Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Building a Roll-away Nest Box

We were having a constant problem with eggs being broken and eaten, and with very dirty eggs. Cleaning the eggs was taking a significant amount of time, and it was a nasty, smelly job. We needed roll-away nest boxes. There are a number of different designs that can be bought or built. I looked at several different ones before deciding that plastic storage boxes would make an ideal material to start with.

These nest boxes are made from 18 gallon storage boxes that I bought in a 3-pack from Lowes. I used a knife and a saw to cut out the large hole in the front. The only important measurement (other than being sized for your chickens) is that the bottom edge of the hole allows a short piece of 2×4 to be attached to it.

The partition that separates the nest section from the egg section is made of scrap plywood or press board. I just used up some scrap pieces. The edges of the partition have pieces of 2×2 screwed in place to allow for screws to attach it to the sides of the plastic box. The dimensions will vary according to the plastic box used, but my partitions were 14 1/4″ across the top, 12 1/2″ across the bottom, and 11 1/2″ high. The bottom was approximately 2 1/4″ from the top of the fake grass.

The bottom is lined with “fake grass”. This is not the standard indoor/outdoor carpet, but a sturdier material designed to be used as a plastic grass substitute. It was purchased by the foot from Lowes. Although it works well, I found that the hens were much happier with it when I added a very thin layer of hay on top. It was a very thin layer of hay – just enough to make it look like hay rather than plastic. If you put too much hay in, the eggs will not roll out very well.

The nest boxes sit on some boards that form a platform for them. The slope is provided by adding a 2×4, turned on its side under the front.

I will probably end up trimming the fake grass to eliminate places for spiders and other bugs to take up residence. Other than that, I am well satisfied with the design. The eggs are all clean and easy to gather. I either lift the top, or just reach under the partition. Since we started using these nest boxes, we have not had a single broken egg, and all of them are much cleaner than with the old nest boxes.

The finished nest boxes in use. There is a wire that goes from an eye screw below the perch to a screw on the supporting 2x4. Before adding this, the chickens would knock the nest boxes over by standing on the edge.

A piece of 2x4 is screwed to the plastic at the bottom of the opening. This gives the hens something to stand on and provides a place tor the eye screw. The eye screw is used to secure the nest box in place.

Once the approximate gap between the wood partition and the "fake grass" has been established, make sure that the eggs that your hens lay will easily roll to the back. I used a saw to trim off any excess until they easily rolled under the partition.


  1. Wyandotte

    Nice little system.

    I’ve a variety of old wooden boxes I found here and there, stuck them in the hen house and the chickens are smart enough to know that they must go into them to lay. Nothing fancy like yours, mind you.

    How do you prevent the chickens from standing on top of their nest boxes and producing a big sloppy pile of manure? I do recall hearing about some sort of spiked thingy that people put on their outdoor window sills to prevent birds from sitting & making a mess there, but I wouldn’t know what they are called or how to find them. Have you heard of this?

  2. Stephen Clay McGehee

    I haven’t had any problems with that at all. I think there are two reasons for that:
    1) It is at enough of an angle that they just aren’t comfortable staying there for more than just a few moments.
    2) The nest boxes are lower than the roosts. Chickens almost always go for the highest place they can. If the nest boxes are lower, they aren’t very appealing to them as a place to roost or even “hang around”.

    The stuff you’re talking about is used commercially to keep birds from roosting on buildings and bridges, etc. I don’t recall what they are called, but I’ve seen them listed in building maintenance catalogs.

  3. Wyandotte

    Many thanks for your info!

  4. Jen

    LOVE THIS IDEA!!! Gonna make some tomorrow and install them to keep our girls from eating any more eggs!! THANKS A BUNCH!!!

  5. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Thanks for stopping by, Jen. It’s a pretty simple project, but let me know if you’ve got any questions.

    The basic box without the partition is what I used for my hen that just hatched out 7 chicks, and it works great for that. I’ll do a post with photos in the next day or two (photos of day-old chicks are hard to pass up!).

    One thing that I did was cut one extra piece of the liner. In spite of everything, there will always be an occasional broken egg, and hens will continue to make a mess every once in a while. It’s a lot easier to just switch out the liners so you can hose off the dirty one and let it dry out.

  6. Jen

    I finished the box yesterday and they laid one egg in it today!! YAY!! I used a piece of scrap berber carpet on the bottom, just because I had it. It will be easy to replace, and we have alot of small pieces. This is my first year with chickens, and have really been angry at them eating the eggs for the last few weeks. Hope they all start laying in the nesting box soon! I thought about trying to let some lay, but mainly started for the fresh eggs. We are going to upgrade our coop this year though. We have found some things that just could be better. If you have any more tips on the coop you would like to share, I am open for suggestions!! I AM SO HAPPY I FOUND THIS!!!

