Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, October 10, 2004As always, if you're tired of this newsletter, please scroll down to the bottom of the message for easy instructions to make your subscription go away.
Christmas is Coming!
And less than ten days after Christmas, the hatchery catalogs start arriving in the mail. Along with seed catalogs, they're the first sign of spring. Every January, the new hatchery catalogs focus my attention back on brooding baby chicks and plans for the coming year.
So, though it sounds a little odd, poultry books make very timely Christmas presents. And mid-October isn't anything like too early to stock up.
As most of you know, I publish four poultry books:
All of them are available directly from me (just click on the links). I have the lowest prices and keep all four titles in stock. (Which is more than I can say for Amazon.com, which is going through some very strange inventory gyrations at the moment.)
News From the Farm
Fall is here, and the pace of chores is becoming less. Our pigs were taken away by the butcher on Friday, our last batch of broiler chicks is about to leave the brooder house, and our layers are laying at a much lower rate than in the spring. So things are quieter.
The hens like fall weather well enough, and problems with roost mites tend to go away, which is nice (not that I had much trouble after dealing with them once in the summertime). The long summer drought is over and the grass is nice and green again, which is good for free-range hens.
Fall is the time for lights in the henhouse. People make lighting out to be a much bigger deal than it is. There has been folklore floating around for the last 80 years or so that lighting is bad for the hens. Generally speaking, lighting has no adverse effects at all, and is probably good for them, since if you're in a northern clime, not using lights mean that the hens have only 8-9 hours of daylight to work with in the dead of winter, and that can't be any fun.
Lights stimulate the hens' reproductive system by fooling it into believing it's always spring. This reduces the seasonal fluctuation in production, though under farm conditions that don't include insuated houses, it rarely increases the total annual production. Still, most of us are rolling in eggs during the spring and terribly short of them the rest of the time, so reducing seasonal fluctuations is nothing to sneeze at.
The amount of light required is surprisingly small. Reproduction will be stimulated with light that's so dim that the hens can't see well enough to move around. This fact has little practical use, though, because it's too hard to give them just the right amount of light. It's better to give them too much.
Here's how I do my lights. Because my henhouses are little portable houses scattered all over a couple of pastures, I have to use hundreds of feet of extension cord to get power to them. When connecting cords together, I put a tiny dab of Vaseline on each prong of the plug, knot the cords, connect them together, and wrap the two ends with electrical tape. This keeps the connectors clean and shiny. I try to keep these connections out of puddles, of course.
For the lights, I use bare incandescent bulbs in dangling porcelain or plastic sockets. Compact fluorescents are too fragile and most of them aren't damp-proof. I put a dab of Vaseline on the metal part of the bulb. This prevents corrosion and keeps roost mites from taking up residence in the socket. I use dangling bulbs rather than screwing the socket to the rafters because hens sometimes take to the air and bang into the bulbs. If the bulb is rigidly attached, it breaks. If it's dangling, it almost never does. You could rig up a shield instead, if you want.
The rule of thumb is a 60-watt bulb for every 200 square feet of henhouse. You can go down to a 40-watt bulb if the fixture has a suitable reflector (a very flat one). Scale the bulb size down if your house is smaller; use more fixtures if it's bigger. My houses need only a 20-watt bulb, but I use 40-watt bulbs because smaller ones are hard to find.
The other rule of thumb is that it takes something like one extra egg per hen per year to pay for the electricity. (Or one egg that is laid in a season where you can sell it, rather than in the spring where you may not be able to.)
I like the heavy, orange three-way outlets. They're much more rugged and water-resistant than the other kinds. I use electrical tape and Vaseline with them, just like the extension cords.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I use a traditional Paragon 120V electromechanical 24-hour timer, which is just like a water-heater timer except it's for 110/120V instead of 240. You can also use a plug-in timer of the kind you can find in any hardware store for turning lights on and off. Get an electromechanical one (the kind with a little motor inside) because they're a lot more zap-proof than electronic timers.
The timer plugs into house current. I put a 5-10 amp fuse on the output, and fed this into an "on at dusk, off at dawn" unit. The timer is set to turn the lights on at 6 AM and off at 8:30 PM, for 14.5 hours of light per day. The exact number hardly matters; old-time poultrymen used 14 hours. Modern producers use whatever the day length of the longest day of the year is. The "on at dusk/off at dawn" unit keeps the lights from burning all day.
That's all there is to it. People will tell you that the hens will become confused when the lights turn off suddenly in the evening, but my experience is that this isn't true. They're on the perches already anyway.
The hardest part of the installation is the fuse, oddly enough. You can't buy old-fashioned screw-in fuses in 5A sizes anymore, at least, not without special-ordering them and paying an arm and a leg, so I use automotive fuses in an automotive fuse holder. These are cheap and are rated for 250V. Make sure you have a switch in series with the whole thing (or have a plug that you can unplug) if the fuse holder makes it hard to put fuses in and out without touching metal. Since you can't hurt yourself with 12V auto electric systems, some of the car-oriented holders are not something I'd want to mess with if they have live voltage.
It's Not Too Late for Fall Brooding
I'm going to brood pullets in both October and November this year. They're not bad brooding months in Oregon. December and January are more dangerous because of the possibility of lengthy, weather-related power outages, but even in harsher climates than mine, if the chicks are hatched by early November, they're unlikely to run into really nasty weather until they're large enough and well-feathered enough to handle it.
Fall brooding lets you use your brooder-house equipment one last time in the year, which may prove a more practical alternative to acquiring more brooder space.
Don't forget to order a copy of my book, Success With Baby Chicks, if you don't have it already. I spend a lot of time on cold-weather brooding techniques.
October is a month of molting and decreasing egg production, and a time to get things ready for winter. For example, it's about time for me to move my henhouses closer to home. Last year, when we had snow on the ground for over a w eek in December (very rare around here), my chicken houses were all over my pastures, and it was tremendously exhausting to sled feed to them. This year I'll keep them closer to home.
While farmers have a tendency to restrict ventilation too much, it's a good time of year to tighten up your houses so roaring gales don't blow right through them.
Some kind of electric heat to keep the chickens' water ice-free during the winter is also a good thing to look into. I use electric bucket heaters for my pan waterers (similar to these). For Little Giant bowl waterers, I'd probably use heater tape, except I don't use these waterers outdoors. Such heaters won't keep my garden hoses from freezing, but in my climate, they almost always thaw out by noon anyway. In colder climates, your winter housing will require buries pipes, I suppose.
October To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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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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