Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, March 6, 2006
Hey, where did February go? It was right here a minute ago!
As always, if you're tired of this newsletter, please scroll down to the bottom of the message
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We had a cold snap in February, with temperatures falling into the twenties and even the
teens, which is very cold for Oregon's Coast Range -- colder than anyone's really ready for.
Our poultry watering system (vast stretches of garden hose criss-crossing the pasture) was
frozen for several days, even though the daytime highs were well above freezing. Fortunately,
there was no snow.
Birdbath Heaters Help
If there's no snow to contend with, carrying water is the most difficult problem. If you have electricity
where the chickens are, you can use
bucket heaters or birdbatch heaters to keep the water liquid. These are reasonably
affordable and have thermostats to keep you from overheating anything. 8-qt. and 10-qt. galvanized buckets
are a good size for chicken watering, and generic feed pans from the farm store are good, too.
Here are a few current eBay offerings for birdbath heaters
(I like these eBay ads because they are the laziest possible way for me to add pictures
to this newsletter that show people stuff that's for sale right now.):
Cold Brooder Houses
Our baby chicks have been doing fine through the cold snap, though it has been very
our brooder houses are drafty. The reason they aren't bothered is the use of insulated brooders,
which I describe in full detail in my book,
Success With Baby Chicks.
I have a shorter treatment on
my Web site.
Because my garden hoses are frozen, I'm carrying water to the chicks. The waterers inside
the house are freezing at night unless they're close to the brooder heat.
By the way, I like the two-bucket method of chick watering. You arrive with one full bucket of warm
water and one empty bucket. (Instead of the full bucket, you can use a plastic watering can with
the spray end removed.) Dump whatever's in the waterers into the empty bucket. Scrub 'em out if
they need it. Rinse, then refill with warm water from the full bucket.
Trying to do this with one bucket means that you wait until the waterers are empty (bad idea),
dump mostly-empty waterers onto the floor (bad idea), and have no way of cleaning the
waterer without bringing them into the house. I don't know about you, but I think that cleaning
dirty poultry appliances in the kitchen or bathroom is disgusting.
What Do Chickens Like Best?
It turns out that whole wheat is the feed that chickens like best. Chicken feed uses mostly
corn instead of wheat because corn is cheaper, but chickens like wheat better.
I use this fact on the farm. I have old turkey range feeders on the hen pastures, half of
them filled with whole corn and half of them filled with layer pellets. But when I go out to
collect the eggs, I bring a bucket of whole wheat and scatter it in the grass. Even with a
24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet, the chickens come running for their ration of wheat. This makes
them friendly, gives me a good look at them out in the light, and it pulls them out of the
laying houses, where they may have been lounging around in the nest boxes and would
otherwise be in my way.
Here on the Pacific Coast, wheat is almost as cheap as corn. Even where it's significantly
more expensive, this is a good gimmick.
Feed-Store or Mail-Order Chicks?
We get all our chicks straight from the hatchery. Partly this is because we buy at least 100 chicks
at a time, and partly it's because our local feed stores are delusional and think that March
is the right time to offer baby chicks. (Brooding is easier in April and May.)
In general, we've had much better luck with mail-order chicks than feed-store chicks.
I'm not sure why this is, so I don't know if you'll have the same experience. We're picky
about which hatcheries we order from, and we tried lots of different kinds of chicken
before we settled on the ones that worked best for us. That is probably part of it.
If you buy from the feed store, don't be in a hurry. Watch the chicks long enough that
you can tell the active ones from the slow ones. Don't buy the slow ones!
If you have a good eye, you can pick out the females from a straight-run batch of Barred Rocks,
Silver Laced Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, or California Grays. The
techniques are different for the red birds and the black birds. It's too complex to go into here
(I give the details in Success With Baby Chicks.
), but here's one technique that's very easy: when looking at Rhode Island Red or
New Hampshire Red
chicks, all the chicks with chipmunk stripes are females. It doesn't work the other way around
(lots of females don't have chipmunk stripes), but if you only want a few pullets, you can
generally find enough stripey ones in a batch to go home happy.
As with everything else, it's hard to find a better indicator of quality than local reputation.
If you ask around, it will turn out that only one or two feed stores and hatcheries will get
enthusiastic recommendations. Buy from them! This always works unless you need something exotic
and the people you ask are focused on ordinary stock, or vice versa.
News From the Farm
We have 200 pullet chicks -- 100 California Whites and 100 Red Sex-Links from Privett hatchery --
in two of our 8x8' brooder houses. Karen fixed them up where the wet litter was rotting the walls and
set out rat poison in all three of our brooder houses (including the one we aren't using yet).
The poison vanished repeatedly in two of the houses but went untouched in the third. We kept
putting out more. After a week, the poison went untouched in all three houses.
No one likes poison. It's unaesthetic and dangerous. But if you've ever had rats in the brooder
house, (and you haven't, you will eventually) you know that it's necessary.
March To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
- Brood chicks.
- "Break up" broody hens.
- Plant greens for chickens.
- Begin chick scratch after two weeks.
- Eat more eggs and poultry at home.
- Hatch baby chicks.
- Use artificial lights.
- Remove damp or dirty litter.