Robert Plamondon's Poultry & Rural Living Newsletter,
April 5, 2009
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News From the Farm
It's been a wet, cold spring. We even got our Toyota 4WD pickup stuck on the main pasture, and Toyotas never get stuck. The
chickens don't mind the weather, though. They like early spring, however nasty, because the early spring pasture plants are palatable and
the lengthening days trigger their hormones. Every hen with a pulse is laying an egg a day right now.
Ramping up for the Farmer's Market Season
We're in the pause between the winter indoor market and the regular farmer's market season, which starts on April 18, down at the riverfront in
Corvallis (We're near the corner of First and Jackson). But this pause
doesn't feel like a vacation because spring is such a busy time.
We've got broiler chicks in the brooder house and up on the pasture. We raise broilers in
cattle-panel hoophouses, which were invented by my wife Karen.
(People often attribute the design to me, but that's just the
How can we succeed with two-week-old broiler chicks out on the pasture in such nasty, cold weather, and in such
a drafty house? We use pasture hovers,
an unheated, insulated brooder that helps the chicks keep warm through their
own body heat.
Waterproof Laptop for Farmer's Market Use
In technology news, we decided to upgrade to a better farmer's market PC. For the farmer's market, I want to be
able to run QuickBooks on a laptop so I can keep track of orders. I also want to surf the Web (wireless connections
permitting) and generally goof off. And I want the laptop to be rugged, rainproof, shockproof, have a screen I can
read in bright sunlight, and have a long battery life.
And not cost much. I settled on a used Panasonic ToughBook CF-29, which I'm very happy with. I wrote it up for
Keep Track of Your Favorite Sites
Speaking of my blog, you should check it out. If you have an RSS reader set up,
you may want to
subscribe to my blog (click the link).
If you haven't figured out this RSS reader stuff, you should. It's cool but simple. I use
iGoogle for this. Try it: you'll like it!
Just Released! "One Survivor" by Robert Plamondon
None of you will be surprised to learn that I've written a science fiction novel. It's the sort of thing I'd do. The surprising
thing is that it took me so long to publish it. That's the point of having your own publishing company, isn't it?
One Survivor is the kind of science fiction novel where teen-agers
repair a broken-down spaceship and the stuck-up off-worlders get a lot more trouble from the back-country locals than they'd bargained for.
People who've read it say that it reminds them of Heinlein's earlier work, which is nice of them.
The One Survivor page has extensive sample chapters (the first third of the
book) and links to Amazon.com and elsewhere. It's available now.
Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List
Here are March's top-selling books from Norton Creek Press. As with last month,
Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and
Success With Baby Chicks
are at the top of the list.
Ten Acres Enough
has made it onto the list for the first time. It's an inspirational back-to-the-land book from the 1860s that I've always been fond of.
Apparently other people are fond of it, too!
Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings
Thousand Miles up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.
- Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris
Baby Chick How-To
Let's do a quick and semi-random rundown of baby chick stuff. 'Tis the season.
- Modern hybrids or heritage breeds? There's a temptation to believe that heritage-breed chickens are wonderful and that
commercial hybrids are horrible. This isn't true. Not even close. There are horrible strains of heritage-breed chickens and nice strains of
hybrid chickens. I recommend that you choose egg-type chickens that are docile, high-producing, and non-cannibalistic. You can get these
in hybrid or non-hybrid flavors. For example, the Barred Rocks from
Privett Hatchery are a very nice heritage breed, while their Red Sex-Links
are a very nice hybrid. I prefer the Red Sex-Links because they lay better. The Barred Rocks are prettier. Otherwise they're about the
- With broilers, you've got a trade-off between sluggish and unlovable fast-growing modern hybrids (that give you a nice big carcass),
or slow-growing ones that "act like real chickens" but don't deliver a lot of meat. Karen recently butchered a bunch of 11-week-old New Hampshire
Reds that averaged around a pound and a quarter. Take your pick. Mostly I recommend that you do the egg thing for a couple of years before
you do the broiler thing. Most people hate butchering chickens anyway (I know I do). Broilers aren't mandatory.
- Find a good source of chicks. As with everything else, when in doubt, ask around. A local reputation
is rarely wrong -- provided you ask actual users. (That is, ask people who raise chicks, not people who
don't raise chicks.) Make sure you ask, "Who's the best?" and not just, "Who do you use?" Lots of people don't use the best,
even though they know better. Don't be like them. It's heartbreaking to try to raise baby chicks with any kind of health,
handling, or incubation problem.
- Brood 'em right. Use a good, warm brooder that's free from floor drafts and safe from predators, pets, and little kids.
(Even if the kids in your neighborhood are all safe with baby chicks, they'll have friends and cousins who aren't. Putting a padlock
on your brooder house can prevent a world of trouble.)
