How Many Chickens Can Share a Nesting Box?

Two hens near their nesting boxes

Experts recommend that you have one nesting box per five chickens. Best practices for animal welfare and husbandry recommend no more than three to four hens per nesting box. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recommends no more than seven chickens share a nesting box.

As you can see, there is a fair amount of variation within nesting box guidelines. The reason for this is that different hens will have different needs. If you have heavy layers, you may need more nesting boxes to accommodate the number of eggs you are collecting. Smaller chickens and those that don’t lay as frequently can get by with fewer nesting boxes as they will not be as prone to overcrowding.

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If some of your hens tend to lay in the morning and others in the afternoon or evening, you may need fewer boxes than if all of them were morning layers. Individual chicken personalities, breed differences and environmental factors can all affect the ideal number of chickens per nesting box.

Two chickens in the nesting box

What Happens if Too Many Chickens Share a Nesting Box?

Most hens are happy to share a nesting box. Chickens are social animals, and two or more hens will sometimes choose to share a single box even if there is another free box available. However, having too many hens and too few nesting boxes can lead to trouble. Chickens who don’t have options may become stressed, which can affect egg production. Overcrowded boxes can also lead to broken eggs, and stressed hens may sometimes break or even eat eggs. Hens forced to share an overcrowded nesting box may also start fighting.

For all of these reasons, it’s better to err on the side of caution when deciding how many chickens can share a nesting box. If you have the space, it’s always better to give your hens plenty of room and options. For reasons of economy, you might want to start with the minimum number of nesting boxes required for your hens, then add nesting boxes as necessary to make them happy. For example, if you have ten chickens, you might want to start with two boxes and add a third or even fourth if you have an issue with egg production, broken eggs or stressed-out hens.

How to Set Up Nesting Boxes for Your Hens

Chickens will instinctively seek out a quiet and secluded place to lay eggs. If they don’t have a nesting box, chickens may seek out a secluded area on their own. This means that you might have to go on an egg hunt every day when trying to collect your eggs. It’s always better to provide a nesting box that will entice the hens to lay their eggs in an easy-to-access location.

Nesting boxes don’t need to be fancy. They can be handmade or purchased pre-assembled. When buying or building a nesting box, there are a few qualities to look out for:

– It should be easy to clean. Because the box will be holding your eggs, you’ll want it to stay reasonably sanitary. A clean box will also be more enticing for the hen, who may decide to lay elsewhere if the box is not clean and comfortable.

Nesting chicken boxes

– Consider using a non-porous material. Although good nesting boxes can be made from wood, porous materials are harder to keep clean and can harbor bacteria and parasites. Choosing metal or plastic helps prevent moisture retention and aids in cleaning.

– It should have a slanted roof or top. The box needs to be fully enclosed to provide the hen with a feeling of safety and security. A flat roof may encourage roosting or perching on top of the box, which could be messy. Instead, opt for a sloping or pitched roof that will discourage roosting so the nesting box can be kept clean.

– It should be large enough for your hens. The size of your chickens will affect the size of the nesting box you choose. Most hens do well with a 12-14″ square box. Larger breeds may require a larger box. Smaller hens, like bantams, can get by with a smaller box. You need the space to be small enough to feel cozy and secure to the hen but large enough to accommodate two hens who decide to lay at the same time.

You’ll have an easier time keeping the nesting box clean if it’s mounted above ground level. If your hens are poor flyers, you might want to build a ramp that will help them reach the box. However, the nesting box should be kept at a lower level than the perch, so the hens are not tempted to sleep in the box. That will keep the eggs protected and eliminate some of the messiness that can come from roosting hens.

Once you’ve chosen your boxes and mounted them at the appropriate height, you’ll want to include some bedding. The bedding should be deep enough that it will protect the newly laid eggs and prevent breakage from jostling. Wood chips or straw are common nesting materials that work well for this purpose.

What’s Wrong With having Too Many Nesting Boxes?

Since overcrowding your hens can cause issues with egg-breaking and territorial disputes, you may think that erring on the side of more nesting boxes would always be better. However, this can backfire on you. You don’t want too many nesting boxes as the chickens will not use all of them for their intended purpose. Since hens like to share a nesting box, the unused boxes might be used for roosting instead.

Chicken and nesting boxes

Chickens are messy animals who poop where they sleep. If your hens start to sleep in the nesting box, they’ll make a mess inside as well. This can lead to the spread of germs and disease, and it gives you more to clean up. Hens with too many nesting boxes to choose from may also get into the habit of scattering their eggs between them, making egg collecting more arduous. You don’t want to be stuck collecting from 30 nesting boxes if you could collect from five or six instead!

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Having too many nesting boxes is expensive, time-consuming and affects the cleanliness of the coop. Your chickens will not be bothered at all by sharing a nesting box, so don’t feel like you should have a separate box for each hen.

Charles Joseph

I've been raising chickens since 2012 -- initially for their eggs and to keep our yard clear of bugs and now as pets. If you're interested, you can read my story here.

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