Nesting boxes provide a quiet, comfortable place for your chickens to lay eggs. They should be lined with bedding so hens will enjoy using them, they will stay clean, and eggs are protected from damage. There are several choices of bedding that you can use to line your boxes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
General Nesting Box Tips
Nesting boxes should be kept in a quiet and dark place to encourage the chickens to nest away from the fracas of the flock. In "Keeping Chickens: The Essential Guide to Enjoying and Getting the Best from Chickens," Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis recommend building or buying one nest box for every three birds that will be laying eggs. Each box should be about one square foot with walls around fourteen inches high. Keep the boxes clean, collect eggs daily and change the bedding often. Dusting the bedding with louse powder keeps the chickens from being infested with lice, which can spread quickly as chickens share nesting boxes.
Hay is not recommended for bedding, but it can be used for a nesting material. It is softer than straw and quite warm. Hay does not drain well and rots quickly, check if it needs to be changed daily. Hay is particularly susceptible to spreading chicken lice, so if you use hay, dust it with louse powder. You can buy hay from local farmers.
Wood shavings are warm, absorbent and easy to maintain. They are available at agricultural supply stores, but they can be expensive. Virginia Shirt, author of "The Right Way to Keep Chickens," does not recommend using shavings as bedding if you intend to hatch chicks, as the young chicks may mistake the shavings for food and not get enough nutrition. Do not use sawdust. Its fine particles may cause respiratory problems in your chickens.
Shredded newspaper is a fine bedding and nesting material. It is warm, economical, absorbent and soft. You can shred your own paper, but this alone will not be enough to bed down your chickens. Add to your stock with paper bought at your local agricultural supply store or ask your neighbours for their newspapers. Newspaper can be composted or tilled into your garden when it needs to be replaced. Note that the ink may transfer to white chicken feathers if you want your hens to set their eggs.
Straw, unlike hay, is a great nesting material. It is warm, absorbent and pleasing to the eye. Wheat straw is the best in terms of insulation and drainage, though oat and barley straw are also useful. Change it often and dust it with louse powder to prevent chicken mite infestations. You can buy straw directly from farmers or at a local feed store.