The answer to this question is, “it depends”.
Chickens usually sleep on roosts, not their nesting boxes. Yet, chickens will sleep in the highest place they can get to. So if the nesting boxes are higher than the roosts, then the chickens might choose the nests to sleep in.
This is a problem!
When they roost at night, chickens poop a lot!
Chickens will usually only poop in their nesting boxes when they’re sleeping in them at night. And it gets really dirty in there, very quickly!
This is really not great for the chickens’ health. And who wants dirt and pooped covered eggs? Yuck!
In this post, I’m going to tell you a little more about why chickens sometimes sleep in their nest boxes, and what to do about it.
If you’re not an expert woodworker (like me) but you’re still thinking of building your own coop and run (it’s really not that hard!), you might want to check out my favorite do-it-yourself chicken coop eBook called “Building a Chicken Coop“. You’ll save tons of money and your coop will most likely be of higher quality than a store-bought one.
Like I mentioned earlier, the main reason why chickens sleep in nest boxes is that the boxes are higher than the roost.
Chickens are going to try to roost at the highest place in the coop for the night. If the nest boxes are higher or at the same height as their roost, the chickens will go to the boxes to sleep.
So just make sure that the nesting boxes are lower than the roost and hopefully this will fix your problem.
Chickens might opt for a nest box instead of a roost if there’s an infestation of mites in the coop.
During the day, mites will hide out of sight. But they’ll come out at night to feed on your chickens. Mites can go on the roost and make your chickens uncomfortable. The nesting boxes might be a safe haven from these mites, and much more pleasant for the chicken.
Injury & Illness
If a chicken has an injured foot, it may sleep in the nesting box because the perch might be too uncomfortable.
Also, a sick chicken might also avoid the roost because they tend to get pushed around looking for a spot.
Or it might not be able to physically make it to the roost by itself. In this case, a ramp for the chicken to get on the roost might help.
So make sure to check the chicken for foot injuries or illnesses.
Make sure your roosts are comfortable in the first place!
Chickens favor a flat roost. A flat, 2 x 4 wooden roost is perfect for them to roost all night, even in cold weather. Just make sure that the wide side is facing up and have at least 8 inches of roosting space per chicken.
Another reason a hen might sleep in a nest box is that she’s broody. And she won’t want to leave until those eggs hatch!
Clean and Ventilated
Does your chicken coop need a good cleaning or more ventilation?.
Trust me, if you smell ammonia in the coop, your chickens aren’t happy. The smell over a roosting area might be too overbearing for the chickens, so they might choose the nesting boxes instead.
Older chickens may find it hard to get onto a roost, so a ramp would help them get on there.
For younger chickens, they might not really get the idea of what a roost is at first. But because it’s natural for them to want to sleep at the highest spot they can find, they’ll eventually use the roost (hopefully).
To help the young chickens out, you can try lifting them up to the roosts every night for a few nights until they get the hint.
Every flock’s pecking order is very serious to them. Newly introduced members of the flock will try to avoid the chickens higher up in the hierarchy. Until the new pecking order is stabilized, the new members will often sleep in weird places.
Block the Boxes
If all else has failed, block the nesting boxes just before sunset. All the chickens will be done laying their eggs by then, so the nesting boxes can stay blocked until the next morning.