Why ease of cleaning is a key consideration in nest box design
When it comes to the egg, you’re dealing with a perishable food item, or perhaps that egg is going to become a vulnerable chick.
In both cases, cleanliness of the nest is a priority, so features that make a nest easy to clean are important as, despite your best efforts, birds will often work out a way to sleep and defecate in nests.
The nests need to be easily cleaned, disinfected and treated for mites regularly. Metal or plastic is much easier to clean than wood and is not as attractive for mites to hide out in, although they will still colonise any joints.
Plastic bins or buckets will come into their own for ease of cleaning.
If you have built-in nests, a removable bottom makes cleaning much easier.
Broken eggs in the nest can also cause a sticky mess and the presence of broken egg material encourages birds to scratch around in the nests to eat it, which can often break more eggs in the process. This is where wood shavings make spot cleaning on a daily basis much easier than hay as it absorbs the offending material in a contained blob, versus having to completely remove and probably wipe or wash down a nest containing hay.
Nests fixed to the wall create an added mite hideout behind it. Before you add litter to a nest box, give it a good spray inside, behind and around it with your choice of mite treatment. Continued treatment is crucial throughout the year to keep populations under control.
You could also add something like diatomaceous earth (DE) to the nest litter. Sprigs of aromatic herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme may also help as the oils they contain are thought to be a mite deterrent.
Clean nest boxes on a regular basis
The remains of dried and dusty faeces and egg yolk, plus the added moisture from wet (freshly-laid) eggs and faeces make nest boxes the ideal medium for growing bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter. It’s critical to clean out the whole nest on a regular basis, not just add fresh litter. A wet egg still has open pores through which bacteria can gain access as the warm contents shrink as they cool, creating a sucking effect on the egg’s exterior.
How to train your hens
You’d think birds would find a nest by instinct and choose one you have so thoughtfully provided, but as many flock owners know, this is not always the case.
Older birds laying and using the nests will attract the new layers, but you need to be prepared to spend time training them.
Some will start looking around their environment for a good spot even before they start to lay. A few artificial eggs (or golf balls or even lemons) in the nests might help. However their first egg may catch them unawares and it could be dropped anywhere in the coop or run. After that a hen will look for a proper place and will quickly become imprinted on this spot as the best place to lay. It can be very hard to change her mind.
If you can, move any ‘rogue’ eggs you find and place them in the nest, or place the bird in the nest as soon as you see her thinking about laying, or simply place a nest or suitable box where she has chosen to lay, put her in it and when she has laid there 2-3 days running, slowly move the nest to where you want it to be. This is easy if you are using buckets or individual boxes that are easily moved.
Think of the nest placement from the bird’s point of view. Can she see it when down on the ground, does it look dark and secluded enough, can she reach it easily and spend some time considering it by walking along a perch, rather than having to jump straight in from ground level?
Part of the training regime should be teaching them what you don’t want them to do. If you have young hens not yet laying, make sure they can’t sleep in the nest boxes as this is the start of a bad habit. Birds should perch or sleep on the floor at night, and it’s only broody hens who get to sleep on the nest. The best idea is to keep the nest boxes blocked off and only open them up about two weeks before eggs are anticipated.
You also want to discourage hens from using the lip of the nest as a perch. One way to train birds not to sleep in the nests once they are available, is to close them up in the late afternoon and only open them up again once it’s dark (eg, after dinner) so birds are already in the coop, sleeping on their perches. This way the nests are still available for the early morning layers.
When you have 16 breeds of heritage poultry and a large collection of other gamebirds like the Appletons, you know all about the frustrations of fighting red mite infestations.
These nasty bugs don’t live on your chickens but hide in the framework of your coop, perches and nest boxes, only coming out at night to feed like little vampires, sucking the blood of your birds. The result is your birds become stressed, suffering anaemia, reduced egg production and even death if not treated.
Red mites reproduce rapidly and are very difficult to control, so Fionna and Gordon developed Appletons Poultry Safeguard which dissolves any mites it comes into contact with. It’s also a powerful disinfectant, killing bacteria, viruses and odour in coops.
“We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now, trialling and testing it,” says Fionna. “We’ve got through the red tape required and got the big tick to go ahead.”
Fighting red mite and winning is one thing, but Fionna was also conscious of creating a NZ product that was cost-effective.
“We’re not having to ship it around the world and that makes it more economical. This is a concentrate which you mix with water as you need it – you get 64 litres of mite-fighting solution from our 1-litre containers, and that makes it a lot more costeffective especially when compared to similar available products.”