Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, August 1, 2003
We have a lot of new subscribers to the newsletter this month. Welcome! I hope you enjoy it.
In each issue (and I'll have 1-3 issues per month), I'll talk about useful, interesting, and funny poultry topics. I'll also promote the benefits of buying the four books I've brought out under my Norton Creek Press label. One (Success With Baby Chicks), was written by me, in response to widespread reports of high chick mortality among people with small flocks.
The other three books are poultry classics which I have brought back into print. They are listed at the bottom of this newsletter. I've read hundreds of old poultry books, and these three are all in the top ten. For people who like books with a more recent copyright date, I plan on writing more as time permits (but don't hold your breath!).
News From the Farm
We've had an unusually hot summer so far. Hot for Western Oregon, anyway. This hasn't had much of an effect on our poultry, but the pastures are browning off early.
Our ducklings are growing like weeds. I didn't think that brooding ducklings in the summer was such a great idea, but they've been doing remarkably well. I used to think of them as cold-weather birds (they require less heat than chicks and, once out of the brooder house, are indifferent to wet and cold), but it looks like they may be a year-round winner. We brood them just like chicks, but with fewer birds per brooder house and with the understanding that they will make the brooder house wet and disgusting at a very early age. Ducks are almost immune to coccidiosis and other chick diseases, and they are very hardy even after they've messed up the house.
My wife Karen invented a portable chicken house made of lightweight galvanized cattle panels and covered with a tarp. These are cheaper and easier to build than most portable housing, and can be moved by hand by a five-foot-two woman without difficulty. I have a Web page describing this style of housing ( http://www.plamondon.com/hoophouse.html). This is one of the most popular pages on my Web site, and people who have built similar houses have had nice things to say about them.
Today's Chicken Joke
A chicken walks into the library, walks up to the librarian, and says, "Book!"
The librarian gives her a book, and the chicken takes it away.
The next day, the chicken returns the book and says, "Book! Book!"
The librarian gives her two books, and the chicken takes them away.
On the third day, in comes the chicken again, returning the two books, and saying "Book! Book! Boooooooooooooook!"
So the librarian gives her two short books and a long one.
This time, though, the librarian follows the chicken, who walks to a nearby pond and sets the books down on a large flat rock.
A frog jumps out of the pond and hops onto the rock. He settles down next to a book and says, "Read-it."
August Problems and What to Do About Them
Declining Egg Quality
Some people take pride in the fact that they never put their eggs in the refrigerator. You can get away with this in March, but it's no way to preserve egg quality in August. Even in a climate as mild as mine, I noticed an increase in egg quality when I adopted the plan of putting eggs into the refrigerator immediately after collecting them. In The Dollar Hen, Milo Hastings discusses the effect of climate on summer egg quality in the old days (he wrote this in 1909):
If you don't have enough refrigerator space for all your eggs, at least store them in a cool place. Even a few degrees can make a big difference in storage quality. A non-musty basement is ideal.
In hot weather, it helps to collect the eggs more frequently during the day -- three times, if you can manage it. This gets them out of the heat sooner. Hot weather also tend to cause thinner eggshells for some reason, and the more fragile the eggshells, the more it pays to collect them frequently.
Broilers are particularly susceptible to heat-related deaths, since they tend to keep on eating no matter what. The heat of digestion adds to their woes on very hot days. Feeding them only first thing in the morning and last thing at night can help.
Broilers will be the first to suffer if they run out of water. In July, a failure in our water system caused water to run out in our broiler pens and our duck pens. Some broilers died, but the ducks were fine. We believe this is because the ducks refuse to eat unless they have water handy, while the broilers packed themselves full of bone-dry feed even after the water ran out.
Checking the water system frequently is important in hot weather, as is preventative maintenance, such as cleaning the filter screens in the waterers.
Another problem comes from hot sunny days. Poultry need shade to keep from overheating. Make sure they have plenty. Once in the shade, the birds may be reluctant to leave it. They are also much more willing to drink cool water than warm water. If your waterers are out in the blazing sun, the birds may be reluctant to brave the journey to the waterers at all. Even when they do, the warm water may discourage them from drinking all they need. So waterers should be with the birds, in the shade. This is particularly important for broilers.
My book, Success With Baby Chicks, covers every aspect of brooding. Summer brooding differs from spring brooding mostly in the higher temperatures and the greater possibility of problems with lice and mites. A brooder house that is closed up as snugly as it needs to be in the early spring may cause overheating and death in the summer. The temperatures inside the brooder house must not be allowed to rise out of control, and it's doubly important that the chicks be able to get away from the heat of the brooder, either by eliminating draft guards altogether or by making them out of hardware cloth instead of cardboard. A draft guard made out of quarter-inch hardware cloth doesn't stop drafts, of course, but it keeps the chicks from wandering away and getting lost. My brooder houses are so small (8 feet square) that the chicks can't get lost, so I simply omit the draft guard during hot weather.
