A super simple DIY that will walk you through how to build milk crate nesting boxes for your backyard chickens. A project you can build using tools you might just have around your homestead and begin using today. Before diving in always remember to use what you have before you buy. This will help you to stay true to the homesteader’s goal of using what you have.
If you are brand new to chickens you may not realize all the things you need to have ready to go before you bring chicks home. Nesting boxes are not needed right in the beginning but getting them ready before your gals start laying will save you headaches later on.
What are chicken nesting boxes?
Nesting boxes are contained areas where hens, AKA female chickens, can lay their eggs. Most chickens prefer to lay their eggs in a protected area and that is what these boxes are. Protected areas to not only lay their eggs but to keep those eggs safe until we can collect them or your hens hatch them.
Nesting box design can range from fancy to practical with the main goal being safe, secure, and of course easy to clean.
You can use just about anything to make your chicken nesting boxes. Wood, plastic, and yes, even store-bought. I have seen buckets, totes, even kitty litter containers all work amazingly well. The trick is to find something that is sturdy, a setup that is easy to clean, and a layout that is easy for the hens to get in and out of, and of course, something that is durable so it will last the beating your flock will naturally give it.
When we first started raising chickens we had a small coop with just a few nesting boxes for our hens. And for a while, that was fine. After just one year I quickly learned just how much I loved having those chickens and doubled the size of our flock.
If you own chickens then you totally get that problem.
Once we doubled the number of hens we had we realized we needed a new and bigger chicken coop for our chickens. One that would have enough room both inside and out for the size of the flock we had grown to. Instead of buying a new and expensive prebuilt option or chicken coop kit, we took a look at what outbuildings we had on our property. What we found was an old shed, one we housed pigs in for 8 years (I kid you not), and converted it into the chicken coop we have today.
SLCG PRO TIP: Take your time on this step. If you do not have a henhouse now or maybe the one you have is just not a good match for your chickens, take the time to make it right. Our animals depend on us to keep them fed, healthy, and above all safe. Whether that be safe from predators or safe from inclement weather. Work from day one to create a home for your livestock and animals that will do just that.
Once we had our new nice big chicken home set up for our flock, one that include all the parts needed for a safe and sturdy coop.
What do you need inside of a good chicken coop?
Once you have the above areas set up, the next item on the list was to build a set of good and sturdy chicken nesting boxes. It’s true we had a nesting area from the old coop but there were simply not enough for all the hens we had now. Keep in mind that anytime you are short on room, whether that be for housing, eating, nesting, even drinking, you run the risk of henpecking within your flock.
How many milk crate nesting boxes do you need for a flock of chickens?
A good rule of thumb here is to have one nesting box per 4-5 chickens in your flock. So, if you have a flock of 20 hens you will need about 5 nesting boxes. The reason for this is so you have plenty of room for multiple hens to lay at once. If you do not have enough room you risk chickens fighting for space and those precious eggs getting broken.
Before I began building our new nesting boxes I wanted to do a bit of research to see what options were actually out there. I went over to Pinterest and found quite a few unique ideas, but my goal was to find an option that would help me to utilize what supplies I already had on hand. I finally saw a set of chicken nesting boxes that used plastic crates that resemble milk crates from my childhood.
I showed the pictures to Hubby and since I had quite of few of those empty (imitation) milk crates lying around we decided that was the best option to try out in our own chicken coop setup.
That amazing Hubby of mine came up with this genius wooden frame built from leftover hemlock from our barn addition.
DIY Milk Crate Nesting Boxes
Step #1. Decide on the Number Needed
Remember a good rule of thumb is 1 nesting box for every 4-5 hens. Since we had 25 hens we chose to use 6 crates. More than what is suggested but it is easier to build this design with an even number of crates.
If you are new to chickens there is one rule to keep in mind. Whatever number you start out with, plan on doubling that before you are done. Build for the size you plan to have in a year or two so you are not forced to redo projects later on. A lesson I think just about everyone new chicken owner learns first hand.
Step #2. Build a Simple Frame
Before hitting the stores, take a look around your property and see if you have any supplies you can use to create a simple framework to hold the milk crates. Something that will keep the crates from moving too much as the chickens go in and out to lay their eggs. Most homesteaders have at least one pile of scrap wood that you can use to build a surprisingly sturdy setup for your hens.
Luckily we had a large pile of scrap wood where we found scraps that worked perfectly for our nesting box system. Heml0ck is great for a project like this because it is very lightweight making this milk crate nesting box set up easy to move (even for me) and easy to clean.
