Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, February 10, 2007
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News From the Farm
It's been an interesting winter so far. We had a snowstorm that kept us home and knocked the power out for a few
days, which only happens about one year in five. There was a nasty windstorm that caused an immense amount of damage
in the area, knocking down tremendous numbers of hybrid poplars in local plantations, but which did almost nothing
on our farm. Since then, the weather has warmed up and I'll have to start mowing the lawn and maybe even the pasture if
the ground gets a little firmer.
We've already brooded 100 pullets and put them out on pasture, where they're doing well. The chicks were a week or
two old when the power outage hit, but we have a generator now, and we ran an extension cord out to the brooder house
to keep the heat lamps running. Worked like a charm.
It's good that we used insulated brooders.
Temperatures inside the brooder house fell to well below freezing (unusual in our climate), but the insulation kept the chicks nice
and comfy even when the generator ran out of gas while we were sleeping. These insulated home-made brooders are
the greatest thing since sliced bread. I devote two chapters on them in my book,
Success With Baby Chicks. They're cheap
and easy to make -- the last one I built cost about $20 and took two hours to build, uses far less electricity
than overhead heat lamps, and keept the chicks much warmer and more comfortable.
Another thing that saved our bacon during the cold snap was the drain in the waterer area. Our main brooder house
now has its waterers over a screened area with a drain, so waterer failure doesn't flood the whole house. The plastic
fitting on our waterers cracked during the freeze, and water just poured out when we turned the pump back on, but
it all drained away harmlessly.
We've had flooded brooder houses several times, always from the failure of an automatic waterer. Usually we don't
lose any chicks, but the mess is inconceivable. Putting the waterers with a
good, hard-to-block drain is a godsend. Just screen the area so rats can't use the drain to enter the building.
As far as our hens were concerned, we got lucky and had a light dusting of snow for a couple of days before the big
snowfall happened. Hens are afraid of snow at first and won't walk on it, but they eventually get used to it.
Because all of our feeders are
outdoors, the hens can starve themselves for a couple of days if they're scared of the snow. This is uncomfortable for them
and disastrous for egg production. But the light dusting wasn't enough to keep them indoors, and when the heavy snowfall
came, they were still willing to head outside for a snack.
The alternative is to sprinkle hay on top of the snow to create paths to the feeders, which is tedious work if you have
a lot of henhouses.
What's Your Share of Global Warming?
In an impressive show of unanimity, the world's politicians and their tame scientists got together and demanded
more money ... I mean, they said that global warming was real and bad.
The world political community hasn't been this unanimous about anything since the Seventies, when they agreed
that world communism was inevitable, or the Thirties, when the world fell in love with Fascism. So I have
trouble taking them seriously. Still, I wondered,
"Just for laughs, suppose they're right. What will CO2 abatement amount to?"
The simplest proposal I've heard is a call to reduce worldwide CO2
emissions from today's levels by a billion metric tons per year. There area bout 6.7 billion people in the world.
That means that your share is 147 kg (323 lb.) of CO2 per year, either
in reduced emissions or increased capture.
The CO2 emissions from gasoline are about 19.5 pounds per gallon, so you can do your part by reducing
your annual fuel consumption by 17 gallons. For diesel, it would take only 14 gallons.
You can also capture CO2. One way to do this is with plants (taken from
| Type || Avg. Tons|
| Cropland || 88 |
| Pasture || 125 |
| Forest, 30-yr. cycle || 253 |
| Forest, Mature || 513 |
So if I convert some pasture I'm not using to forest with a 30-year harvest cycle, the increase in carbon content on my land
will remove 253-125=128 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, per acre.
Over 30 years, this averages 4.3 tons of additional CO2 capture per acre per year.
This means that creating a single acre of forest will
exceed my share of the CO2 abatement problem by 24 times!
Or, to put it another way, 1/24 acre of forest -- a 42x42 foot square -- would take care of my share.