  7. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Jen, it makes it all worthwhile to know that others are getting a benefit from Southern Agrarian – thanks for letting us know. It’s a real blessing to my wife and I.

    Every chicken coop that I build is going to be “the best”, yet I always end up finding things that I would do differently next time. I have a nice design that I will modify next time to incorporate the new ideas, but that one is now at our son and daughter-in-law’s house. He has made several of the modifications on it that I was planning to make on the next design.

    What is your new coop going to be like? Mine are all designed to keep the chickens cool during the summer heat (in the past, I’ve lost chickens to the heat but never due to the cold) and shelter them from the rain and predators.

  8. Jen

    I got 2 more eggs in the nesting box today, with another laid right outside the nesting box. I got a book from the library with a plan in it. It has vents to open for summer use and we will have to make doors to cover for winter. It has 4 nesting boxes (which will be like this one!) and the roost has a netting under it to catch droppings for use in the compost heap or garden. The whole front of the coop opens for cleaning. I think I am going to install some type of vinyl flooring instead of just wood, too hard to clean! I am also going to put a roof over their run, which we didn’t do with the current one. We simply covered it with wire to keep out our hawk that lives in the trees behind our house. We are planning on building it completely out of recycled pallets. I am getting 10 new chicks the middle of March. We may use the current coop for them to stay in, once they can go outside, until they can be released with the big girls. This is a good learning experience for me and our family. Our boys LOVE feeding the chickens and gathering eggs. They will also only eat the eggs from our chickens now, not any store bought ones! YAY!! The only drawback is for the last few weeks the chickens have eaten all thier eggs! Now that we have been getting to collect them, they are thrilled. I cannot tell you how happy I am with my new HOT PINK nesting box. Now that I know they will use it, I plan on fixing another one, since I have 8 hens, don’t wanna crowd the nest. It looks a little harsh against the barn red coop, but works good, so I don’t mind. 🙂

  9. Xandra Williams

    Hello, I have taken a lot of great info from your site, I’m going to make some of these roll away boxes they look great and very easy, our 8 chickens are very sporadic layers, we often get 1 egg then in a few days 3 eggs then a week goes by with none then only 2 eggs appear, we feed them a laying specific pellet with grit and mountains of fresh greens/weeds/fruits & vegi’s, they eat like horses but don’t lay as much as we had hoped…I’m not sure what I am doing wrong but we have at least two different breeds that we know of! The original ones we have had since they were 5 weeks old and are now at least 6 months old are big, fat & very sweet, apparently their rooster father was a wyandote & who knows with the mother as we adopted them from a lady who had rescued them and the newer chickens which we have had for only one month (I’m not sure what they are but they have lovely golden heads and speckly brown feathers) they are smaller and we think only the new ones are laying…the eggs are very cute though, about 2 inches tall…the perfect size for my two girls who “LOVE” collecting the eggs…I have a couple of questions as well if you do not mind…

    1)The nesting boxes we have are quite a lot bigger than the chickens themselves would that make them feel insecure?

    2)How big should I make the rollaway boxes?

    3)How many boxes should we have per chicken?
    (The bigger ones fight a lot with the smaller ones, it has died down a lot now and I think was because we introduced new ones)

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you…I could certainly do with the help!! haha

    The Happy Chicken Mamma…

  10. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Thanks for writing, Xandra.

    There are two issues: 1) what the chickens would prefer, and 2) what they get. They generally do pretty well with whatever they get. I’ve seen a lot written about the “ideal” size for nest boxes, but I suspect that probably has more to do with trying to make the best use of space in a semi-commercial operation than it does with what the chickens prefer.

    I suspect that we’ve all had chickens lay eggs where they aren’t supposed to – on the ground, behind some weeds, anywhere. What they usually look for is some place that they feel secure, and that usually means fairly dark.

    I like the design I have here for several reasons:
    • Ease of construction is a big one. These things take very little time to build.
    • Durability. There is nothing to rot or collect “stuff”. They are very easy to clean.
    • Cost. They are very cheap to build.
    • They work. They just plain work well and do what they were designed to do.

    One thing that I have added since this was first written is a curtain so that when the eggs roll back behind the partition, the hens can’t see them. I just cut a piece of weed control fabric and nailed it across the partition. The eggs roll under it quite easily. I still occasionally have a problem with an egg being eaten, and I haven’t figured out which hen is doing it.