Use the dimensions of the individual crates to build the frame. Your goal is to have a setup where crates will sit on top of each in the framework itself. This will make it easier to slide them out when you need to clean them. It also keeps things sturdy as well.
Chickens are a bit clumsy and eggs can easily topple out of a nesting box as they leave. To help prevent eggs from breaking place a board in your frame that will sit in front of each box. Just a small “lip” of sorts so the eggs stay put but the chickens can still get in and out easily. We used the boards in the front of our framework so they would double as the lip we needed to keep our eggs inside of each box.
SLCG PRO TIP: More often than not, chickens will prefer one nesting box over another and that box will change every week or so. Don’t be surprised if your chickens all lay their eggs in one box ignoring another.
Step #3. Make it Easy to Clean
For our setup, we built a hinged lid that props open for easy cleaning. This lid is also set at an angle to discourage the chickens from roosting on top of the nesting boxes at night. Chickens are very messy sleepers and poo throughout the night. For this reason, you will want to keep your nesting boxes difficult to roost on at night and an angled top will do just that. Your chickens will not roost inside of nesting boxes at night. They prefer to be up and out where they feel safe.
The angle of the roof makes it impossible for the chickens to rest there. This, in turn, keeps your nesting boxes free from chicken debris.
One of the goals of DIY nesting boxes is to create a setup that is easy to clean. For our setup, we can carry it outside, grab a hose and soapy water, open the hinged lid and slide the crates out.
Our setup holds 6 large milk style plastic crates with room underneath for my more finicky gals or ducks to lay eggs.
As I mentioned before, our hens have a crate they prefer over all the others. I will often find 5-6 eggs in one or more crates with no eggs at all in another. If you find this happening to you as well you will want to ensure you have plenty of bedding inside of at least that one crate to keep the eggs from getting damaged from other hens laying.
Step #4. Place Chicken Nesting Boxes in a Good Location
You will want to place your chicken nesting boxes where the weather will not be a factor. Since our coop has double doors at one end and a doggie door access to the outside chicken run at the other, this was a bit tricky to do. For us, the wind tends to blow West to East so that allowed us to keep our boxes next to the main doorway without risking too much exposure to the weather.
In the winter this is particularly important. Chickens like to be warm so have your boxes in the warmest area.
In the summer this is also important. Chickens also like to be cool so have your boxes in the coolest area.
Another perk of a lightweight system is how easy it is to move. One person can easily move this setup and that I think is an important factor on a homestead. Try out one location and see how it holds up. If you find the weather affecting your hens while they lay, you will want to rearrange things a bit to better protect them.
Step #5. Fill Milk Crate Nesting Boxes With Bedding
Be sure to have some sort of bedding inside of each nesting box such as straw or hay. This will protect the eggs from the hard plastic as well as keep the inside of the crates a bit cleaner. In the winter you will want to really fill those boxes up. Eggs can freeze rather quickly so it is best to go more with the bedding in frigid temperatures than less.
We have used this design for 10 years now and it is working wonderfully. The plastic crates are very easy to clean and the frame is extremely lightweight so I can move it in and out by myself.
From day one the hens took to this setup and we really have had no problems with them refusing to use it.
Do not worry if whether or not your hens will use the boxes. They are naturally drawn to a private and protected space when they feel the urge to lay an egg. It may take a day or two for them to get the hang of it, but they will eventually use the nesting boxes.
This setup also works well for ducks since the lower milk crates are very close to the ground. Our ducks have no problem getting inside to lay but again if you keep bedding on the ground below the lowest level, you will have another area for either your chickens or your ducks to use.
Most animals learn by example. Once you have one of your chickens using the new chicken nesting boxes it is just a matter of time before they all do.
I have had a few questions about the size of the boxes and how they work with my large breed hens. They have never had a problem getting in or out of the crates and I have even found on occasion more than one chicken inside of one nesting box.
If you are concerned about one or two bully hens in your flock you can also make this system with a larger container such as an empty kitty litter bucket.
And there you have it, one chicken nesting area made mostly from supplies on hand and scrap pieces of wood.
Total cost $4 since I did need to purchase two more (imitation) milk crates. Luckily I found them at a yard sale for $2 each.
SUPPLY LIST FOR DIY MILK CRATE NESTING BOXES
When homesteading it is important to think outside of the box when starting a new project. Use it up, make do, or do without is a motto of mine and I just love the challenge of solutions without necessary trips to the store.
Not too shabby if I do say so myself!
Do you have DIY milk crate nesting boxes on your homestead? If so, how are they working for you? Leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you.
You can find even more Backyard Chicken help HERE.