Another interesting piece of information in the document already cited was that pastureland has a 2:1 range in carbon content.
This presumably means that, by using pastured poultry or other means of heavy manuring of the land, you can increase
its carbon storage, perhaps amounting to an extra 50 tons of CO2 per acre. Since your share of CO2 abatement
is only 323 pounds per year, doing this to one acre would represent your share for the next 283 years!
Or, to put it another way, if you do this to 1/283 of an acre (a plot a little over 12 ft. square),
you've taken care of your share for this year.
This doesn't sound so hard. It makes me wonder ... is it possible that the people who want us to buy their
hybrid cars and vote in their semi-totalitarian measures don't have our best interests at heart?
The Dollar Hen
Milo Hastings was a Midwestern Renaissance Man whose career started about 100 years ago.
He was a poultry scientist, an early health-food expert (he was
the nutrition editor of Physical Culture magazine in the Twenties), a pioneering
science fiction author,
an inventor (he developed the forced-air incubator), a community planner, and a Broadway playwright.
There's a fascinating Wikipedia article about him.
Hastings was put in charge of the poultry section of the Kansas Experiment Station around the turn of the last
century. He had no facilites, no staff, no poultry, and no budget. Since he didn't have the facilities to do
farm experiments, he decided to learn how the existing poultry industry worked, at every step from the
farm to the consumer. The result was his book,
The Dollar Hen,
which impressed me so much that I edited and reprinted it when I started Norton Creek Press.
Hastings figured that, by learning how the industry operated, he could describe it to other people who might
benefit from this knowledge, and also work out ways for farmers to raise poultry and eggs more profitably.
The Dollar Hen shows many of Hastings' lifelong interests, including incubation, health, and even
community planning (he talks about how to lay out a community of poultry farmers to reap the advantages of
bulk purchasing, group marketing, and a local hatchery). But one of the main values of the book is his
thorough survey of how the poultry business works, and different places you might fit into it.
For example, he considers the issue of soils. Free-range chickens don't like mud and produce a lot of manure, which
means that light, sandy soils are good for the chickens and generally make the best use of the manure when used for crops.
He considers the trade-offs of different regions so far as climate is concerned.
He covers the problem from the point of view of getting corn onto the farm cheaply, and goods
to market cheaply, which at the time depended on rail freight rates, the distance of your farm from the
railhead, and the ease of getting eggs and poultry to major cities before they spoil. Given these considerations, and
the issue of soil and climate, he correctly identified the Delmarva peninsula (where Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia
come together) as the center of future poultry growth, being close enough to the big Northern cities while having
a warmer climate, light soils, cheap land, and favorable rail connections.
One of the most delightful things about Hastings, besides his overall prescience and timelessness, is his grumpiness
about the way people tend to spend money like drunken sailors when embarking on a poultry venture. There's something about
chickens that makes people want to put fretwork and lightning rods on all the chicken houses,
to chase after any labor-intensive fad that's popular among people with a dozen chickens and plenty of spare time,
and to generaly bankrupt themselves to no purpose. Hastings proposes a way of making a living with 1,000 to
1,500 free-range hens using 25 acres and the simplest possible methods, and today, 98 years after the first publication
of his book, it's still the most sensible treatment on the topic.
Anyway, if you are interested in the economics and general plan of free-range chicken farming, or could simply
use an antitode for rural-romantic twaddle, this is a must-read book. It was out of
print for decades before I edited it to make it clearer to today's reader and brought it back into print.
My Web page gives you several methods for buying the book. Click here.
February To-Do List
Cribbed from Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
- Look for better stock (are there better chickens than what you've been using?).
- Hatch baby chicks.
- Remove damp or dirty litter.
- Provide warm drinking water.
- Brood early chicks.
- Replace litter.
- Adopt a sound feeding program.
- Plan to keep a flock of at least 2/3 pullets (that is, brood enough pullets that you can
cull most of your old hens in the fall, when they stop laying).