I also allow much more ventilation in warm weather. If your brooder houses are shaded by trees, as mine are, temperatures inside the brooder houses will be more moderate. Another time-honored tradition is to brood about 20% fewer chicks in hot weather, so they can spread out more.
As with everything else, providing plenty of water is essential to successful summer brooding.
Hydrated lime repels both chickens and flies. It's amazing how a few scoops of hydrated lime can tame a heap of stinky chicken manure. For places where you don't want the exclude the chickens, ordinary lime works pretty well.
Controlling moisture helps reduce the number of flies, too, so fix those leaky waterers!
Roost mites breed like crazy during warm temperatures. If you feel a "crawly" sensation up your forearms, or your forearms feel irritated after an egg collection, that's roost mites. Empty out wooden nest boxes and treat them by painting them with a slow-drying or non-drying oil (mineral oil, linseed oil, or the yucky but traditional used motor oil thinned in kerosene), or spray them with an insecticide such as Malathion or the organically correct Pyrethrins. Metal nest boxes should simply be cleaned out; I don't think oiling them is practical. Spray or oil roosts as well, especially on the undersides and anywhere two pieces of wood meet. The mites live in the cracks and crevices. Bad infestations may leave plenty of mites living in the walls and the litter.
Lots of people recommend cedar shavings and diatomaceous earth as mite repellent, but this has never worked for me.
Broody hens are magnets for both lice and mites, who find the sitting target irresistible, breed like crazy, and move on to infest your other chickens. Broodies should be "broken up" by being placed in "broody coops" for about four days (any wire- or slat-floored cage will do, such as an old rabbit cage). Give the hens plenty of feed and water.
Lice live on the chickens, so badly infested chickens should be dusted with an appropriate insecticide. In the U.S., Malathion dust for use with livestock can be purchased at any feed store. Follow the instructions on the label.
Chickens can control lice by dust-bathing, so providing a dry, dusty place for them is helpful. Chickens are not smart about choosing dust-bathing sites, and if the dustiest site happens to consist of old manure that's full of lice, they'll use that. Sprinkling the ground with hydrated lime will act as chicken repellent, and will also control flies. Dust-bathing sites are where you want to use diatomaceous earth or wood ashes to enhance the insecticidal effect.
Badly infested chickens may be too lethargic to dust-bathe, to you should consider the dust bath to be a preventative, not a cure.
Some of your older hens will begin molting in July and August. Molting can be deferred by using lights to stretch the day length, but, generally speaking, the early molters are not very productive hens. The traditional time to turn on the lights is September 1. The traditional cure for hens who molt before this time is to butcher them as stewing hens.
Stress will trigger a premature molt, so if you suddenly see enormous numbers of feathers under the roosts, something bad has probably happened. It's too early in the season for this to be normal.
Extra attention can reduce the number of chickens who accumulate enough stress to begin molting early. Keeping the feeders and waterers full, keeping parasites under control, providing the hens with enough to do that they don't fall back on pecking each other, and preventing dogs and children from chasing the chickens will all help.
Old-time poultrykeepers would stave off the molt by keeping the chickens eating. If they go off their feed, their production will plummet. Chickens eat less in hot weather and when their food is too boring. Scattering scratch feed, giving them garden wastes, providing free range, and giving them ordinary feed in novel and palatable form (a few handfuls of pellets if they normally get mash, and giving wet feed by pouring a little water down the middle of their feed troughs), will perk up their appetites.
A lot of people assume that perking up production depends on exotic ingredients such as cayenne pepper or commercial mixes of secret ingredients, but really it's just a matter of feeding novel and palatable feeds in limited amounts. It's important that the amounts be limited because chickens are social eaters, and if they see the other chickens chowing down on something, they'll want to muscle in and get their share before it's gone, even if they aren't really hungry. The basic rule is to feed no more than the chickens will clean up in 20 minutes. It works best if this is done on top of their regular feed, so they'll continue to compete with each other after the special feed is gone.
This trick doesn't work very well over the long term, but it is very effective for a week or two, and can get the chickens past a slump caused by hot weather or other things that put them off their feed.
August To-Do List
(Borrowed heavily from Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943)
August represents a month of minimal labor for many poultrykeepers. The chicks are no longer in the brooder house, and the weather, though troublesome, makes little extra work so long as the water system doesn't break down.
If you like this newsletter, please send copies to all your friends!
Copyright 2003 by Robert Plamondon. Permission is granted for copying if the material from here to the end of the message is left unaltered.
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