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Backyard Chickens

Farming has started. We have twelve tomato plants one foot high in pots, two hundred chickens in brooders and a new cow. There are many discouragements in the farmer's life. The old cow got at a bag of grain left open in the barn floor and got an overdose of feed that rather dried up her milk. But all we had to do was buy a new cow.

--Robert Frost. Letter from Robert Frost to daughter Lesley Frost Francis, May 20, 1943. Quoted in Family Letters of Robert and Elinor Frost. Arnold E. Grade, (ed). State University of New York Press. (1972), p. 242

This exhibit includes materials about the practice of raising chickens on a small-scale in the backyard or as a sideline to a larger farm setting. It contains a selection of materials on current and historical methods of raising chickens to supplement single families' income or to fulfill personal interests. The final sections include articles describing current USDA research on various aspects of "sideline" poultry raising and links to the research units working in this area of poultry production.

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Chicken Feed

...I want a farm...Amherst, Dartmouth, Bowdin and Connecticut Wesleyan are going to give me a living next year for a couple of weeks [teaching] in each of them. The rest of the time I shall be clear away from the academic, feeding pigeons hens dogs or anything you advise for the pleasure or the profit in it...I ran away from two colleges in succession once and they took revenge by flattering me back to teach in college. Now I am running away again and it looks as if they would come after me.

--Robert Frost in a letter, May 1926. Quoted in Robert Frost: A Pictorial Chronicle. Kathleen Morrison, 1974. p. 58

Finding the formula for the perfect chicken feed is a quest that produces the same intensity as designing the perfect chicken coop.

Frost wrote a story featuring a farmer obsessed with the question, "What are you feeding?"

This exhibit includes historical materials about the best practices of the time for giving poultry access to the most nutritious food. The final sections include articles describing current USDA research on poultry nutrition and links to the research units working in this area of poultry science.

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Egg Production

It is easy enough for you and your friends to find out if we sell more eggs than are laid on our own place. We suggest that you take this course. Club together and order from widely separate localities in large and small quantities more eggs than by your own admission we can possibly have to sell within a given time and see if you got them. As we acknowledge to no more than 100 hens we can fill no more than 360 egg machines on any given day unless we send out eggs more than two weeks old which find ourselves not to do.

-- Robert Frost, personal notebook circa 1903, p. 14 verso (Quoted in Faggen, R. (ed.) The Notebooks of Robert Frost (2006), page 24)

This exhibit contains a selection of materials on current and historical methods of encouraging poultry to lay eggs and measuring productivity. This exhibit includes historical materials about trap nests and other types of poultry architecture. The final sections include articles describing current USDA research on egg production, safety, and quality and links to the research units working in this area of poultry science.

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Fancy Chickens

Such a fine pullet ought to go
All coiffured to a winter show,
And be exhibited, and win.
The answer is this one has been--

And come with all her honors home.
Her golden leg, her coral comb,
Her fluff of plumage, white as chalk,
Her style, were all the fancy's talk

--Robert Frost, 1937, Excerpt from "A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury"

This exhibit includes materials about raising chickens to show in exhibitions--what was often called "The Fancy."

Although it was more common for chickens to be raised for exhibition than for food at the beginning of the 20th century, this is now a niche hobby. The final section of this exhibit includes a small set of articles describing recent USDA research on exotic chicken breeds.

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Frost in Derry

It all started in Derry, the whole thing.

-- Robert Frost, undated quote from Robert Frost: A Life (1999), page 72.

This section of "Frost on Chickens" provides an overview of the time Frost spent in Derry, New Hampshire between 1900 and 1909.

The following resource serves as the background image for this exhibit: Rebecca Siegel (Grongor) (August 20, 2010). Robert Frost House. Retrieved November 10, 2014 from Flickr Commons. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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Hen Houses

And as for the trap nests if you drop in on us unexpectedly which you are cordially invited to do you can satisfy yourself that they are in operation. And if that is not enough you can have {a transcript} [of] any leaf in our egg record book sworn to before a justice of the peace.

-- Robert Frost, personal notebook circa 1903, p. 12, verso (Quoted in Faggen, R. (ed.) The Notebooks of Robert Frost (2006), page 24)

The first of Robert Frost's poultry articles was "Trap Nests." It describes the troubles met by a husband and wife as they start a backyard poultry flock. The couple tries to compel their uncooperative hens into laying by putting them into trap nests. These are structures that keep each chicken confined until she produces an egg.

The story was meant to portray the gap between dreams of easy riches from poultry farming and the difficult realities of actually managing a working--or not working--flock.

Trap nests appear in two other pieces: "The Original and Only" and "Three Phases of the Poultry Industry."

In the fiction piece "The Same Thing Over and Over," a salesmen tries to convince a farmer to subscribe to a poultry magazine. His sales pitch includes all of the recent design elements for modern poultry houses (circa 1903) including recommendations for heating, cooling, cleanliness, and ventilation.

This exhibit includes historical materials about trap nests and other types of poultry architecture. The final sections include articles describing current USDA research on poultry housing and links to the research units working in this area of poultry science.

