First you need to think like a chicken, then you need to act like a keeper. What I mean is, look at laying time through your chickens eyes. If you can't imagine, let me paint you a picture....
Your standing in the yard and are gripped by the sudden urge to push. You know it's gonna take a little work to get that egg out, so you start looking for a nice, quiet, comfy spot to relax and get to work. I mean, who wants to lay their egg in a nasty, hard, dirty spot in front of everyone?
1.) Boxes Per Birds - The rule of thumb is one box per every five birds. If you have more chickens then that and only one box, you run the risk of someone needing to lay with no where to go, which can lead to pushing and fighting in the box (aka broken eggs) or your hen will lay somewhere less then ideal.
2.) Location, Location, Location - Position your nest box between the floor and the ceiling but BELOW your roosting area.Keeping the box off the ground assures you have less scratching activity going on in the box. Keeping it below the roost level will keep your birds from sleeping and pooping in the box as chickens will want to roost at the highest point possible.
3.) Provide Ambiance - Now if you were a chicken, would you really want to have to lay your egg in a bright, high traffic area with everyone looking on? No! Your chickens don't want to either.Locate your nest box in a quiet area away from feeding commotion. Chickens also prefer to "hide" their eggs, so make sure the box is in dimly lit area. If you ever wondered about those crazy chicken keepers who put curtain on their nest boxes and wondered if the hens really like them.... Yes they do and this is why!
4.) Content Counts - No one wants to park their fluffy but on a hard surface when they lay an egg. Hens will seek out the softest place they can find in order to relax and do their business, so make sure your nest box is that spot. You can use straw, but wood shaving are even better for then to get their zen on in. We use a combination of both in our box. You may have even seen product with herbs in the bedding to help your hens relax. Do they work? Yup! Our girls had gone on strike about using the box, but with a hand full of herb bedding, they all quickly got back with the program.
5.) Size Matters! - Bigger isn't always better when it comes to nest boxes. A nest box should accommodate only one chicken at a time. Less activity and jostling in the box means there is less likelihood an egg will get broke. A good size is a foot by a foot. Ours is slightly wider only because we use a plastic tote.
6.) Can You Wash It? - You nest box should be made out of a material that is easily washed and disinfected. Wood can harbor parasites and bacteria even after a good cleaning. By using a metal or plastic nest box, you can give it a more proper cleaning. We use a plastic tote for our nest box, making it super easy to scrub down.
7.) Clean It - It is a good idea to clean the bedding in your nest box about once a week. Not only will it be more inviting to you girls, but it will decrease the likelihood of mites. Cleaning it weekly will provide your girls with a clean and dry place to relax while popping out those eggs.
Now that you know how to set up a "luxury" laying area, sit back, relax and wait for those clean eggs to roll in!