Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, January 31, 2004
News From the Farm
We're back to nice weather, for Oregon in January; wet, but with frequent sun breaks and with lows mostly above freezing. We heat our house entirely with wood, and there are days when there's no point to building a fire.
The chickens are recovering from their snow ordeal. We couldn't get them enough feed during the snowy period. Hand-carrying and tobogganing feed through snow is exhausting, and improvised feeders mean that some groups get too much feed and others not enough. Also, their water froze, and that's bad for egg production.
I should probably point out that high egg production requires that the hens have easy, convenient access to just as much feed as they care to eat, and also easy, convenient access to plenty of water. The hens will remain healthy and, to all appearances, perfectly happy with much less than this, but egg production is optional and gets canceled when the least little thing goes wrong. Our hens only seemed upset by the snow itself; they didn't want to walk on it. Otherwise, they seemed quite cheerful.
Anyway, with things back to normal, egg production has increased greatly, but we're getting a lot of muddy eggs. Snowmelt followed by heavy rain is a recipe for mud. There are two cures for mud in my situation. One is to move the houses to an area with heavy turf. The other is to lay down thick layers of straw or wood chips -- and I mean thick. But it works. Of course, this is when the pickup truck decided that it needed rear-end work, so that part of our program has been delayed. I can get straw bales quite cheaply in my area, but I can't fit them into my car!
If your chickens have a yard, the trick is to put down large quantities of straw or wood chips, and to keep adding lots more as soon as the area starts looking muddy. This takes a lot of straw, but it makes the world's best compost. Ideally, you'd have double yards and a desire to grow vegetables. Alternatively, you'd want to design your chicken yard so that the old straw can be removed easily, whether by wheelbarrow (in the case of a very small yard) or with a tractor. In addition to controlling mud (and when we say "mud" in the poultry business, we generally mean manure), the chickens like foraging around in the straw, which often contains enough seeds to make them very happy. Otherwise, you can scatter grain in the straw and keep them happy for hours.
I don't think I'm going to be able to hold off for more than a couple more days! I need baby chicks! But I've promised myself that I'll prepare my brooder house before I order my chicks. I always say I'm going to do this, but now I've said it to my readers. Next time, I'll report on what I did and how well it worked!
I'll go down the checklist from my book, Success With Baby Chicks, and see if I've changed my mind about anything or if I left anything out. One thing's for sure; my home-made brooders will need to be refurbished. Cheap lamp sockets only last one season for some reason. I'll probably buy several kinds of socket this year, mark the sockets, and trick their lifetime by brand. That would be nice and scientific.
And if you haven't bought your own copy of Success With Baby Chicks, now's the time! Like me, You'll want to have your plan together well before the chicks arrive, and if you're like me, you've had plenty of time to forget the fine points of early-season brooding by now.
I've heard two schools of thought where appliances and equipment are concerned. One is to buy the the best, so you can expect it to last a lifetime. Another, which I tend to follow, is to start with a cheap unit to see if that's satisfactory, but to half-expect to replace it in the end with a high-quality one. That way, if it turns out that I'm barking up the wrong tree, I haven't bought expensive stuff that, as it turns out, I don't ever uses.
Another approach is to have spares within reach. A friend's father once had a policy of having "a pair and a spare" of practically everything. For example, he'd have two washing machines installed, so if washing machine A broke, you'd just switch to washing machine B. In addition, washing machine C would be sitting in its cardboard box, ready to be installed.
So far, I've never actually tried this method with anything but ball-point pens, hammers, and shovels, which I buy in sufficient quantity that I can always find one when I need one. I once got mad when I couldn't find a hammer anywhere, and went off to the hardware store and bought five of the cheapest hammers I could find. Now I can always find a hammer. If I'm lucky, I can even find a good hammer, but one of the cheapies will do.
When it came time to install a jet pump to water our livestock, I had the choice of cheap vs. good. I decided that, since I was new to the pump-installation game, I'd cut my teeth on cheap, and move up to good if that seemed warranted. What I bought was a nifty self-contained 3/4 HP jet pump unit that I got from Harbor Freight. It had a pump, a pressure gauge, a pressure switch, and a six-gallon pressure tank. That's pretty much everything! (But not the check valve. Don't forget to put in a foot valve on the suction end, like I did.) Cheap, too -- these units are practically always on special for $99 or less. As of this writing, an identical unit is on sale for $89.99 at Harbor Freight Tools. (I don't make any money if you buy stuff from them; I'm just a more or less satisfied customer.) The preassembled, all-in-one nature of the unit is very attractive. It just plugs into a 110V outlet and everything.
