It's a common question among people new to chicken keeping.
If chickens aren't provided with somewhere safe to lay their eggs, they're likely to start laying in well-hidden places you're unlikely to find until the eggs are at best dirty, at worst bad.
This article covers 6 steps to help you know which kind of design would work well for you. It looks at everything from budget to expensive, DIY to commercial, basic to rollout.
Which works best for you will depend on your own situation: your budget, the number of chickens you have and available space, for example.
Remember that when you start out, a budget option is fine. You can always upgrade later, if chickens are in your future and you want to expand your flock and improve your set-up.
If you're looking for information about where to site nest boxes, what size they should be and what's best to use as liners, you need this article.
There are certain elements of a nest box which it can be helpful for your chickens to have, and others which you'll find will be helpful to you.
It's easier for hens hopping in and out of nest boxes if they have something to perch on before and after they lay.
Some nest boxes have perches attached; sometimes they can also act as a deterrent to hens roosting inside the nest box by folding up in front of it, to prevent entry at night.
If they have the option of roosting on a narrow perch or having a nice wide, flat space, a hen will generally take advantage of the larger area.
But roosting on top of nest boxes means poop. And poop means they will need to be cleaned very regularly.
Having a sloping top is a deterrent to using nest boxes as a comfy bed.
One thing you'll almost inevitably find is that however many beautiful nest boxes you provide for your hens, they all want to lay in the same one. They will even stand in line to access the favoured box - or alternatively, all try to fit in at the same time.
Which can lead to broken eggs. And broken eggs can lead to egg-eating behaviour, which once started, is very difficult to stop.
One way of avoiding this is to have what's known as a "roll away", or "roll out" design.
This means simply that the floor of the box is sloped gently so that the eggs, once laid, roll towards the front (or back) of the nest box.
Depending on where you're going to site your nest boxes, you may find it more convenient to be able to gather your eggs from the back.
In that case, look for nest boxes which latch at the back for easy access.
Nest boxes come in a variety of materials, some more suited for purpose than others. When considering which to use, take both the pros and the cons into consideration.
Bear in mind that cleanliness is one of the most important factors to keep chickens safe and healthy, so the ease of keeping nest boxes clean should probably be your key consideration.
Probably the most common material, used in traditional nest boxes.
It can be fun, and is certainly good if you're on a limited budget, to find ways of re-purposing wooden items which have the potential to become attractive, quirky nest boxes.
Anything and everything from old chests of drawers to bookcases can become "free" nest boxes, with a little imagination.
Not sure how? Take a look at this short video to see a bookcase converted into nest boxes.
Think too about old barrels, wine crates and even an old doghouse, if you have that much room!
Begin to look at everything around you with a view to using it as a nesting box and you'll see plenty of options.
Want to build your own wooden boxes? Here's a link to an article with plans for a single box.
Or, if you don't have the time or the inclination, there are plenty of wooden nest boxes to be found either at your local feed store or tractor supply, or online...
Beware of these, though. They tend to be flimsy and, as I've said above, a poor quality wood can easily break unless they're reinforced or placed on a solid surface.
As with re-purposing wooden items you have to hand, take a look around your garage or sheds for metal articles you might be able to use for your chickens.
Old bird cages can work, as can large disused mail boxes - just cut the backs out. Be careful of the sharp edges though - they'd need lining to prevent possible injury.
Lawn mowers that haven't worked for years often have grass boxes which can be lain on their flat side and filled with a straw base. They make roomy places for hens to lay.
Alternatively, find a commercially made version. Look for one with rolled edges to prevent injuries from sharp metal, and preferably with a perch which folds up to provide a barrier to entry at night.
This version, for example, fits the bill for a small flock.
Plastic is one of the scourges of the modern age. So when you're looking for nest boxes, think about re-purposing some of yours, rather than sending it to landfill.
If you have nothing like that, inexpensive options include...
This is a salutary tale of why it's not always best to throw money at chickens.
As far as I'm concerned, these yellow plastic nest boxes in which I invested years ago, when I first had chickens, were almost perfect. Expensive, but, I thought, good value because they'd last a long time.
Did my chickens use them?
Nope. They just didn't seem to like them at all. In fact, they steadfastly refused to lay in them and would find anywhere else they could, rather than use them.
I ended up taking them out of the coop and using them to store vegetables. I now use mostly old olive crates as nest boxes. The hens love them.
Why did they take such a dislike to them? I have no idea. Chickens can be picky.
If using artificial nest boxes appeals to you - and there are lots of positive reasons for using plastic - a box like this one is likely to be more effective. It's smaller, more private - and it has a sloping roof!
They're also known as "drop down" nest boxes. Whatever they're called, the aim is simple: the design must roll the eggs away from the hen so that they keep clean, don't break and hens with a liking for a raw egg in the mornings can't get to them!
There are, inevitably, some expensive options out there, but this video shows how easy it is to convert "ordinary" boxes into roll aways, using just an attached wooden lid, a paint pan and some astro-turf.
Make sure to watch to the end, to see the result of the experiment!
Not ready to do it yourself?
There are some good options for buying online, the main drawback being cost. This, for example, is a good option and comes in two different sizes, to suit both large and small flocks.
The small size can accommodate up to ten hens; the larger one, according to the manufacturer, up to 48 - although if they all decide to lay at once, they definitely would have trouble!
Let me be clear about this: I have not used this nest box because it's not available in Europe. If it were, I would certainly seriously consider it.
Some benefits are:
Are there any drawbacks?
It's less suitable for larger breeds. Orpingtons, for example, might have problems as, whichever length you choose, it's only 21" deep.
Chickens like to lay facing out of the nest box. In this case, larger hens would need to lay sideways on.
There's no right or wrong answer here. "Best" is what suits your coop size, your budget and the number of hens you have.
As a new chicken keeper, I wanted to provide my chickens with the best products I could, hence buying the expensive, very good quality, nest boxes.
I learned pretty quickly that my chickens and I did not necessarily have the same idea of what "best nest boxes" means.
These days, I tend to use crates normally used for olive-picking. They're plastic, so very easy to clean and keep sanitised; they're large, so even large breeds fit, and if more than one hen wants to lay in the same crate at the same time, there's enough room.
I do add bedding to the crates: sometimes straw, which is inexpensive and provides a soft landing for the eggs, sometimes nest box liners - see more about those in this article.
The final decision is yours, of course. Take the information, assess your situation and your flock and then - provide your hens with the best solution for them and for you!