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Making and Using Trap Nests

This pictorial of the design and construction of my trap nests appeared as a sidebar to “Breeding the Homestead Flock”, published in the February/March 2007 issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine.

It was posted to the site December 16, 2008.

When I first started raising chickens, I remember seeing trap nests for sale from poultry equipment suppliers. Now, I can’t find them anywhere. So I made my own.

I’ve seen a number of designs for trap nests, including one in Rolfe Cobleigh’s Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them, a useful book for the homesteader, first published in 1909. Modern homesteaders could enter “trap nest” into a search engine and find workable designs.

But my own design emerged in one of my father’s visits, when we tackled the trap nest project. After mulling over a couple of designs I showed him, he concluded he didn’t much like either, and proposed, “Why don’t we do it the way Grandaddy used to put together his rabbit boxes?” I remembered my grandfather’s rabbit traps (or “rabbit gums,” as the old-timers called them), with which he caught hundreds of rabbits on his place. Despite some skepticism about turning a trap for rabbits into one for hens, I agreed to give it a try. The design has worked well for me—perhaps you’d like to try it as well.

The following description sketches assembly of two units, each containing two separate trap nests.

Materials

The above are the materials needed if starting from scratch. Buy ½-inch or 5/8-inch plywood, depending on which you are confident you can edge-nail effectively. However, many homesteads will have on hand enough scrap from other projects to piece together what is needed. I used some scrap ¾-inch plywood for the sides and backs, and ½-inch for the tops. The door stops, front perches, and nest fronts I cut from 1-inch rough-cut poplar. All the required strips I cut from “one-by” scrap. There’s no problem altering the suggested dimensions to accomodate material you’re working with, so long as sufficient interior space is allowed for the laying hens. The nails I used were 4d 1-3/8-inch and 6d 1-7/8-inch coated sinkers.

Construction

Trap-nest-a-tops-sides

(A) Top and Sides

(A) Start by cutting 2 - 12x24 pieces of plywood for the backs, and 6 - 12x18 pieces for the sides and middle partitions.

Trap-nest-b-windows

(B) Windows

(B) I cut little windows into the sides of the nests, a step that’s probably not really necessary. I cut them in the four exterior side pieces only (not in the interior partitions), making the openings about 4x9.

Trap-nest-c-drill-top

(C) Drill Tops

(C) Cut 2 - 16-¼x24 pieces of plywood for the tops. Drill two 5/8-inch holes for the “trigger sticks” in these top pieces, 6 inches in from the sides and 6 inches in from the back. When drilling through plywood, the exit hole tends to be a bit ragged. Since you want a nice sharp edge to engage the notch in the trigger stick, be sure to start drilling into the side that will be on the inside of the nest. For good ventilation, you can add a few other 5/8-inch holes in the top as well.

Trap-nest-d-nail-top

(D) Nail Top

(D and E) Nail the top onto the back and exterior sides, using the smaller nails (4d 1-3/8-inch), aligning as in the picture. Then nail in the interior partition in the middle of the box thus formed.

Trap-nest-e-partition

(E) Partition

(F) You’ll want to switch to a somewhat larger nail (6d 1-7/8-inch) for some of the nailing in the next several steps. Cut one of your 1x4’s in half crosswise, then rip one of the resulting 4-ft pieces in half. From the ripped pieces, cut pieces that will stop the doors when they drop. Study the picture of this step carefully, because you can do it more easily than we did. We cut individual pieces that we inset into the spaces between the sides and interior partitions. Not only did that mean more cutting and fitting, but we had to toenail one of the inside ends. You’re much smarter than that, so you’re going to cut a single ripped piece to 24 inches, and nail it underneath the front ends of the exterior sides and the interior partition. (When you look at the picture, imagine the two interior cross pieces replaced by a single piece, and the ends of the exterior sides and interior partition sitting on top of it.)

Trap-nest-f-stop

(F) Door Stop

(G) Now nail another of the ripped pieces, cut to 24 inches, across the bottom front, aligning as in the picture. This is the perch on which the hen stands as she looks into the interior—the perfect place to lay an egg. (I later rounded off the sharp edges with a wood rasp, and it’s nice to the hen’s feet if you do as well.)

Trap-nest-g-perch

(G) Perch

(H) Cut nest-front pieces from (unripped) 1x4. The length will be 24 inches minus the thickness of your sides and interior partition, divided by 2. I was using ¾-inch stock, so I cut mine to 10-7/8 inches. Nail these pieces in place to serve as fronts for the nests, setting them 5 inches in from the front edge. We want the nesting material to be held behind this piece, so the hen will completely enter the nest before triggering the door. (If it triggers early and whacks her behind, she will become shy of the nest.) Note that in this case there is no alternative to toe-nailing the end of one of these pieces where it butts to the interior partition. If you have cut windows in the sides, at this point you can staple hardware cloth over the windows to keep smaller hens from escaping.

Trap-nest-h-retainer

(H) Retainers

(I) Rip your remaining 1x4 stock into strips as needed. I used ¾-inch and ½-inch strips for the door tracks and for fastening harware cloth onto the bottom of the nests, respectively. (Thus if you are using 1x4 nominal stock, you will end up with strips of actual ¾x¾, and ½x¾.) You will need approximately 14 ft of ½ inch strips, and approximately 22 ft of ¾ inch strips.

