – you guessed it – it protects skin.

 

Basically, it acts as a barrier between your chickens’ body and the cold and/or wind. If your chickens drink, it will help keep water off their wattles, which also helps prevent frostbite.

 

We apply it when we get cold snaps, and daily until the temperatures rise.

 

In addition, keeping your chickens inside on particularly cold days or chilly, wet days will reduce the chances your chickens will suffer from frostbite. It’s generally a good idea anyway, since freezing rain can kill your chickens.

 

If your flock keeps getting frostbite because they dunk their wattles in water, then you can change to a different type of waterer, or raise their water dishes off the ground.

 

For feet, you can put straw on the ground in their coop and run, which is a great insulator.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

How help chickens with frostbite

This is what we do on our farm. Use your best judgement to determine what’s best for your flock.

 

To help chickens effected by frostbite, first bring the area of concern (combs, wattles, limbs, etc) lukewarm water.

 

It’s important not to warm them too quickly (which can cause nerve damage), so bring your chickens inside and allow them to get warm.

 

For combs and wattles, you can apply warm water with a cloth until you see circulation return and the area feels warm or “normal.” For feet, you can place them in lukewarm water until you see circulation return.

 

Apply an antibacterial ointment (natural or pharmaceutical) to help the skin become healthy and ward off infections.

 

Place them in a crate in a quiet area with a towel, food, and water and keep them inside until the very cold has passed or your chickens seem back to normal.

 

If the damage is severe, it’s best to consult a vet. Even a vet inexperienced with chickens can provide advice since the procedure won’t be that different than helping any other domestic animal.

 

If you think your chickens might have an infection or need to lose a limb from frostbite damage, you should consult with a veterinarian who can advise you whether the effected area should be removed (again, even a vet inexperienced with chickens can advise you best.)

 

In my book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, I show you how to care for your chickens so they stay healthy, regardless of the season, and there’s detailed information about chickens, frostbite, and the cold. You can get your copy here.

 

herbs for backyard chickens