I bought my first unit four or five years ago. In that time, the pressure switch became unreliable and the cooling fan on the back of the motor fell off and had to be put back on. This is pretty bad by the standards of quality maintained by the major manufacturers. On the other hand, the pump has never complained about the dreadfully dirty water it has to deal with, or the way it is sometimes kept running long after it's sucked the well dry. (It was things like that which made me hesitant to use a good pump in the first place.)
If you want water pressure where you don't have AC power, there are interesting 12V general-purpose pump that has a built-in check valve and pressure switch. Actually, similar units are made by Flojet and Shurflo. I've used the Flojet model. It's billed as an RV pump. Because it has a built-in pressure switch, it will turn on and off automatically to maintain water pressure. I once used one of these on my back pasture to pump water out of the creek and deliver it to the hens, who were being eaten by predators if they were allowed to go down to the creek themselves. I used an old car battery for power. Worked like a charm. It cycled on and off very frequently at first, because I was using poly tubing, which isn't very elastic. I added a hundred feet of garden hose gave the system a kinda-sorta pressure tank, and then everything worked great. Even with a terrible old car battery for power, it would run for a couple of weeks before the battery needed recharging. With a pair of 6V alkaline lantern batteries, it probably would have run for several months.
These pumps are a great way of converting low-pressure or no-pressure water sources for use with poultry waterers. Just throw the suction line into a ditch or stock tank. The suction line goes to the pump, the pump attaches to garden hose or poly tubing, and any waterers that would run off your household water system will now work out on the back forty. You can even hook up a hose nozzle and get a halfway decent spray to wash things down with.
I used the same pump as an emergency backup pump for household water (until I cannibalized it for use on the pasture again). You just install it in parallel with your regular pump and hook it up to a 12V battery -- and hook the battery up to a battery charger. Or you could use a pair of 6V alkaline lantern batteries and forget about the charger. You set the pressure switch on the 12V pump so it stays off when the regular pump is doing its job (on the FloJet, the adjustment is just a screw at the end of the unit). When the electricity fails and the pressure falls, the 12V pump will take over automatically. You don't have to go outside to turn it on or turn any valves or anything! Just make sure you install it so that the water doesn't get pumped around in a circle; there needs to be a check valve to keep it from recirculating water backwards through the household pump.
This works if you have a shallow well or are pumping out of a cistern. If you have a deep well pump, you're on your own. I have a deep well pump that puts the water into a 1,500 gallon black plastic cistern, which supplies the household jet pump. When our power was out for four days, no water was pumped from the well, but we had 1,500 gallons in the cistern to tide us over. Since my FloJet finally gave up the ghost after being left out in the rain for a couple of winters, we didn't have pressure, but a tap in our basement is below the level of the tank, so we could draw off water from the comfort of our house and schlep it around in pots or buckets to wherever it was needed. I'm considering putting a 12V pump in the basement, where the rain won't get it!
These 12V pumps make great poultry water pumps, but you need to be aware that most poultry waterers insist on fairly clean water. They clog. The pumps do, too, so you need a strainer on the intake end. When I was pumping out of my creek, silt would get into the FloJet and clog it up. It only takes a few minutes to clean it, but it was a nuisance. In a fit of improvisation, I took one of my orange mesh work gloves, tied it over the strainer, and tossed it back into the creek. It worked!
A local factory makes pallets and stair risers and sells the scraps for $25 per pickup load; half a cord of you have a full-sized pickup like mine. Most of it is triangle-shaped cutouts from stair risers that are kiln-dried hemlock. They can be outside in the rain for a long time and still be dry enough to use for kindling.
This isn't all that unusual. Apparently, the country is swimming in scrapwood that most people simply aren't aware of, or turn up their noses at because it isn't cordwood. I have heard of prices as low as $3 per pickup load for clean, dry scrap wood.
So if you burn wood for heat, it'll be worth your while to keep your eyes open for sources of cheap yet convenient fuel. We burn at least a cord of these wood scraps per year.
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Copyright 2004 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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