Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, January 29, 2006
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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:
You can buy
Success With Baby Chicks directly from me,
or from my listing on eBay (see below), or from Amazon.com. Give it a try -- I frequently refer to it
myself, and I wrote it!
- 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.
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:
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.
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
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.