Nest boxes are where all the egg-laying magic happens. Carver notes that many people put in too many nest boxes, although birds will generally use the same one or two. She recommends installing one nest box for every five hens.
It's important that these nest boxes are in secluded areas so hens can comfortably sit for a few minutes before they're ready to join the rest of the roost. A chicken's "vent," (or cloaca), is the common opening through which the urinary, gastrointestinal, and reproductive tracts empty from the body. When a hen lays an egg, a pink tissue emerges from the opening and requires a few minutes to go back inside the body. Chickens are attracted to and like to peck at pink and red objects. If they see the hen's "vent" before the rest period is complete, they may peck at the sensitive tissue, which is called vent pecking. "If they peck at the right place and open up the right blood vessel, birds will hemorrhage to death," she says. The harmful habit is hard to break.
Once you've found some secluded, dark spots for your nest boxes, you can fill them with straw, which will cushion eggs and bounce back once you remove the eggs. Absorbency isn't an issue in nest boxes bedding, as there are no fluids associated with laying, unless an egg breaks.
Installing nest boxes with a lid to the exterior, (pictured here), makes harvesting eggs easier and less disturbing for chickens inside the coop. Just make sure that's latched, as well, to keep predators from opening it.
Try: Ware Chick-N-Nesting Box, about $19; hayneedle.com
Sturdy wicker baskets packed with straw will work as nest boxes when mounted on the coop's walls. See this and more clever chicken coop design ideas.