    Regarding your hens not laying, my guess is that the reason they were first given away is that they were not laying. Not many folks would give away a good laying hen. Just like buying good seed for your garden, in the varieties that do well in your area, it is very important to get a good laying breed if eggs are what you want. Some folks raise chickens because they like a particular look – egg production may have little to do with that breed’s appeal.

    My suggestion? Not an easy one, but I would buy a new set of chicks of a variety that has a well-established reputation as good layers. There are a number of breeds that have good egg production. I have had good luck with Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Reds. Even the Aracona (lays green eggs) does quite well. Take a look at the McMurray Hatchery web site for some good information on the different breeds. Check your local feed store or Tractor Supply to get some chicks. Most places will order chicks for you. You can order your own, of course, but there is usually a minimum number they will send (about 25), since the chicks need to huddle together to stay warm during shipping.

    As for how many boxes per chicken, I assume you mean how many chickens per box. Chickens are really funny about how they use the nest boxes. I have about 13 hens at this point, and they all do quite well with just those two boxes. They like to share the same nest, and I’ve seen then wait in line to use one while the other one is empty. I’ve seen two hens crammed into one little nest box – both trying to lay at the same time. They’ll have their favorites and there is not much you can do about it.

    I would suggest that you have two nest boxes unless you get a lot more chickens than you have now. I like to have two even if there are only a couple of laying hens. That way, if one gets messed up from a broken egg, they immediately have another one to go to.

    I hope this helps. Let us know what happens.

  11. Xandra Williams

    Hello Stephen,
    Thanks for your quick reply, I will definitely make some new boxes for my hens, The one that we suspect are not laying are the ones we had from when they were very small, we think it is the new ones that are laying, well at least one is laying because we get about 3 a week from 8 chickens (not the best turn over but they are fun for the kids!)…

    I think I’ll separate the two groups & give them one more month to get going and then which ever ones are not laying will get the chop, We are heading towards self-sufficiency so I have no problems with eating the poor performers of the flock…haha…plus I know they have had a great life so far, which is why we butcher most of our own meat.

    It is recommended to have the whole flock the same age? Or can I keep the ones that are laying and just get new ones to supplement the flock? We can have 16 in the area set out for them so Id like to have as many as we can so we can sell the extra eggs to our friends. I’ll let you know how it all goes…

    Thanks again, Xandra.

  12. Stephen Clay McGehee

    There is no problem at all with mixing chickens of different ages – as long as they are old enough to not get torn up when the young ones are introduced to the rest of the flock. I usually end up having hens all the same age though. The only different ages ones are those that are hatched here, but I’ve about given up on that. It seems that I always end up with far more males than females, so as long as it’s possible, I’ll probably go back to just buying the day-old chicks. I would still keep a rooster around just in case though.

    I’m glad to hear that you are moving toward self-sufficiency. That is something that I think should be everyone’s goal. Nobody ever really reaches that goal (even the Mountain Men of old still had to return to civilization regularly, and the aboriginal Indians regularly traded for that which they could not produce or gather locally). I plan to do some more posts on that topic. The next one planned on that will be regarding water without electricity – a favorite topic of mine.

  13. Xandra Williams

    Hi Stephen,
    Yes I agree it is almost impossible to be “totally” self sufficient, I do not really want to make/recycle our toilet paper etc…we have 75 acres of land about 1 km from the River Murray in South Australia, we have decided to get composting loo’s, a grey water system, solar+wind power, we want to start as we mean to finish so we will start off grid and also have a boar so we can have lots of water as it is semi-arid area, we will (well hope to) farm a few goats, sheep, pigs & alpaca for our own convenience we even do the butchering ourselves, plus the obligatory vegi’s done with a greenhouse/aquaponics set up…

    People keep trying to put us off by being negative about how much hard work it will be but to tell you the truth, Im looking forward to it, I would much rather work a full day on the farm and sit down to a meal of our own produce & cooked with our own power than do a days work under fluorescent lights & then come home to a pesticide laden meal of inferior vegetables…it just makes sense to bring our children up on the land…

    I am looking forward to reading about your water without power post…


  14. Cindy

    Thanks for the simple and useful design. It will make spring cleaning easier too since they are plastic. Wood can take some time to clean and also absorb alot you don’t want. As I looked at your design I was wondering about the peek and peck chickens that are on the search for an egg to peck. I have some that would search for the egg under the edge of the wood separater and would not give up until they broke them. Thanks for the idea of the apron. Through watching my chickens I tend to think the ones I have pecking eggs are indeed the ones not laying. Thanks again for taking the time to put this on line to help other chicken people.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Good to hear from you, Cindy. Thanks for writing.

