Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, March 26, 2007
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News From the Farm
Spring is here! Spring is here! The weather is warmer and better. I just came in from mowing one of the chicken pastures with my
tractor -- a pleasant task.
We got a call from a local factory farm that had 470 more pullets than they wanted for their "small" laying house --
23,000 hens in laying cages.
We've been short on eggs for a long time. Partly this is due to poor planning on our part.
Even after all these years in the business, we don't always do a good job getting baby chicks six months before we'll
need the eggs. Partly our egg shortage is due to losing too many hens to electric-fence-savvy predators, mostly bobcats.
So when we heard there were over 400 point-of-lay White Leghorn pullets up for grabs, we didn't hesitate. Karen
gathered up all the chicken crates she could get her hands on and managed to get all 470 home in one trip. Thank goodness
for full-sized pickup trucks!
Occasionally you hear people say bad things about commercial White Leghorns, as if they weren't "real chickens." This has
no basis in reality. Leghorns do wonderfully on free range, being active and energetic foragers. In
fact, they're a lot more fun on range than anywhere else, because Legorns have always been a panicky breed, and this
is less of a nuisance if they have a lot of space to be panicky in. In confinement houses, if you cough, the
chickens might all take flight -- and Leghorns fly really well. On range, everything's more spread out, and they have plenty of
room to back off in.
We've probably had a couple of thousand "rescue hens" over the years, and by and large they cause us no trouble and
quickly become indistinguishable from the chicks we've raised ourselves. The stress of being introduced into a new environment
usually causes them to stop laying for a while, but this is good because, until they've been on pasture for
a while, their yolks are pale-yolked and bland.
I should mention that we didn't know anyone at the farm with the pullets, but were contacted first by Jim Hermes at
Oregon State University, who
knows everyone in the Oregon poultry scene. We've gotten an immense amount of value from the University over the years, in
every conceivable way: attending classes; buying surplus chicks, hens, and equipment; receiving advice on problems; and
being put into contact with people who had what we needed.
The timing is particularly fortunate because Easter is coming and we could stand to have lots of small white eggs for sale.
Book Plugs: No hard-sell this month, but check out these cool books! It's Spring! Baby chick time! What could be better than
having a couple of poultry books to read when those spring showers keep you from working outdoors?
The Perils of Urbanization
Karen and I both got our degrees at Oregon State University in Corvallis, and that's one reason why we moved
back to the Corvallis area when we returned to Oregon. It looks now like maybe we should have done a little more
One of the occupational hazards of farmers is the cluelessness of city people. If you have the misfortune of having a
subdivision built next to your farm, you are very likely to get sued and harrassed by your new neighbors. They won't
like the fact that farmers get up early in the morning to operate tractors, or that plowing creates dust, that
farm animals make noise, or that
manure smells. When it comes right down to it, they don't like living in the country, and they
won't stop bothering you until
you go away. (When this happens, try to sell out to a stamping mill or a rendering plant or a homeless
shelter, so your ex-neighbors will miss you.)
Even worse than clueless neighbors are clueless politicians, who will systematically remove the few government services
you actually use. The current crop of County Commissioners in Benton County is as clueless as they come, and have
decided to remove all funding from the wildlife control program, on the grounds that predators are cute and harmless.
It's gotten to the point where you can't keep a cat anymore, because the cute and harmless predators eat them.
It's even worse with livestock.
One of my neighbors, who had a large flock of sheep for many years, eventually quit because he couldn't keep the
coyotes away from his lambs even after installing some very good fences at vast expense.
We'd have gone out of business several years ago if it weren't for the Wildlife Control program, but the County
Commissioners can't seem to understand this. If it doesn't match what they saw in Little Golden Books like
"Baby Farm Animals" when they
were two years old, they don't want to hear about it.
Fortunately for us, we learned a lot from our Wildlife Control specialist and are ready to pick up where he
left off when his contract ends in June, so we aren't planning on going out of
business just yet. But we're going to have to stay on our toes. In our area, electric fencing isn't enough. Not even close.
If I were to do it all again, I'd probably pick a farm over the line in Polk County, which is still rural and
likely to remain so. Its county seat isn't a miniaturized big city the way Corvallis is, so any newbies with
a bad case of aggressive cluelessness are too outnumbered to do much harm.
I've seen a lot of articles about this problem in ancient farm magazines, but, oddly, not in newer ones. The small-farm
magazines of the last fifteen years or so have been pushing direct marketing and being close to a good markets as
ideal. They're very Pollyanna-ish about this sort of thing.
I can't recall a single article that discusses its dark side.