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Poultry Breeds

Stealing pigs from the stockyards in San Francisco. Learn to whistle at five. Abandon senatorial ambitions to come to New York but settle in New Hampshire by mistake on account of the high rents in both places. Invention of cotton gin. Supersedes potato whiskey on the market. A bobbin boy in the mills of Lawrence. Nailing shanks. Preadamite honors. Rose Marie. La Gioconda. Astrolabe. Novum Organum. David Harum. Cosmogony versus Cosmography. Visit General Electric Company, Synecdoche, N.Y. Advance theory of matter (whats [sic] the matter) that becomes obsession. Try to stop thinking by immersing myself in White Wyandottes. Monograph on the “Multiplication in Biela’s Comet by Scission.” “North of Boston.” Address Great Poetry Meal. Decline. Later works. Don’t seem to die.

-- Robert Frost, May 24, 1916

List of accomplishments from a mock autobiography titled 'Anybody Want to Hear R. Frost On Anything?' (Quoted in Sheehy, D. G., Richardson, M., & Faggen, R. (eds.) The Letters of Robert Frost: Volume 1, 1886 - 1921 (2014), page 454, emphasis added

The goal of successful poultry breeding has shifted through time. The first chickens were bred for their ability to perform activities that had little to do with food production. Current breeding research focuses on efforts to develop more disease-resistance and better animal health and welfare. This exhibit contains a selection of materials on current and historical methods of describing and developing breeds of poultry designed to fulfill different functions. The final sections include articles describing current USDA research on various aspects of poultry breeds and links to the research units working in this area of poultry science.

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Poultry Farming

I kept farm, so to speak for nearly ten years, but less as a farmer than as a fugitive from the world that seemed to me to 'disallow' me. It was all instinctive, but I can see now that I went away to save myself and fix myself before I measured myself against all creation.

-- Robert Frost, 1915 From a letter to the literary editor of the Boston Evening Transcript, March 22, 1915. (Quoted in Sheehy, D. G., Richardson, M., & Faggen, R. (eds.) The Letters of Robert Frost: Volume 1, 1886 - 1921 (2014), page 12)

Robert Frost came to farming at a difficult period of his life. He had failed to get an undergraduate degree after attending Dartmouth and then Harvard. Frost's three-year old son Elliott had just died months earlier. Finally, he had a wife and daughter with no clear way to either financially support his family or develop the writing career he wanted.

This exhibit includes excerpts from the only non-fiction article written by Frost for The Farm-Poultry. Frost profiled his agricultural mentor: Charlemagne Bricault in the article "Three Phases of the Poultry Industry." Two other local farmers were featured in this piece: Mr. and Mrs. Nichols from Lawrence, Massachusetts and John A. Hall of Atkinson, New Hampshire.

The final sections of this exhibit include monographs on general poultry farming practices of Frost's contemporaries and articles describing current USDA research on poultry farming and links to the research units working in this area of poultry science.

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Poultry Marketplace

Someone saw a fox at his hen house door and said, You won't find any hens there. We've gone out of the hen business. There's no living in hens. Look a here, stranger, said the fox, what you say may be true but do you know it is a damn dangerous doctrine you're spreading. If everybody came to believe that I don't know what should become of foxes. And foxes aren't the only ones said the stranger. 'No theres hawks too.' And the people that sell poultry appliances said the stranger with the bitterness of experience.

-- Robert Frost, personal notebook circa 1903, p. 14, verso (Quoted in Faggen, R. (ed.) The Notebooks of Robert Frost (2006), page 26)

This exhibit includes materials about raising chickens as a money-making business more than a hobby. Topics covered include: the nature and dynamics of poultry and egg production, poultry marketing, chicken meat sold at the retail level, poultry and food safety, and the use of chicken and eggs in the home kitchen.

The final sections include articles describing current USDA research on various aspects of this industry and links to the research units studying this area of poultry production.

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Poultry Press

I'm a teacher more than I am a farmer, but I've been both all the way along. And I've been a newspaperman, too. I've been--you know, American style--I've been a little of everything as I came up with an art--with an art, you see. And one of the things about art is that you have to find a refuge, while you're starting it, from hasty judgments. And farming was one for me. And teaching was another. And newspaper work was another.

-- Robert Frost, From a speech given at Rockhurst College on November 17, 1959 (Quoted in Lathem, E.C. (ed.) Robert Frost Speaking on Campus: Excerpts From His Talks, 1949-1962 (2009), page 112)

Two of Robert Frost's articles address the poultry trade journals of the early 1900s. "The Same Thing Over and Over" describes a salesman's efforts to convince a farmer that the journal he represents is more than a series of articles recycling the same advice without end. "The Question of A Feather" narrates the story of the fictitious journal Hendom and its editor's interaction with a faithful reader.

Both stories capture typical relationships within the trade publication community among writers, editors, advocates, casual readers, and serious practitioners.

This exhibit includes materials about past and current poultry trade publications and resources.

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