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 & Rural Living Newsletter, February 12, 2009

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News From the Farm

Busy, Busy

Sorry about the late newsletter. My day job at Citrix Systems has been far too interesting of late. (Tough deadlines, reorganization, you know the drill.) Things are back to normal now.

Winter Farming

I've always found winter farming to be fairly pleasant after, say, January 15. The likelihood of truly nasty weather has faded, and the small numbers of poultry and livestock mean that the chores aren't pressing. Also, the farmer's market season isn't draining away two days out of Karen's and my week, so, while the days are short, the weeks are long. (We do one farmer's market each, so it's not so bad as it probably sounded.

It's the easiest time of year to go on vacation, since we're often down to a dog, a barn cat, and laying hens. Finding a sitter for these isn't too difficult. (Last year we spent three days in Disneyland in February. The weather was perfect, the crowds were sparse (for Disneyland), and we had such a good time that we never bothered going anywhere else, not even across the plaza to California Adventure.)

The hens make this a happy time of year because egg production starts recovering right after New Year's, pretty much regardless of what the weather does. It's a good feeling when every day brings more eggs than the day before.

Metal Siding on Chicken Coops

Metal siding gets no respect. True, if your chicken houses are under-ventilated, you'll get condensation on metal walls and roofs, but that's the least of your problems. Your chickens need fresh-air poultry houses anyway. Not to mention that you'll get condensation on wooden walls, too – it's just less obvious.

Fresh-air poultry houses have some interesting advantages when it comes to house design. By knocking out an entire wall, the inside is just as cold as the outside. When that happens, there's no condensation. With no warmth or condensation to worry about, you no longer have a reason to insulate the house. Without insulation, there's little excuse for having a double-walled house. A bewildering universe of options converge upon a simple, single-boarded shed that anyone can build.

Metal siding has two big advantages:

  • It's a real time-saver. Putting up metal siding is fast, especially if you were careful to design your chicken-coop dimensions to match the lengths of pre-cut metal. Use roofing screws, which have a better grip and are easier to install than nails. I start the screw by banging it through the metal with a hammer, then drive it the rest of the way with a cordless drill. Wear gloves and bring a helper.

  • Zero maintenance. Thirty years from now, it will look just the same as it does on day one. Since “having a farm,” and “having free time” are mutually exclusive, low-maintenance is a big deal. A really big deal. Set it and forget it – that's what we want.

I'm hoping it will last a lot longer than other kinds of siding. Ask me in thirty years.

The aesthetics of metal siding are hard to quantify. Most of my houses are built using full sheets of unpainted plywood for siding, and aren't going to win any beauty contests. Even plain old corrugated roofing is an improvement here. The painted metal siding can quite nice-looking, especially if you use trim, which I never do.

My take is that dilapidated housing surrounded by happy chickens and green pasture always looks good.

The chickens will roost on the top edges of your metal walls if they can, so if there's a big enough gap between the top of your wall and the roof for them to roost, add some screening or something to keep them off.

Book News

We haven't introduced any new books since my last newsletter, but there should be a couple of new ones to report next time.

The Curse of the Pharaohs Strikes!

A few copies of our newly reprinted Victorian travel book, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, suffered from a curse that caused the last 130 pages to vanish. In short, the printer left them out. This has been fixed, and if you buy one now, it will end on page 499 like it's supposed to. If your copy doesn't go all the way to page 499, let me know and I'll send you a replacement. There are only four or five such copies out there. Think of it as the special collector's edition.

Poultry Breeding and Management

We didn't ship any new titles since the last newsletter – they got delayed like everything else. There will be more soon.

I'm toying with the idea of bringing out James Dryden's Poultry Breeding and Management from 1916, which is basically two books in one. Most of it is about practical poultrykeeping, but he devotes a large amount of space to his experiments in breeding for increased egg production.

Dryden was the first person to successfully use selective breeding to increase egg production. He did this about 20 miles from my farm at the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, and in fact his flock in 1916 had better egg production than mine does today. His book is full of fascinating management tricks, statistics, and anecdotes. For example, his first houses at the Oregon Experiment Station had relatively small window openings, and he noticed that many of his best-laying hens weren't sleeping on the roosts, but on the nest-box perches and other places that put them closer to the windows, so he switched to better-ventilated houses with excellent results.

You can read a copy on-line at Google Books. Let me know what you think.

February To-Do List

February is the last of the laid-back, off-season months for most of us. March will introduce baby chick time. Those of us interested in selling eggs at farmers' markets, though, are probably busy with pullet chicks already, since if you get commercial layer chicks right at the beginning of the year, they'll by laying by Memorial Day, the traditional start of the farmer's market season. For the rest of us, there's something to be said for dragging your feet until March or April.

Cribbed from Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Look for better stock (are there better chickens than what you've been using?).

  • Set hatching eggs, if you incubate your own chicks.

  • Remove damp or dirty litter.

  • Provide warm drinking water in cold weather.

  • 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).

This newsletter is sent out occasionally by Robert Plamondon to anyone who asks for it, plus the customers of Norton Creek Press, publisher of:

Norton Creek Press
36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326

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