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, June 14, 2009

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News From the Farm

Wow, is this newsletter late, or what? Summer and all its chores has hit me upside the head, along with some deadlines at my full-time job at Citrix.

Spring is slowly sliding into summer in a typical, Western-Oregon sort of way, which involves stretches of beautiful sunny days followed by backsliding into overcast and rain.

Walk-Behind Tractor

We've acquired a new toy, a BCS walk-behind tractor, with a rototiller and sickle-bar mower attachment. It basically looks like a big rototiller, but with a tiller that comes off and other attachments that go on. It has many spiffy features, including a hand lever that, when you squeeze it, throws it instantly into reverse, allowing you to back out of trouble just as easily as you plunged into it. The sickle-bar mower is my new favorite implement, since it allows me to mow an electric fenceline very easily, and without any risk of getting stuck. This is a big deal, since my tractor got horribly stuck in the mud last month, as chronicled in my blog here and here.

Not that I've fallen out of love with my old Ford 640 tractor, which is older than I am. A full-sized tractor is indispensible. But this smaller unit can go a lot of places where the big tractor can't (or shouldn't) go.

The industrial quality of the BCS and the casual way the sickle-bar mower deals with brush and tall grass stands in stark contrast to the flimsy lawn mowers I've bought over the years. BCS makes a lawn-mower attachment, and I'm tempted. But a separate mower is a good idea, too. Anybody have any recommendations for a good, rugged, commercial quality walk-behind mower? Nothing fancy, but I'd prefer powered wheels. Something I can pick up used. The Yard-Bird high-wheel powered-wheel mower I'm using now is falling to bits.

Spring Surplus? Let's Try Advertising!

On the sales front, we've been experimenting with advertising and promotion. Spring is a good time for this sort of thing, since there's a production imbalance -- every hen with a pulse is laying an egg a day, but the farmer's market season is only just getting started. We paid $138 for an ad in the local paper (the Corvallis Gazette-Times) that included a dollar-off coupon good at the farmers' markets. Result: we took in eight coupons. That works out to $18.25 per customer. Not good.

I also added a box on our Norton Creek Farm Web page, also offering a dollar off, then printed out a lot of copies of the page and handed them out at the farmer's markets. Result: we took in about fifty of these, for a total cost of about fifty bucks, or $1.00 per customer.

The point of all this is twofold. First, our broilers and eggs taste way better than anything you can buy in the store, and if someone tries our products once, we often end up with a customer for life. So any trail of breadcrumbs leading to our farmer's market booth is worth considering.

Secondly, a lot of people allow themselves to be swayed by discounts. If a supermarket that carries our eggs offers a big discount on factory-farm eggs, sales of our eggs go down. This means that some people who hate factory-farm eggs will buy them anyway if the price is low enough. (I hope they don't actually eat them!)

Like Darth Vader, I find their lack of faith disturbing. But by offering discounts of my own, people who enjoy the discount game won't have to go elsewhere to get their fix.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

Here are May'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.

A particular favorite of mine, the Victorian travel book A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards (which clearly formed the basis of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia P. Emerson novels), made it onto the list as well.

  1. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  2. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
  3. A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards
  4. The Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings
  5. Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser

Keep 'em Tame

It's easier to keep livestock of all kinds when they're tame. Well, maybe not turkeys, because they'll follow you home in spite of your fences and roost on the porch. But it applies to everything else. Our six pigs got out a while back and vanished into the tall grass. (We'd left the electric fence off by accident.) Karen eventually found them and did her Pied Piper act with a bucket of hard-boiled eggs. Pigs are easy to lead around if you have food on you, but it would have been even easier if we had trained them to come when called. This is the easiest thing in the world to do -- you just call your livestock every time you feed them. But it seems sort of stupid to give vent to a pig call when they're already standing two feet away, so we didn't do this. We should have. Works with chickens, too.

In addition to taming them with food and teaching them to appear when called, it's good to handle them when they're small so they lose their fear of you. It's also very bonding, which means you'll take better care of them.

I always feed the chickens some scratch grain in the grass when I go out to collect the eggs. This gets the loafers out of the nest houses, making it easier to get the eggs, it gives me a good look at the hens, and it just feels good. At one point I stopped doing this, and my chores seemed mechanical and meaningless -- I'd lost my relationship with my critters. Things reverted to normal when I started feeding scratch feed again.

The Laying Cycle

Are your hens laying a little bit less than last month? Mine, too! There's a natural laying cycle that follows the seasons. The big commercial guys can beat the system by controlling light levels and being very careful, but it's hard to fool outdoor chickens.

The following table assumes that your flock lays an average of 180 eggs per hen per year, which is not a bad ballpark figure for flocks that aren't commercial hybrids or aren't kept in controlled-environment housing, or both. It gives the number of eggs expected per hen in each month of the year.





























June To-Do List

If you're mostly doing laying hens, June is an easy month. If there are broilers in the mix, not so much. Warm weather is coming (it's already here in some parts of the country). Remember that chickens don't like heat very much and really love shade in sunny weather. Don't let their drinking water get hot; they may refuse to drink, and this can kill them on a hot day. Roost mites multiply quickly in warm weather, so if you get a scratchy feeling up your arms after collecting the eggs, it's time to spray.

On my farm, at least, June is a time of increased predator activity, so keep an eye on those fencelines.

  • Market or butcher surplus cockerels.
  • Cull early molting hens.
  • Replace litter.
  • Provide shade on range.
  • Provide additional ventilation.
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
  • Cull weak or unthrifty individuals.

List inspired by a similar one in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

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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