Q: What size should my nest boxes be, and how should I position them?
A: With all the investment you've made in your flock, you don't want your precious chicken, duck, or goose eggs to be laid just anywhere in the yard where they can become lost or spoil before you find them. Providing your birds with the correct number of nesting boxes that are sized and situated properly can help ensure that your flocks' eggs remain fresh and clean and are easy to collect in a timely manner. Nest box needs are different for chickens, ducks, and geese. You can find tips for all three types of birds below.
Chicken Nest Boxes
Location: Hens like to lay in a dark, safe area that is generally away from the traffic of the flock. Your nesting boxes should be positioned up off the ground at least a few inches to provide the laying hens with some privacy and to keep other birds from scratching around the eggs, potentially stepping on them and breaking them. Many chicken-keepers raise their nest boxes or coops high enough to keep from having to stoop over so much to collect eggs every day. This higher elevation also may provide protection from some predators.
While chicken nest boxes should be elevated, it is most important that they be lower than the lowest roosting poles in your coop. For security, chickens seek the highest roost to sleep on at night, so if your nest boxes are higher than your perches, it is likely that some of your birds will sleep (and poop!) in the nesting boxes, which will dirty the eggs and potentially make them unsafe for eating. Positioning your nest boxes and roosts correctly will help keep this from happening.
Hens may lay anywhere, even in an old sack of bedding!
Size: In general all poultry nesting boxes should be cozy without being tight. Since chickens come in many different sizes--from the very large Black Jersey Giant to the tiny Serama and everything in between--you have some leeway when sizing your nest boxes, depending on the breeds you keep. The smallest box we would recommend for standard-sized breeds would be 10 inches cubed, but most commercial nest boxes for standard breeds are roughly 11 or 12 inches cubed. A little smaller would okay for bantams; 11" - 12" cubed should be large enough even for bigger birds like Cochins, Orpingtons, etc.
How many: You do not need a nest box for every hen, but you also don't want to provide too few boxes, which can increase the likelihood of drama in your flock and could lead to broken eggs or "yard eggs" being laid outside the nesting boxes. Usually, one nest box for every 4-5 hens is enough. It is not uncommon for all the hens to lay in one or two favorite nesting boxes, even when you've provided many other nesting options!
These elevated nest boxes work well for this flock.
Duck Nest Boxes
Location: Ducks cannot climb very well, so their nests should be placed on the ground. If it must be elevated, make sure it is no more than a few inches off the ground, and watch your ducks to make sure they can get inside without any trouble and without risking injury. (Muscovies are a possible exception to this, since they may actually prefer higher nesting areas including elevated nesting boxes, trees, hay lofts, etc.). Place duck nest boxes out of high-traffic, wet, or dirty areas. To keep them clean and dry, put nests on one side of the coop or run area and waterers on the other.
Size: Duck nest boxes need to be big enough for a bird to get in, turn around, and sit, but not much bigger. Generally, ducks need larger nest boxes than chickens. 12 to 18 inches cubed is a good size. Make sure the box is not big enough for two or more ducks, especially if you want the ducks to incubate the eggs. Multiple ducks nesting in the same box can lead to broken eggs and/or poor hatch rates since the eggs may get cold between the moms. Also, when the eggs hatch, the mother ducks won't know which ducklings belong to them.
How many: If you are collecting eggs every day, one box for every 3-5 females should be sufficient. If you are using the boxes for natural incubation, each brooding female will need their own box.
A milk crate provides a great nest area for this duck. Photo credit: Sasha Fox
Bear in mind that ducks may not cooperate and choose to lay outside the nest boxes, no matter what you do. They can be stubborn like that!
Goose Nest Boxes
Location: Make sure to place your goose nesting boxes out of blazing sun and rain. A location shaded by a tree or bush, outdoors with a top and sides for protection, or indoors is best. Geese prefer to nest on the ground (they're not great climbers). As with ducks, locate their nest boxes away from waterers so that their nests stay dry and clean. You'll want any covered, outside nests to face north or northeast to keep out the hot afternoon sun during summer in the Northern Hemisphere (face them south or southeast in the Southern Hemisphere).
Size: As with chickens and ducks, goose nesting boxes should be cozy without being tight. A two square-foot area should suffice. If seeking natural incubation, you'll want to discourage multiple females laying in the same box. Multiple females in one box results in lots of eggs, but a low hatch rate. A usual, natural clutch for a goose is 5-15 eggs.
How many: If you gather your eggs every day, one nest for every 4-8 geese is sufficient. If you leave the eggs for natural incubation, you will need one nest for every female.
For chickens, ducks, and geese, place fake eggs in the nests several weeks before they start laying to encourage them to use them. If allowing your waterfowl to incubate the eggs, spread the real eggs out among nest boxes when the girls start laying.