Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, July 30, 2005
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Genetics of the Fowl
One of the many things I like about F. B. Hutt's
Genetics of the Fowl
is that he devoted a very large chapter at the back to "Breeding in Practice," where he tells you what works and
what doesn't in real life, rather than just giving you lists of interesting genes and leaving you to flounder around.
But in addition to this, he goes through all the chicken genes and not only tells you what they do (such as determine
whether a chicken has white or colored feathers), but how the researchers figured this out and what question marks
remain. It gives tremendous insight into the process of figuring out breeding problems.
This book won't appeal to everyone, but if you're interested in breeding chickens, it's a must-have. Yes, it was
written in 1949, and there have been advances since then. But this book gives you a better grounding than
any other. For example Crawford's
Poultry Breeding and Genetics
is vastly larger and more up-to-date, but it's aimed at an audience of poultry scientists, and reading
it is pretty heavy going. (Besides, its list price is $300.) You'll really want to read
Genetics of the Fowl first.
Professor Hutt was an interesting man. He worked on many different aspects of genetics, and pioneered work in many areas,
including breeding for disease resistance (which works, but is harder than you'd think). He investigated the chromosomal nature
of genetics. He worked out practical breeding plans for improving egg production, which turns out to be
He also wrote a book on practical dog genetics,
Genetics for Dog Breeders.
Anyway, if you're interested in breeding chickens, you need a copy of
Genetics of the Fowl. You can buy
from my listing on eBay (see below), or from Amazon.com.
Disgustingly Good Deals On eBay
Sales on eBay are slow in the summer, but I'm taking a chance and putting more books on the auction block. You may
get a really good deal -- the last buyers sure did! Check it out:
Free-Range Eggs Are More Nutritious
Mother Earth News published an article called
Free-Range Eggs Are Really More Nutritious. It reports new research
which confirms what everyone already knew, which is that supermarket eggs are as nutritionally empty as it is
convenient to make them.
In the old days, everyone kept their breeding flocks on free range because the eggs hatched better and the chicks
were healthier. In other words, the layer rations were nutritionally deficient, and range made up for it.
In fact, the numbers on the nutrition label on an egg carton are identical to the ones I read in a poultry book
from the early Forties, for eggs from confined flocks. (I think it was Jull's
Successful Poultry Management.)
The text also mentioned that eggs from free-range flocks had much higher nutrional value. So it's not as if this
fact has ever been a big secret.
Of course, the big guys don't use free-range for their breeder flocks (the flocks whose eggs get sent to the incubator
instead of the supermarket). Instead, breeder flocks get a diet with much higher vitamin levels and some other
good stuff. Looking at it the other way, if you assume that the ultimate benchmark of egg quality is its ability
to produce a healthy chick, table eggs are intentionally kept below this standard by most producers.
Which is not to say that the producers are bad people, just that most consumers assume that all eggs are alike, and
buy the cheapest ones available. You can go broke pretty fast marketing a quality product to people who aren't paying
attention to quality!
News From the Farm
The High-Tech Life
My wife Karen farms full-time, but I'm also a free-lance technical writer. My client is a Silicon Valley start-up in
the network acceleration business. (You should see all the computers in my basement!) Recently I've been flying
to the Bay Area and back every Thursday. So if you've sent me an email and haven't heard a response, now you know why.
I like high-tech stuff. I didn't move to the country to escape modern society, I moved because I like living in the
country. Like everybody else, I have satellite TV and everything!
I carry a PDA because I need to be beeped at when it's time to do things, and it's hard for me to imagine how farmers
ever got along without cell phones.
I think the thing that surprised me most about life on the farm was how high my electricity bill would be. Refrigerators,
ice machines, brooders, fans, and computers -- it adds up!
Karen is doing rotational grazing with lambs this year. This is her second batch of lambs. Our previous lambs were
housed in the barn and were always getting into the range feeders and eating chicken feed. These are up on the back
hill, confined with electrified netting that gets moved every few days.
I thought the last batch came out kind of small, but maybe we just didn't keep them long enough for them to
put on weight.
Lambs aren't much trouble if you move the fencing often enough. They'll escape pretty quickly if they run out of grass.
One upside of this is that they're grazing ahead of the broilers. Broilers don't like tall grass, and the lambs are
keeping it nice and short for them.
Our pigs are showing no respect for the electric netting we're attempting to confine them with. They're escaping and
getting into the chicken feeders. Soon they'll learn how to eat hens, so we're moving the pigs to the hen-free
end of the property, and will use a better, stronger electric fence.
Pigs are a lot of fun when they don't escape all the time. They're always very healthy and always seem to be
having a good time, especially if you have some scrub land that they can root up to their heart's content, with
some shade for them to sleep in.
Our pigs eat a lot of hard-boiled free-range eggs. We save all our cracked and dirty eggs for them. We hard-boil
and then freeze them during the off-season.
July To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's
Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
- Market or butcher surplus cockerels.
- Cull early molting hens.
- Use moist mash for layers in hot weather (no more than they will finish in 20 minutes).
- Make special disinfection of pullet quarters (in anticipation of moving them off range and
into winter housing).
- Provide additional ventilation.
- Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
- Cull weak or unthrifty individuals.