Improve Your Flock with Trapnests

Use this traditional method to help you select the best hens for your breeding program.

  • Harvey Ussery installs trapnests in his coop. The nest-trapping technique traps a hen in the nest with the egg she has laid, so the breeder can identify her and mark her egg for his records.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • It's efficient to build units with multiple trapnests. Here, the swinging-door front (right) is held open by a prop stick. The other two nests have purchased fronts made from heavy-gauge wire.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Modifications to the swinging-door trapnest include a vestibule (at bottom, front) to draw the hen inside.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Modifications to the basic swinging-door trapnest design include a door hinged in the middle to reduce the swing radius, and rubber bumpers to muffle the sound of the door as it slams shut.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • The basic swinging-door trapnest design (left) makes it difficult for hens to settle in without first triggering the door at the "Contact" point. The author's improvements (right) include a vestibule to draw in the hen, and a hinged door for reduced swing radius.
    Illustration by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • The "rabbit box" trapnest design uses a trigger stick (visible at top), held in set position by the weight of a door at the other end of a string.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Notched trigger stick for a "rabbit box" trapnest.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • A perch reduces the hen's speed and force coming into the entrance of a trapnest.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • A prop stick supports just the door's bottom edge in this trapnest door design.
    Illustration by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • This hair-trigger design for a trapnest door features an overhead wire with a hooked end that supports the door until the hen's body releases it.
    Photo by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • In this trapnest door design, a bottom-heavy notched support is mounted to the side wall of the nest box. The notched support holds the edge of the door and pivots away from the swing path after the hen's body triggers it upon entry.
    Illustration by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • You can use the nest-trapping technique to target egg traits, such as intensity of shell color and shell integrity.
    Photo by iStock/pitnu

Time-honored indicators of “who’s laying and who’s lying” in a flock include wide, moist vents; generous space between pelvic bones; and expansive, pliable abdomens. But when you’re selecting the best-laying breeders for your flock, you should know precisely which hen is laying which egg. Yes, those hens with the “wide, moist vents” are the ones in active production. But is such a hen laying five eggs per week, or six? Do these eggs have an average weight of 57 grams, or 64? Knowing those answers with certainty is essential if you’re to select for daughter hens that lay even more eggs of larger size.

Targeting other egg traits might be important to you as well, such as intensity of shell color in breeds known for unusual hues — Ameraucanas, Marans, and Welsummers, for example. And what about egg shape? Or shell texture, thickness, and integrity (absence of flaws that weaken the shell)? Like the rate of lay and average size, such eggshell qualities are heritable, so breeding for production of more-desirable eggs in future years requires removing the layers of less-desirable eggs from your poultry breeding program now. And that requires trapping the hen in the nest with the egg she has laid, so you can identify her and mark her egg for your records before releasing her.

Trapnest Design

Serious poultry breeding management by small-scale producers is in decline, and that has resulted in a dearth of information about nest-trapping. But you can find a few trapnest designs from the older farming and homesteading literature online. (See the compendium of older designs at The Trap Nesting Thread on BackYard Chickens.) Familiarity with those designs might suggest a model which best fits your management style, henhouse layout, and skill set. Many designs are effective so long as they feature the following elements: 1) A door which allows the hen to enter, but which 2) is triggered to drop or swing into blocking position by the movement of the hen into the nest.

Whatever design you choose, its most essential requirement is that it works 100 percent of the time. Data from nest-trapping will help you determine which hen becomes the foundation of your stock through future generations — and which one goes to the stewpot. Each failure of your trapnests to capture a laying hen results in unidentified eggs, undercutting the information you need to make informed, critical decisions.

The following is a brief description of trapnests I have used, their essential design elements, and potential problems to avoid.

Purchased Wire Fronts

The only option I know for buying trapnest fronts, available in two sizes and made from heavy-gauge wire, is actually designed to fit onto purchased sheet-metal nest units. The only such nests I ever used were pretty junky, and I scrapped them long ago. I prefer my sturdier homemade versions. However, some breeders mount purchased fronts onto their homemade trapnests, so I decided to try this by making a set of my own (left and center boxes pictured above). I cannot recommend them. The problem is the amount of force the hen has to exert on the door — folded into the “set” position — to trigger release. Numerous times I watched as my hens entered the nest, brushing the edge of the wire door but failing to trigger release. I added wood strips to reduce the distance between the wire and the edge of the nest, and to require more forceful contact by the hen as she squeezed through. This netted a capture rate of about 50 percent — not nearly good enough.



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