Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, April 22, 2005As 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.
Get 'Em Cheaper On eBay
Wow, it's been April for three weeks and I haven't published the April to-do list yet! Sorry about that. Things have been really busy!
Spring is the natural laying season, with egg production peaking in April or May, and declining thereafter until sometime around New Year's Day. It's also the natural hatching season, as I discovered a few days ago when a hen appeared with five baby chicks in tow! She's hanging out near our house, which is good, because baby chicks and big flocks of hens don't mix. Hens only care about their own chicks.
In the old days, 90% of the year's chicks were hatched in April and May. It's the natural hatching season, and the chicks usually do well. For some reason the feed stores around here imagine that March is the best time to sell chicks. Maybe it is, but April and May are better times to brood chicks. It's not too hot and not too cold, mostly. You can brood chicks year-round (I tell you how in my book, Success With Baby Chicks, but April and May are good times. (September and October are also good.)
One sign of spring is the sound of swearing as I try to get the lawn mower, the D.R. trimmer, and the tractor running. The air was pretty blue there for a while.
Getting the tractor running required the usual TLC, including a partial rebuild of the carburetor. Fortunately, the carburetor on an old Ford 640 is so simple that it takes only a few minutes to take it apart, rinse it out with Chemtool, and put it back together.
The big improvement was when I suddenly realized that the reason my tractor took forever to get up to operating temperature was that the thermostat was stuck open, and had been when I bought it eight years ago. I got it apart. Sure enough, the thermostat (which looked like no thermostat I'd ever seen, and was probably the original) was stuck wide open. I replaced it with a new one. Now the temperature gage actually moves after a few minutes' operation, the plugs aren't fouled all the time, and the tractor runs better and has a lot more power.
How many decades ago did that thermostat fail, I wonder?
One thing that amazes me about these old tractors is the way they go through fluids. Changing the oil in the transmission and differential took four gallons of gear oil. Changing the coolant took two gallons of antifreeze and two gallons of water. And the oil-bath filter takes a pint and a half of oil every ten operating hours. Surprisingly, the engine takes only five quarts of oil -- about the same as my other vehicles.
I've moved some chicken houses, mowed several acres of pasture, and pulled the pickup out from where it was stuck. It's nice having the tractor running well.
Speaking of repairs, we're still struggling with our ice machine. If you butcher broilers, as we do, a good-sized ice machine is a necessity, a blessing, and an infernal nuisance. Ours basically refuses to run unless we spend $100 on parts for it every spring. It's not clear to me that it cares which parts we buy, so long as we spend the money. Since we've spent the money, it should be running perfectly, but it isn't. We're getting close, though.
Our farmers' markets have already started. We have a mild climate and our outdoor markets go from Mid-April through late November. We had a pretty good crowd on opening day, last Saturday, even though it rained. There were even local strawberries! Greenhouse-grown, of course. Much better-tasting than the stuff that's trucked in from Mexico. Freshness counts.
We were there with eggs and broilers. The hens are laying up a storm, especially because we got 300 commercial-quality pullets towards the end of October, and they're already in full lay. Last year we were really short of eggs. I don't think this will happen this year.
Our broilers were bigger than we expected, with dressed weights averaging over five pounds! That's a big chicken. Every year, the commercial broilers grow a little faster, and our old rule of thumb that we should butcher at eight weeks (or thereabouts) seems to be at least a week too long. Confinement-raised broilers are being harvested at 5-6 weeks these days. That's a far cry from the early days, when it took twelve weeks to raise a broiler with a dressed weight of two pounds. Chickens that used to be considered full-sized broilers are being sold today as Cornish Game Hens.
We traded one broiler for an enormous amount of produce, which shows why you don't have to do it all. There are plenty of people who are better vegetable farmers and orchardists than we are, but we can get all the benefit of their experience by selling our own specialty products and buying theirs.
Go visit your local farmers' market as soon as you get the chance, especially if you have a real farmers' market that isn't a craft fair or an extension of the local produce wholesalers'. In our area, at least, we have a lot of very skillful farmers who cater to gourmets and other quality-conscious buyers, and there's a lot of stuff you just can't get anywhere else.
April To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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