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, January 15, 2010

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News From the Farm

Happy New Year!

It's Hatchery Catalog Season

January is the month where all the hatchery catalogs arrive, and we study the breed descriptions with furrowed brow, and look longingly at the "Early Bird" specials. Who can wait until March to get baby chicks? Not me! Probably not you, either. February weather is nothing to write home about, but I've had wonderful results with winter brooding, and so have many of my readers. You'll read all about it in my book, Success With Baby Chicks.

Winter Weather

We had a nasty cold snap in December, the coldest in almost 20 years. It got down to 8°F on the farm, which is awfully cold for Western Oregon. It stayed that way for over a week, but the chickens didn't care. As long as they can stay dry and out of the wind, they're good for temperatures quite a bit lower. Egg production didn't fall as much as I expected, either. I talk about this in a blog post.

Since then, the weather has warmed up to a more typically mild and rainy Oregon winter, with lows generally above freezing.

Farmers' Market Season Already?

The Corvallis Indoor Winter Market is starting on Saturday, and Karen will be there with fresh eggs and frozen chickens. This is a great off-season market, with far more fresh produce than you'd think, and plenty of frozen meat and craft vendors as well. Always worth a visit. Man, our off-season is short!

Better Cell Phone Reception

I bought a Verizon Network Extender to deal with the crummy cell-phone reception in my house. Works like a charm! This device is a mini cell phone tower that uses your DSL or cable modem bandwidth to talk to the Verizon network. No more dropped calls!

It's not cheap, but with a coupon for 20% off free accessories and an unexpected rebate coupon in the box, I saved $100 off the $250 list price.

You can read all about it in one of my blog posts.

Science Fiction and Anime Conventions

Since having a full-time job and working part-time at farming, publishing, and writing don't keep me sufficiently busy, I've decided to start peddling some of my books at science fiction and anime conventions. I was at Mewcon over the New Year's holiday, holding down an artist's table with Beth McBeth and hawking my wares. For these venues, the two titles that make sense are my SF novel, One Survivor, and my guide to role-playing games, Through Dungeons Deep.

This is great fun, especially if you have no real expectation of turning a profit, which I didn't. Not yet -- but we all have to start somewhere. We all like SF and anime conventions, and you'll probably see me at Kumoricon and Orycon this year as well.

I've started giving workshops at the conventions as well. Topics include:

  • Self-Publish Your Book Right Now!
  • Role-Playing Without Rules
  • Turning Your Hobbies Into a Career

When I find some time, I'll post my notes for these online.

If You Can Last Four Years, You Can Last Forever

When I was surveying all the chicken publications of the Twentieth Century, I noticed an interesting theme:

  • In Year One, a new chicken operation does great, and all is optimism. Sometimes, the farmer believes he's developed a wonderful new system and begins to promote it.
  • In Year Two, the pullets don't do well, but last year's hens are still going strong, so all is confidence.
  • In Year Three, disaster strikes. The pullets die mysteriously, the hens are too old for profitable laying, and the the farm fails.

Mostly this has to do with poultry diseases and parasites, though running through your savings surely plays a part. If you raise chickens on the same ground every year, the new chicks are exposed to the diseases and parasites carried by the old hens. When you start out, there are no old hens, and the ground isn't contaminated by pathogens, so all is well. But the pathogens find their way into the flock eventually, gradually building up populations. This happens slowly, and the hens build up a tolerance for the infestation. (Also, adult chickens are much more resistant to disease and parasites than young ones.)

In Year Two, the process isn't complete, to the baby chicks are only a partial disaster. But in Year Three, the wheels fall off.

This phenomenon is most common for yarded operations, since fenced yards are generally too poorly managed to keep parasites under control. Having more than one chicken coop and more than one yard is better. Grass pasture is better still. I have something like nine little chicken coops on my main pasture, and I move them short distances from time to time to allow the grass to regrow. So far, so good.

I've read a number of books that were written in Year One and Year Two, and I'm sorry to say that the authors' unbridled optimism is matched only by their cluelessness. Such books never have a sequel: it's as if the farmers vanished from the face of the earth.

While some of these details are specific to egg farming, the general principle holds true with every business -- place not your faith in the beliefs of newcomers! Life is full of surprises and self-deception, and it takes a while before reality sets in. Not that newcomers don't have great ideas, because they do. But let's all be careful out there.

And if you write a book about your experiences after Year Three, I'd love to read it.