      One thing that I hadn’t considered when I was having a problem was that of truly defective eggs. It took a while to realize it, but I had one hen that would lay eggs with extremely thin shells, and they would often break as they were being laid. There is no solution other than to just get rid of the hen. I currently have only two hens and one rooster. We get an average of a bit over one egg per day (sometimes none, but often two), so that’s enough to keep my wife and I in breakfast several times a week. We have 25 chicks due to arrive on January 23, so we’ll be ramping things up again.

      Bottom line – sometimes the only solution is to just get rid of the offending chicken(s) – hopefully before the other hens develop a taste for eggs.

  15. Sarah

    I don’t agree with your theory on ‘just get rid of the hen’ for laying extra thin shelled eggs. Are you providing enough calcium? That will help to harden the shells. You can buy bulk oyster shells or crush up egg shells and feed them right back to the girls. JMO.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I wish it were that simple. I keep all laying hens supplied with crushed oyster shell for just that purpose. All the other hens laid good strong eggs – it was just that one hen, so I think it can logically be attributed to a physiological problem with that one hen. You’re correct though, that they need plenty of Calcium to produce good strong eggs – or any eggs for that matter. A good diet will not require additional Calcium, but it can’t hurt and may help.

  16. Edgar

    This is all very interesting, as i have a chicken that lays eggs with no shells, no matter how much grit i feed??
    I think i will feed her to the cat!!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      It’s not uncommon to find eggs with just the rubbery membrane and no real shell around it, but it’s usually just a once-in-a-while thing. Is this a case of one hen always laying that kind of egg? Never heard of that before. Weird.

  17. Joleen

    How far back in the tote do you put the partition?? I have a couple big girls and want to make sure there is enough room for them and the eggs 😉

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      About 4″ – 6″ in the hidden egg section should work. I was raising Buff Orpingtons, and there aren’t many breeds that are bigger than that.

  18. Kathryn

    How are you using the eye to secure the box to the shelf?

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I use a short piece of wire to tie it down to the shelf. There is another screw eye on the shelf right below the box. Before I started doing that, the nest boxes would tip over when the chickens would fly up on top of them for the night.

  19. Josie

    Thank you for this post Stephen, I’m going to be making this as one of our gals has been breaking many eggs for a few weeks now. So simple and I’m sure super effective!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Josie, stop back by and let us know how it worked for you. Several years ago, I switched from chickens to ducks (great tasting eggs, and tough shells!), but I just ordered 18 Rhode Island Red chicks – scheduled for hatching on August 22. I’ve been tossing over different ideas about roll-away nest boxes, so whatever new ideas I come up with, I’ll be posting here.

      After building several different designs of chicken coops, I’ve finally come up with one that I really like. I’m planning to build a few and then sell them on Craig’s List. My thinking is that I’ll include some hens with the coop (ordered 18, but only want to keep about 4). My main purpose in getting chickens again is to let them scratch through the compost to keep that stirred up. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it works out. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  20. PIERS

    How do you access the rolled-away eggs ? I am somewhat puzzled about this.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      The top easily comes off just like a regular storage box. It’s just a matter of reaching in and collecting the eggs, then putting the top back on.

  21. PIERS

    Thank you for your reply to my query. Am I correct in assuming that the fitted partition means that one cannot view as to how many eggs are available? If this is so then it would seem that one has to work only by feeling for the eggs. Please, is this so?

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I think it’s going to depend on the height of the next box and how tall you are. I am 6’6″ tall, so it’s no problem for me to see over the partition to the back side of the box. Keep in mind that the eggs are going to roll all the way to the rear of the nest box. One thing you might want to do is make the partition lower (but not so low that they would want to use it as a roost). I don’t stick my hands anywhere that I can’t see, since I’ve seen all sorts of nasty thing attracted to the chicken coop (we have Black Widow spiders here).

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I should also point out that I am now using just a simple nest with my current batch of chickens. Every once in a while, I’ll get a broken egg, but the batch of hens I have now seem to be pretty good about not breaking eggs. In the Spring, I will start a new batch. We’ll have to see how they do. It seems like every group of chickens is different.

  22. Lydia

    Where do I find the directions for the laying nests?

  23. Stephen Clay McGehee

    There aren’t any real directions with dimensions. There aren’t any critical measurements, so just follow the photos. I need to point out that, at this point, I am no longer using that design. It worked well, but turned out to be too much trouble to keep clean. Now I’m using large rubber water bowls that I get from my local Tractor Supply. I just add some wood shavings to it. The chickens like it, it’s cheap and easy, and it’s very easy to clean.

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