Trap-nest-i-rip

(I) Rip

(J) Turn nest unit upside down. Cut ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth to 24 inches long and wide enough (12 or 13 inches or so) to span the bottom of the nesting areas (only). Secure the hardware cloth to the underside edges of the nest areas, using small nails and ½-inch strips cut to needed lengths. (Note that I always use ¼-inch hardware cloth for the bottoms of nest boxes, never solid bottoms. Finer, dustier material sifts out through the wire, I renew the nests with fresh straw from above, and the nests remain largely self-cleaning.)

Trap-nest-j-bottom

(J) Bottom

(K) Cut ¾-inch strips into 16 - 16-inch pieces. Nail into place as in the picture, aligning the front strip with the front edge of the side or partition, and using a 1-inch spacer to ensure that the back strip is exactly parallel to the front strip. These pairs of vertical strips will define the “track” through which the door falls. (Strips need only be lightly tacked into place using the smaller nails—they will bear no load.) Attach some sort of “bumper” over the door stop (so the door doesn’t bang down too loudly and panic the hen). I used strips cut from an old bicycle inner tube.

Trap-nest-k-tracks

(K) Tracks

(L) The unit is now ready to install. If you attach a cleat to the wall (say, a scrap piece of 2x4), it will be easy to install it by yourself. Otherwise, get a buddy to assist.

Trap-nest-l-cleat

(L) Cleat

(M) Attachment to the wall must be rock-solid. I used four #10 - 2-½-inch self-drilling screws for each unit. (By “self-drilling,” I mean screws such as deck screws not requiring pre-drilling of pilot holes.)

Trap-nest-m-mount

(M) Mount

(N) Cut doors 12 inches high from plywood or any stock that you have that is ¾-inch thick. The width is determined by the thickness of material you have used for sides and partition, and allowing ¼ inch clearance on each side within the door’s tracking slot. I cut mine to 10-½ inches. Drill holes in the exact center of the top of each door, and screw in a hook. Position another hook overhead, screwed into any accessible structural member of the building. The position of this hook is the most critical alignment in the whole setup: I used a plumb bob to ensure that the overhead hook was precisely perpendicular from the door hook.

Trap-nest-n-hooks

(N) Hooks

Trap-nest-o-trigger

(O) Trigger Stick

Trap-nest-p-set

(P) Doors Set

(O) Cut a ½-inch dowel into 9-inch pieces for the trigger sticks. Use a saw to cut 5/16 inch through the dowel, 3-½ inches from what will be the lower end. (This cut is made with a saw because the “shoulder” we are shaping here must be well squared, in order to engage the edge of the trigger hole without slipping.) Drill a 3/16-inch hole near the other end of the trigger stick. Using a knife, whittle a notch that starts about 1-½ inches toward the upper end and comes down to the inside of the “shoulder” of the notch. (See picture.)

Trap-nest-q-trigger-set

(Q) Trigger Set

(P) Time to put it all together. Tie a string between the hole in the top of the trigger stick and the hook in the top of the door, running it through the hook above the door. (Strong braided string that will not stretch is best—e.g., mason twine.) The length of the string will depend on the position of the upper hook, of course. Hook the edge of the notch in the trigger stick into the trigger hole, and suspend the door from the upper hook, hanging within its tracking slot. Door should hang slightly above the upper edge of the top of the nest box, so the hen’s back will not bump it as she enters the nest, triggering premature release. Note that the weight of the door creates tension on the string, which keeps the trigger stick securely notched in the trigger hole.

(Q) See picture of the lower end of the trigger stick in the “set” positon from the inside. As the hen begins her self-important little ballet settling into the nest, she is certain to bump against the trigger stick, knocking it loose and allowing the door to fall into blocking position.

Using Trap Nests

Nest-trapping is simple: The door falls shut when the hen enters the nest, leaving her trapped until you release her and make a note of her achievement. You don’t need to nest-trap all the time—that would be far too time-consuming. Just set up a schedule for trapping and stick to it. For example, you might trap for the same three days of each week during the month when you are selecting your breeder hens. Check the nests frequently throughout the day, especially the mornings—at least every hour, more frequently as you have more hens in relation to the number of trap nests. (If “urgent” hens lay in the litter, there go your carefully accumulated records.) Use the same nests for both trapping and regular laying (with the doors removed). The hens will get accustomed to using them, and laying cycles will not be disturbed by a change of nests. You can code each egg in pencil when you release the hen, or make a note on a sheet you keep by the nest—whatever makes record-keeping easy.

Troubleshooting

If the upper hook is not precisely positioned overhead, the door will not fall straight, and may jam in the tracking slot. If changing the position of the hook doesn’t solve the problem, you can box in the sides of the tracking slot with thin strips, ensuring that the door cannot veer to one side as it falls.

Trap-nest-r-step

Step

If you find it difficult to get the trigger stick to stay locked in the trigger hole, try passing the string from the trigger stick through an additional hook overhead (before it continues on to the hook over the door). In this case, however, you do not want the overhead hook to be in line with the trigger hole. Position the second hook at enough of an angle to notch the trigger stick securely in the trigger hole.

If hens fly up to the front perch, they may jostle the door, triggering premature release. A prelimanary step up to the nest will ensure a less jarring approach.

Doors can be left in the closed position at night if chickens like sleeping in the nests. A lightweight slanted cover can be put into place on top of the nest unit at night to prevent the birds’ roosting there.

Trap-nest-s-success

Success!