Prevention vs. Cure

Exercise can help prevent heart attacks, but you wouldn't ask someone in the middle of a heart attack to go for a run. That's the difference between prevention and cure. The time for prevention comes to an end, and you have to adopt different methods.

I ran into this in a particularly memorable way when I was starting out with grass-fed chickens. My nest boxes acquired quite an infestation of roost mites, which are passed onto the chicken flock from wild birds. I went online and asked what to do in a couple of discussion groups, and received several enthusiastic endorsements of cedar shavings and diatomaceous earth.

Now, cedar shavings have mild insecticidal properties, and diatomaceous earth has mild miticidal properties, and they can probably keep a weak infestation of mites from getting much worse. But they won't stop a raging, out-of-control infestation. It took me some time to realize this, and I lost some hens because of it. (I switched to Malathion and the infestation vanished at once.)

This left a bad taste in my mouth, and I've been a lot more cautious ever since.

You'll get this sort of thing with the placebo du jour, as well. For chickens, the placebo du jour used to be garlic, but now it's apple cider vinegar. Presumably it'll be a new condiment soon. These remedies have their uses, but they're not panaceas, and they're preventatives, not cures. If your chickens are already keeling over, it's too late.

The best preventative, though, is to pay attention to your chickens, and notice any changes. That way, you'll tend to see things before they get out of hand. I feed my hens scratch grain, which I scatter by hand over the grass, as a way to get them all where I can take a look at them. It helps. It not only makes it easier to give the flock a once-over, but feeding them by hand make them tamer and makes me like them better. There was a period when I didn't do scratch feeding, and I started losing interest in my chickens. You need to maintain closer contact than that.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

I started Norton Creek Press in 2003 to bring the "lost secrets of the poultry masters" back into print -- techniques from the Golden Age of poultrykeeping, which ran from roughly 1900 to 1950. I've recently started adding an eclectic mix of non-poultry books as well.

Here are December's top-selling books from my publishing label, Norton Creek Press. Much to my surprise, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile took the #1 spot -- the first time a non-poultry book has done this! It's not only a wonderful Victorian travel book in its own right, describing Amelia Edwards' trip to Egypt in 1874 in terms that only a talented (and highly successful) writer could manage, but Miss Edwards formed the basis of Elizabeth Peters' character Amelia Peabody in her best-selling mystery series. Clearly, the book is striking a chord with many readers.

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

All of these are fine books (I only publish books I believe in). If you're like most readers of this newsletter, you want to buy Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and Success With Baby Chicks first. These cover the basics of healthy, odor-free, high-quality chicken housing and zero-mortality chick brooding, respectively, and get rave reviews from customers, who often buy extra copies for friends!

January Notes

January is, of course, about the worst month of the year. But it has its good points. The hatchery catalogs arrive. The hens lay a little better every day. And if we're not too far north, our cabin-fevered eyes can see some light at the end of the tunnel: spring, if not actually on the horizon, is at least imaginable.

If you sell eggs at the farmer's market, chicks hatched in January will start laying sometime around Memorial Day, the traditional start of the season. If the thought of brooding January chicks appalls you, you should read my book, Success With Baby Chicks. January brooding is perfectly practical, though you wouldn't want to do it as your very first project. I spend quite a bit of time in the book showing you how.

January To-Do List

Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Make inventory. What do you have? What do you need for the coming season?
  • Disinfect brooder houses (I never do this, but cleaning them up is a good idea).
  • Purchase brooding equipment if necessary.
  • Clean, repair, and install brooders.
  • Keep better records.
  • Use artificial lights on hens. (Traditional usage is to use 14 hours of light between September 1 and April 1.)
  • Remove damp or dirty litter.
  • Provide warm drinking water in cold weather.

Read My Blog

Recent Blog Posts

A lot of material that doesn't end up in this newsletter is published in my blog, which I update a few times a week. You can read my blog at, or subscribe to it via RSS in the usual way.

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Adventures in Social Media

And if that's not enough, you can use social media like Twitter to keep track of my doings:

  • Twitter. I've started using Twitter several times a week to announce special deals on books, updates to Web pages, new blog posts, amusing links, and other interesting stuff. Check it out.
  • Facebook. If you're on Facebook, so am I! You can friend me and follow my antics that way. My Facebook updates are almost identical to my Twitter updates.

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

Norton Creek Press
36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326

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Gardening Without Work
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Success With Baby Chicks
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