You also need a good, reliable source of heat. Overhead infrared bulbs are the cheapest way to get started, and they work okay, but
follow all the safety precautions. (Use a real brooder-lamp fixture with guard wires on the front, a loop to hang it from on the back,
and a porcelain socket. Don't use clamp lights: they fall apart at a touch.) I wrote an entire book about brooding
(Success With Baby Chicks) because it's that important,
and in that book I spend a whole chapter on overhead heat-lamp brooders. Plus two more chapters on insulated brooders, which are way cooler
but not so simple.
- Lay out a single sheet of newspaper and put the chicks' first feed on it. Chicks expect to scratch at the ground as their basic
feed-discovery method. Let them follow their instincts. Set out feeders, too. Stop putting feed on the newspaper after a few days.
- Use quart-jar waterers with glass canning jars. The glint of the shiny glass attracts thirsty chicks. Waterers that are bigger
than quart-jar waterers are big enough for chicks to blunder into and get soaked, then chilled. Introduce larger waterers after a few days.
The chicks are only at risk for the first day or two. Remove the quart-jar waterers gradually.
- Leave lights on 24 hours a day for the first three days. Chicks are often chilled and dehydrated when they arrive from the hatchery,
and they need food energy and water. It may take them a while to figure out where the feed and water are, and they won't eat or drink in
the dark, so the slow learners have to wait till morning. That's bad. Keep the lights on to give them every chance to find what they need.
- Spend time with the chicks. Quietly watching the chicks several times a day helps enormously. If you just busy yourself with chores
and then leave, you'll miss things. It's important to slow down and observe, especially at the beginning.
- Hand-feed your chicks. Getting into the habit of feeding them treats by hand will make the chicks a lot tamer. You'll become
more attached to them as well, and poultrykeeping won't become mechanical. And if you show up with their favorite treat and they don't
respond, that means that something's off kilter.
- Chicks get big. It's best to brood chicks in a house that's big enough for the whole flock when they're grown up, since that
prevents the kind of procrastination-based crowding that those of us with separate brooder houses all suffer from. In any event, they
start to fly at a remarkably early age, and they put out dust and dander like you wouldn't believe, so don't pay any attention to people
who brood chicks in their bathtubs or in boxes next to the stove or anything like that. Brood 'em in a henhouse, or at least a brooder house.
- Use medicated feed unless they're on wire floors or are moved to free range early. Coccidiosis often hits broilers that are 2-3
weeks old. It usually takes a while longer with egg-type chicks, but, basically, once the brooder house is crowded enough that manure starts
to cake on top of the litter, all bets are off. Lots of people are very bad at recognizing the symptoms of coccidiosis, so use medicated feed
on your first few batches of chicks, so you know what healthy ones look like, and keep a sharp eye out of you discontinue it on later
flocks. A lot of people who shun chemicals have unhealthy flocks. Don't be like them. You can raise healthy chicks without medicated
feed, but you have to use specific anti-coccidiosis techniques and avoid crowding like the plague.
- Avoid muddy yards. If you have a permanent, fenced yard, the chicks will soon scratch it to pieces. There isn't much you can do about
it. Lots of books and articles talk about having multiple yards and rotating the chickens from one to another, but they fail to mention that
it doesn't work very well, and you have to till and replant frequently. The problem is that the manure load from a chicken flock is more
than the yard can handle, and the chickens are hard on the turf in any event. Plowing and replanting helps, but you have to wonder whether
it's worth it. An alternative is to put in a thick layer of wood chips or straw or somethin. Add more (lots more) when it gets nasty,
and remove all of it about once a year. It helps if you design the fence so it can be taken down or opened up so you can do the litter
removal with machinery (you've got a front-end loader, right?). The resulting mulch goes on the garden, and you start over in the yard. This
removes a lot of the manure and pathogens that would otherwise accumulate endlessly. There's a great book on the subject
("The Henyard" by Geoffrey Sykes),
which I'd reprint in a second if I could figure out who owns the rights to it.
- Buy pullet chicks if you don't like butchering chickens. The easiest way to slide out of an unwanted butchering task is
to not have any butcherable livestock. You're not going to butcher any female chicks that you're relying on for egg production,
so the problem is solved, or at least deferred until the hens get old and stop laying. You can get the gender of your choice from hatcheries and some
April To-Do List
April is a month of new beginnings, which means it's a great month for most of us. The standard to-do list for April is:
- Brood chicks.
- Spread winter poultry manure and don't let manure accumulate until the end of the growing season. Plant food belongs with the plants, not in piles.
- Replace winter litter, which may be pretty nasty by now. If you're using the deep litter method, skimming off a fraction of the litter
to keep it from growing too deep is a good idea.)
- Give growing birds more room.
- Stop using lights on hens. (April 1 is the traditional date to turn off the lights; September 1 is the traditional date to turn them back on)
- Provide more ventilation for comfort.
- Hatch baby chicks.
- Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
- Remove wet or soiled litter.
List inspired by a similar one in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
This newsletter is sent out occasionally by Robert Plamondon
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Norton Creek Press
Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326
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