I've seen nest boxes made out of just about anything, including used and thoroughly cleaned cat litter buckets (absolutely no judgment here if that's you). Chickens will lay wherever they please, so really it's more about making something that appeals to them - unless you're seriously into easter egg hunting. Then, I say take it one step further and get a variety of laying hens so you also have the joy of finding naturally colored eggs! I think this sounds fun for approximately 2 days in nice weather...
Our first nest boxes were made with great thought and no experience. Built out of wood with a nice opening where you could grab the eggs without entering the coop. They were also fairly easy to clean. It wasn't a bad design, it was actually pretty great, but we only had 5 hens at the time. The whole operation was easy-peasy.
Fast forward 6 years or so and add on approximately 24 chickens and we needed a much bigger coop and a different setup. That's when I came across one of my favorite farmers/Youtubers, Justin Rhodes (what can't you learn online?). Their family uses milk crates for nest boxes. Side note, this is just one small thing I've learned from watching their channel. I highly recommend their vlog.
Ok, back to milk crates! There's something about them. I love them! I don't really know why. Maybe because they hold stuff...? As I type this, looking around my office, I have two large plastic tubs, a cloth box, an old wooden shelf drawer, a box made out of pallets, and an old vintage box that used to contain a generator. Maybe I just like boxes.
To the Point
While I still use some wood to build the shelving that these milk crates sit on in the coop, the crates themselves make the perfect box for two main reasons (besides the chicken appeal): one they're easily portable, two they're absolutely the easiest thing to clean.
During the winter months, our chickens live in the barn with the goats (separate but together). The rest of the year they live in a mobile coop that I muscle around our large yard. Is it still called a yard when you live in the woods? Anyway, I just grab their milk crate nest boxes and move them back and forth with the chickens and no one ever seems to get confused about where to lay their eggs.
It's inevitable that one hen or two, or a rooster for that matter decides to sleep in the nest box or perch above it and leave a non-egg deposit... However it happens, they get dirty. I used to hate having to clean out nest boxes. Why are chickens so messy? I feel like I could make a good case for chickens being messier than pigs. Anyway, with milk crates, you can just lift them out and dump them onto your compost pile. If needed you can spray them down with a hose and that's it, you're done. No more scraping stuff off wood or acrobatic body positions trying to reach all the nooks and crannies within a small coop.
#3 Cat Tested & Approved
You might not have or feel the need to own your own QAC (Quality Assurance Cat), but we have one and he's given his stamp of approval.
How to Turn a Milk Crate into a Nest Box
1. Get some milk crates. If you don't have old ones or can't source them somewhere local, these are the exact crates I used for this project: Milk Crates (paid link)
2. Cut off part of the crate's sidewalls. Don't cut the entire wall off, you want to create sort of a chicken cubby where there's room at the bottom for some straw, hay, or pine shavings, whatever floats your boat. AND so your eggs don't roll out. See the photo below. (left crate done, right crate waiting on its turn)
I used a hand saw, a file for filing off the rough cut edges, and that yellow and black-handled nipper in the photo below (not sure if a "nipper" is its real tool name...). I'm sure you could use different tools, this is just what I had on hand.
Tip: Wear gloves. That tip is good for almost any situation, lol.
Last, but not least, your chickens will thank you for a clean, QAC approved, place to lay your breakfast.
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