In keeping with the trend of saving money while raising chickens, it makes sense to also consider the ways in which you can save money on nesting boxes. Since nesting boxes are something you will need several of, they can get pricey if you were to buy or build individual ones to acclimate your entire flock. Instead of spending money on lumber and materials or buying something prefab, it is possible to score something from your local grocer that can be used as a nesting box with little to no adaptation. That something is a milk crate.
Milk crates are a good size for nesting boxes and have several other benefits to offer as well. Since the nature of a crate is to hold items in, they are made with a tight enough grid pattern that an egg will not be able to slip through. Bedding, too, will stay put. Milk crates are also intended to tote heavy loads so they are strong, durable, and tough to break. Additionally, being made of thick plastic ensures they will last for a long time. The design of a milk crate makes it easy to clean as well and the built-in handles make transporting them convenient.
Milk crates can also be used in different manners depending on the type of nesting box you wish to create. For example, if you want an open top as well as an open front, all you have to do is cut off one of the sides. Simply select a side without a handle (preserving the handles is ideal for moving crates around) and cut away a section large enough for your hens to go in and out, leaving a few inches at the base to better contain eggs and bedding. Due to the thickness of the plastic, it may be necessary to take a saw to the nesting box or some heavy duty sheers, so be sure to exercise caution in your side removal efforts. Once the side is removed, simply set the milk crate on your roost and your nesting box is good to go!
If cutting a nesting box sounds too labor intensive, worry not as it can be avoided. Instead of cutting, lay your nesting box on its side so that hens will basically be entering and exiting through what would be the top opening if the crate were sitting upright. This positioning will leave the bottom of the box vulnerable to falling bedding and possibly eggs, however, so adding something at the base to hold everything in may be necessary. If you can arrange your milk crate to butt up to a portion of your roost that will act as a barrier, that is great, but otherwise it is wise to plan to affix a piece of wood to the base. Even adding a barrier is avoidable if you truly do not want to do so, but plan to bed down your boxes accordingly. By stacking bedding more heavily towards the front, you increase the chances that eggs will remain towards the back of the milk crate rather than near to the front where falling out becomes possible.
For very little expense, milk crates can fulfill your nesting box needs. Only minor adaptations, if any, are necessary to make them work and your hens will have enough space inside to find comfort. The only drawback is the potential lack of privacy due to open spaces in the grid pattern of milk crates but a curtain can help with that. All in all, if you want a cheap nesting box fix, this is definitely it!