If you plan on buying a farm that's closer to markets, beware. Let's all be careful out there.
Farmers' Market Vehicles
I'm trying to figure out what our next farmer's market vehicle should be. Right now it's a Ford Taurus wagon,
which has given us very good service. We bought it after admiring the simplicity of another vendor's setup, with an open tailgate
that functions as a small rain shelter, plus a table with umbrella. I have a bad back, so I hate the idea of completely
unloading my vehicle at the market and driving it to a parking lot somewhere. I want my vehicle to share my booth
space with me.
The Taurus will hold four of the big 120-qt coolers, which means we can show up with 40 broilers and 80 dozen eggs.
When things are really hopping, though, this isn't enough. I'd really like to carry another two coolers. And two people
This is a tall order. A full-sized van would certainly do it, since it has a tremendous amount of interior space,
but most full-sized vans are too long for
the space available at the farmer's market. Maybe
one of the ones available with a short wheelbase (like some of the Dodge Rams) would do. Minivans may be the right way
to go if they're big enough inside with the third seat removed. A small pickup might be okay with the right canopy,
but a full-sized pickup is too long. I haven't figured it out yet.
New Hampshire Chicks
Karen got a call from Oregon State University and was offered hundreds of day-old New Hampshire chicks for a bargain
price. These are part of some kind of hatchability experiment where the University didn't actually want the chicks
once they were hatched. So now we've got about 500 New Hampshire chicks of both sexes.
The idea is to keep the pullets as layers and butcher the cockerels as broilers. If you haven't dealt with them,
you won't believe how tiny a standard-breed broiler is. We will be doing very well indeed if the cockerels
dress out to two pounds each; I'll be happy at one and a half pounds. Our Cornish Cross broilers usually weight in
at around four pounds.
But range-reared spring broilers are the best-tasting birds you can get, so I doubt we'll have any trouble selling
New Hampshires are okay, but, frankly, the modern hybrids are more practical in every way. Not to worry, though,
we've got plenty of housing and acreage, and can do both at the same time. What the heck.
Bad Math and Ethanol
My discussion of using trees and pasture to take care of one's share of greehouse gases got a lot of interest last month,
so I'll drop the other shoe and talk about ethanol production.
There's a vigorous debate about whether it takes more than a gallon of gasoline to make a gallon of ethanol.
On the face of it, this is obviously a dumb question, because distilled liquor was popular long before the invention of gasoline.
Obviously, ethanol can be made without any fossil fuel inputs at all.
Of course, this isn't really the issue. The real issue is politics. Or, more properly, the real issue is economics, but
since most people don't believe in economics, they turn to politics, the magical land where dreams ... well,
actually, it's a magical land where dreams go horribly wrong. But people keep hoping.
If you do a little bit of basic homework -- for example, if you look at a map that shows America's arable land and read
Wealth of Nations
(one of a handful of
books that one really ought to read before considering oneself to be an adult, along with, say, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs,
and Steel or even
Deming's Out of the Crisis) -- the whole concept is ludicrous. Our productive land is already in production.
onsumers are not
willing to stop eating just so they can get gasoline from corn. Every acre you devote
to ethanol production means that you need to plow up an acre of grazing land or knock down an acre of forest.
The whole exercise becomes one of, "Ha! You thought the Brazilians were good at deforestation? You ain't
seen nothin' yet!"
Using some numbers from the Internet, it looks to me that replacing our annual gasoline consumption would require
188 billion gallons of ethanol per year. At roughly
328 gallons of ethanol generated per acre of corn, this would require 573 million acres. But the U.S. has a total
cropland of only about
460 million acres (including pasture and hayland). We'd have use every bit of it, plus more. We'd have to put 113 million
additional acres under the plow just so we can
starve to death on a full tank of gas.
Realistically, the land can't do double duty, so we'd need 573 million additional acres. In fact,
we'd need a lot more than that, because the best land is already taken, so the new land won't be as productive.
We'd have to plow the whole country from sea to
shining sea -- and that's just to provide us with corn-based gasoline. And we'd still have to use fossil fuels
for our diesel oil, jet fuel, home heating oil, natural gas, and electricity production.
And for what? Knocking down all that forest and plowing all that rangeland would be a total disaster from a
greenhouse-gas point of view. That's the land that's undoing the damage caused by the fossil fuels. We can't spare it.
Replacing fossil fuels with ethanol is nuts. Claiming that doing so will save the environment is the
looniest thing I've ever heard. Promoting
ethanol as a party fuel
that lets you drink and drive out of the same container would be a triumph of pure reason by comparison.
This is a good example of Plamondon's First Law: "The alternatives are even worse."
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.