Robert Plamondon's Poultry & Rural Living Newsletter,
July 12, 2009
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News From the Farm
It's really summer now. Here in Oregon, that means several months with little to no rain. The famous emerald green landscapes of Western Oregon
are likely to brown off briefly during August and part of September before greening up again.
Egg production has slowed a bit, as it always does this time of year. It's part of a long slow decline that will last until around New
Year's Day. The trick is to keep the decline to a minimum by pampering the hens. In the summertime, this often comes down to making sure they
can eat all they want in the cool parts of the day, while keeping their drinking water plentiful and reasonably cool.
Since I'm in a very cool part of the country, with daytime highs usually in the Seventies in July and August, I don't have to play the game
as hard as some people. In general, it's good to keep the waterers in the shade and make it so that the hens don't have to cross large
stretches of baking-hot ground to reach them.
This is just a free-range problem, of course. Confined chickens suffer from the heat but not the added burden of sunshine -- though lack of
ventilation means they're generally worse off than their outdoor cousins.
Roost mites can be another summer problem, since they reproduce very quickly in warm weather. I talk about these extensively in one of my
Our six pastured pigs are doing very well. Karen has put them on our back hill, which has very impoverished soil. The pigs are enclosed with electric
netting, which is moved once they've rooted up most of the turf inside their enclosure. Though it leaves an ugly scar across the hill temporarily, it
will improve the soil permanently, not to mention giving the pigs a diet supplemented by yummy pasture plants (which they eat roots and all). As with
all our products, the outdoor lifestyle and diet supplemented with natural pasture makes all the difference.
Pigs are fun so long as they don't become smarter than you. This is easier than it sounds, because they have all day to think up mischief, while you
have other things on your mind. Never letting them run out of food or water, and setting up a stout electric fence that never runs out of juice is
a good start. Pigs are very smart and soon associate the
faint sparking sound of the fence with the presence of a zap. More importantly, they learn that silence means they can escape!
Where Does Quality Come From?
Where the heck does quality come from, anyway? One thing that messes up farmers when they're just starting out is that they learned everything
they know from advertising campaigns. They think that the secret is to have 100% natural, organically certified, union-made, grass-fed, hand-picked,
fat-free, vitamin-fortified, UL-approved, celebrity-endorsed, grade A, food made with post-consumer ingredients -- as seen on TV.
In short, everybody and his brother is bombarding consumers with dumbed-down and largely untrue messages about where quality comes from. When
you start out as a producer, you have to be careful. Everyone around you is very confident that they know the answers, but they usually don't.
to try things one after the other and see what works.
We had the good luck to move back to the country just as the Emu Bubble of the 1990s was bursting. This example of well-publicized, confident
predictions being based on nothing but self-delusion was an eye-opener for us, and made us a lot more skeptical of a lot of the other stuff
we were hearing.
We stumbled onto the secret of quality in eggs more or less by accident. We liked the idea of free range. At the time, there was little information
on the topic, and most of it was by enthusiastic newbies a la the emu dudes. Fortunately, we have excellent library skills and knew that
free-range had been the norm way back when. So we spent a lot of time in Oregon State University's library and researched the methods of way
This taught us how to do free range properly -- with portable houses that you move when the hens destroy the nearby grass. This is essential.
sited houses are totally impractical for grass-fed eggs. What our reading didn't tell us was that grass-fed eggs tasted a lot better
than other eggs. In fact, our reading sort of implied that it was the other way around. A hundred years ago, "real farm eggs" meant the same thing
as "stale, possibly rotten eggs shipped from the Midwest by slow, unrefrigerated freight." Quality eggs were raised close to town to
reduce shipping time, by hens in confinement or barren yards. So in the old days, because of the lack of refrigeration, confinement eggs
were considered good and farm eggs were bad.
Well, we've got refrigerators now, and things are back the way you'd expect. Grass-fed hens get a lot of value out of forage, just like
grass-fed beef, and it shows up in the flavor and nutrition of the eggs. This is not too surprising, since up until around 1960 our knowledge
of poultry nutrition was sufficiently poor that many commercial breeders kept their breeder flocks on grass pasture. The superior nutrition
resulted in higher hatchability and healthier chicks. But the link to superior flavor wasn't obvious until we started getting grass-fed
eggs of our own.
And that's where quality comes from. It comes from keeping your eyes open, trying things one after the other, doing side-by-side tests,
and always staying open to the possibility that everyone is nuts but you. Or possibly the other way around. Keep on trying, keep on testing,
and eventually you'll stumble onto something good. If you stay in the biz long enough (any biz), this will happen over and over again,
and everyone will think you're a genius. They'll be right, too.
Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List
Here are Junes's top-selling books from Norton Creek Press.
Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
- A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards
- Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris
Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings
July To-Do List
Summertime, and the living is easy! Just don't let the chickens run out of water, and give them plenty of shade. Watch out for roost mites, which
multiply very fast.
Also, it's hot out, and even hotter inside your chicken coops, unless they're a lot better-ventilated than most.
If you haven't done it already, ready the sample chapter of Fresh-Air
Poultry Houses to get the lowdown on using highly ventilated houses for year-round health. Heck, buy the book while you're
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. (Good hens don't molt in the early summer!)
- 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.
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