Norton Creek Poultry and Chicken Lore
Books from Robert Plamondon's Publishing Company, Norton Creek Press.

Success With
Baby Chicks

Robert Plamondon
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Gardening Without Work
Ruth Stout
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Poultry Production
Leslie E. Card
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Genetics of the Fowl
F. B. Hutt
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Feeding Poultry
G.F. Heuser
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Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, January 29, 2006

As 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.

Baby Chick Time Already?

I'll bet you've already received several hatchery catalogs. In old days, this would be prime chick-brooding time. The big problem was getting the pullets to start laying before winter closed in, because if they weren't already laying by the first snowfall, they wouldn't lay at all before spring. The breeds tended to be slow to mature, so farmers would try to start chicks in January and February to be certain that they'd be in full lay in November.

Hens mature a lot faster now, and better nutrition and lights make winter a little less awful for small flocks than before (though my hens never lay well in the winter). But early brooding is tempting for those of us who can't seem to have enough eggs in the fall, when farmer's market sales are heavy but the older hens are all going through a molt.

Winter brooding is harder than at the warmer months. The techniques are mostly the same, but everything is that much more difficult.

I talk quite a bit about about winter brooding in my book, Success With Baby Chicks. In case you're a little short right now, I'll summarize a few winter brooding points:

  • Buy chicks from a reputable hatchery. If you want hens, buy pullets, not straight-run chicks.
  • Drafts at floor level will kill day-old chicks. Use a draft guard to make sure that the area around them isn't drafty. It doesn't matter if it's drafty higher up; the chicks are down low.
  • An insulated brooder (such as the one described in the book) will save both money and lives.
  • Check on the chicks last thing at night and first thing in the morning, when it's coldest.
  • If the chicks aren't comfy, do something about it right away.
  • Use glass canning jars on quart-jar chick waterers. The glint attracts them.
  • Keep lights on all the time for the first three days so the chicks can find feed and water whenever they need it.
  • The litter under the brooder must be warm and dry to the touch when the chicks arrive, or you will chill them instead of warming them.
You can buy Success With Baby Chicks directly from me, or from my listing on eBay (see below), or from Give it a try -- I frequently refer to it myself, and I wrote it!

Brooding gets easier as the season progresses. April and May are easy brooding months in most places, and September and October are also good. But winter brooding can be very satisfying if you mind your p's and q's.

Great Deals On eBay

I've been practically giving books away on eBay. I didn't mean to, but people weren't bidding on them! Maybe you'll get a good deal too:

My items on eBay

News From the Farm

It's been an interesting winter so far! We've had record rainfall here in Oregon's Coast Range, and that's saying something. We get 60-90 inches of rainfall in a normal year, mostly in the winter. I don't know how much we've had this year, but the neighbors are polishing up their ark-building skills.

The creek overflowed during the worst of it, leaving much of our back pasture underwater. The section with the chicken houses was about three inches underwater, but getting to it involved wading through water nearly over the tops of our rubber boots.

Just so you know, a few inches of slow-moving water is not life-threatening to full-grown chickens, and the water subsided the next day, leaving the pasture looking pretty much the same as always. Given that this one-day event was by far the worst flooding we've seen in ten years on the farm, and absolutely nothing bad happened, I've decided to worry about something else from now on.

It's still the quiet season, though we will be brooding more and more chicks, starting almost immediately. Karen is rebuilding one of our brooder houses in preparation. (Hint: dont' use OSB for siding in a brooder house. It rots out really quickly where it comes into contact with damp litter.)

I've accepted a full-time job with a Silicon Valley startup company for which I've been doing technical writing for the past two years. This means that I'll be continuing to fly to San Francisco and back every Thursday, which I don't mind telling you is a very long day. I figure that, when you've been turning down higher-paying consulting work so you can continue working with a favored client, it's time to consider becoming an employee. So I did.

Karen's going to be doing more of the Norton Creek Press work because of this, but on the whole things will be much the same. Technical writing for high-tech firms has always brought home most of the bacon.

Which brings me to this month's theme:

Don't Quit Your Day Job

The back-to-the-land movement usually has a romantic goal of making one's living entirely off the land. I think this raises the bar way too high, setting people up to fail, when a slightly different set of goals would lead them to success.

You don't have to quit your day job when you move to the country. A lot of the time, doing so is the worst thing you can do. We wouldn't have been on the farm long enough to get unpacked if I hadn't kept my technical writing business going.

I grew up in the country, and the issue wasn't "independence" vs. "dependence," it was "making enough money to stay" vs. "having to move to someplace with more jobs." And families went through all sorts of gyrations between farming, logging, taking jobs, starting businesses -- whatever worked.

Back-to-the-land literature is full of people espousing the virtues of poverty. I figure that if you practice poverty in the periods between one financial success and the next, that's plenty for one lifetime. Realistically, most of us need to make enough to put the kids through college, pay the mortgage, and save for retirement. These goals take a lot of cash money, which is why real country people tend to talk a lot more about prices and profits than they do about the romance of it all. Once you go broke and lose the farm, the romance is over.

So for those of you who have been wondering if it's sinful to ease into farming rather than jumping off the deep end, or if it's bad to be a hobbyist, backyarder, or part-timer -- I don't think so. It's all good -- especially if it works.

Have You Joined APPPA Yet?

If you like this newsletter, you'll love APPPA Grit!, the newsletter of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association. APPPA is a practical-minded journal, with articles contributed mostly by folks making a go at the pastured broiler business, though every other kind of poultry get articles written about them as well.

Anyone raising poultry on a tiny-to-medium scale will find tons of useful stuff here. You can't help but get your money's worth. Even if you never read an article, but just look at the pictures, you'll come out way ahead! No kidding. (I like APPPA enough to be a board member, which I won't do for most organization.) So get off your duff and join today!

January To-Do List

Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Make inventory.
  • Disinfect brooder houses (I never do this, but cleaning them up is a good idea).
  • Purchase brooding equipment.
  • Clean, repair, and install brooders.
  • Keep better records.
  • Use artificial lights.
  • Remove damp or dirty litter.
  • Provide warm drinking water in cold weather.

If you like this newsletter, please send copies to all your friends!

Copyright 2006 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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36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326

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