What should you be using in your nest boxes?

By Scott | June 7, 2013 | Backyard Basics, Backyard Chickens, Chicken Coops, Health & Safety

what to use for your nest boxes

You have a few options when selecting a nest box fill. In my coop, I’ve chosen to use pine needles (also known as pine straw) for my nest boxes. I was really excited about my pine needles! They were dry, free to me from the forest floor, soft for my birds, and a sustainable use of a plentiful, natural resource. You can see me here on the left, collecting eggs from my nest box lined with pine needles.

You can also line your nest boxes with softwood shavings – the type of fill available to you at a pet or feed store that is typically used to line the bottom of small pet cages. As softwood shavings aren’t free or a natural resource available just outside my coop door, I experimented to see whether my pullets would like pine needles or softwood shavings better.

Well, even though I thought the pine needles were soft and dry. My pullets did not appear to agree!  I compared three nest boxes lined with pine needles and three with softwood shavings. To my surprise, there were more eggs in the boxes with shavings than the ones lined with pine needles.  Maybe over time the difference would not be as significant. But, the results caused me to change all the nest boxes to soft wood shavings.  Even though shavings are more expensive, they are also totally clean, soft and fluffy.  Pine needles really have no capacity for water absorption, unlike true wheat straw and shavings (which I’ll talk about in a blog to come).

It’s also important to keep in mind that it is possible for pine needles collected from the forest floor to carry mites that will irritate the pullets or bacteria that could infect them. Mice and other critters frequent the floor of any pine forest and can carry salmonella and other possible contagions.  Even though my pullets venture around my garden, at least I know what they are encountering.  Why bring potential pests to your chickens? If you are considering using pine needles, please consider what can be brought to your birds and do your best to mitigate any possible harm.

I may do some more investigation on this topic in the near future and actually sample the needles available to me for pests and bacteria. Until I do that, I’ll be sticking with softwood shavings.

So what did we learn? Dr. ichicken “Chicken Droppings”:

1.     Spend the money. Buy clean nest box shavings for your coop. Your investment in your bird’s health will be minimal and well worth it.

2.     Place enough fill in the nest box to ensure the chicken is comfortable as she nests.

3.     Make sure to regularly clean out nest boxes and replace dirty fill.

Please let me know what you’re using in your coop, or leave me your questions in the comments below!

Until next time,