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.

(Click any image in this exhibit to get more information, including access to full text)