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 6, 2010

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News From the Farm

The Weather Relents

After a miserably cold mid-December, the weather turned mild -- rain, rain, and more rain, which is typical for Western Oregon, but with somewhat higher temperatures than usual, and hardly any frost. The chickens don't mind the rain that much, and are doing very well.

The grass is growing somewhat, but the areas around the chicken houses are getting muddy. It's that time of year where the turf is easily damaged -- too wet -- so moving the houses right now may only extend the muddy area. Also, a large fraction of the pasture is too wet to use at all. We've put wooden pallets in front of most of the houses to create a kind of mud-free porch.

Every day, we get a few more eggs than the day before. This is mostly because the increasing day length is recalling the hens to their duty, and isn't particularly weather-related. This trickle of increased production will soon become a flood, because we have 100 California Whites just about ready to start laying.

I've lost a few birds to predators -- owls, I think, since I can't find any game trails. I'll start hanging out in the pasture around dusk. I've scared them off before just by hanging around. They apparently don't like to hunt within sight of people, so they give it up as a bad job. Hope so. This problem is made worse because some of my chickens roost on the roofs of the chicken houses. The roofs are nearly flat, so it's hard to prevent this. I'm thinking about using gable-roofed houses when I start replacing my current ones. I have one gable-roofed house, and no chickens are roosting on top of it -- too hard to get up there.

The Riddle of Fiction

So I have this science fiction book, One Survivor, which I wrote a while back and self-published last year. It's a Heinlein-esque yarn of murder and betrayal in the far future. I'm not trying to sell you a copy of the book right now -- if you're an SF buff, you want to check out the sample chapters on the One Survivor Web page, not listen to me talk about it. No, I want to talk about selling fiction.

Selling nonfiction is pretty easy. You write a book about a topic that is useful or at least interesting to some people, clearly label it so that those people can recognize that it's a good match, and sales happen. Maybe not many, but some.

Fiction is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. The book not only has to match the reader's requirements (for example, "Gritty, technically accurate SF with a spunky young heroine, amusing but effective trickster characters, a dash of the supernatural, and plenty of hair-raising combat"), but it has to be entertaining, too! And after you pull this off, potential readers have to notice the book and believe that it delivers on its promises. This turns out to be amazingly difficult!

Take me, for instance. I already have my own publishing company, Norton Creek Press, which is thriving in a modest way (I haven't quit my day job or anything). I have over 5,500 readers of this newsletter. That helps, right? Well, it helps a little. A newsletter about poultry is not a very good venue for selling SF, and while owning my own publishing company means I can put anything of mine into print with no resistance from anybody, it's not like my titles automatically get any attention!

A friend of mine, Paul Gazis, is in the same boat. Brilliant guy and a talented storyteller, he's trying to solve the fiction puzzle as well. His approach is very interesting: he's reinventing the weekly serial thriller, intentionally using a nostalgic storyline set in the Twenties, involving "Airships, gallant gentlemen, and sultry island maidens." Called The Flying Coud, this is a hysterically funny series of weekly adventures and misadventures in the South Pacific, featuring the crew of His Majesty's Airship R-505, and is in its second year.

He's building an ever-increasing readership, but I don't think the riches have started to roll in yet.

The other problem is that self-publishing your books is sort of expensive. Not the up-front money, which is quite small these days, but the per-copy printing costs. With non-fiction, it's not too hard to justify a cover price of $19.95 (or whatever). All you have to do is convince the reader that there's more than $19.95 worth of value in the book. With fiction, you have no such luxury. There's no plausible cost-benefit analysis. Worse, a lot of people are used to buying mass-market paperbacks, which cost almost nothing to print in high volumes, and thus sell at prices way lower than small presses can afford. Sure, $19.95 isn't a bad price for a trade paperback, but most people don't buy trade paperback fiction, so it's a moot point.

So to make a long story short, if you're writing for money, nonfiction is where you want to be. Fiction is a labor of love.

Spring Fever, Baby Chicks, and You

It's still winter, but here in Western Oregon, the buds are swelling on the lilacs, and the daffodils have sent up strong new shoots, promising flowers in not too many weeks. There's a chorus of frogs every night, with the boy frogs promising all kinds of things to the girl frogs. And the wild turkeys up on the hill are acting jumpy, with contests between the toms.

In short, the promise of spring is in the air. Not spring itself, oh, no -- that's still a long way off. But the promise hangs heavy in the air, and it's giving me cabin fever. Even though I work outdoors every day already, my mind turns to springtime activities like planting and gardening and mowing and (of course) baby chicks.

It's probably like that for you, too, where the promise of spring gets inside you, and the tail end of winter becomes more and more intolerable. You need work with living things again, to do stuff outside, but it's not time yet -- too muddy or snowy or otherwise unsuitable. But the urge doesn't care about practicalities, and it hunts around for an outlet, any outlet, or it's going to drive you crazy!

Have you ever bought baby chicks at the feed store before you were prepared to care for them? When you just couldn't resist the adorable little fluffballs? I have. If you have, you know that sometimes you can perform miracles of improvisation and everything turns out just fine, but sometimes things don't work out so well.

What you want is to have that wonderful baby-chick experience, where the baby chicks, so warm and soft that you can't resist holding them, take instantly to your well-prepared brooder area and are soon eating, drinking, and scampering around at great speed on important baby-chick errands known only to themselves.

It doesn't work as well as that sometimes, especially if you're in the grip of spring fever and get your chicks before you're ready. Turning chicks loose in a cold brooder gives you (and them) a very different experience than you were hoping for.

So let's not do that! You need to channel your spring fever where it will do the most good. You need to know what to do before the chicks arrive, and do it! Chicks should never be put into a brooder until the floor of the heated area is warm and dry to the touch. Fresh wood shavings right out of the bale are damp and cold. You need to run the brooder for a while to dry them out and warm them up, even if that means leaving the chicks in their shipping box for a couple of hours. Warming up the brooder overnight is better. The first water they have to drink needs to be warm, preferably served up in quart-jar waterers with glass canning jars, because the glass glints like water and attracts the chicks. It's good to keep a light on 24 hours a day for the first three days, so any slow-learning chicks can still find out where the food and water are after sundown.

Most importantly, you need to have your head on straight. This is hard when you've got spring fever! In addition, I find that, even without spring fever, you need to review your chick-rearing practices, because you've gotten rusty. That's how it works for me, anyway. Fortunately for me, I have a copy of Success With Baby Chicks to refer to, and its first chapters walk me right through the basics again. Just because I wrote the book myself doesn't mean I don't need to refresh my memory!

Like everybody else, my early experiences with baby chicks were a mixed bag. You know how that goes -- sometimes things work out perfectly and sometimes they don't. It's hard to figure out why, and the occasional disappointment is so discouraging that it's likely to put you off raising chickens altogether. Having baby chicks die is heartbreaking, and it's not always obvious what you're doing wrong. And it's doubly heartbreaking when kids are involved! You owe it to yourself to put your best for forward, and do what you can to ensure success.

So what I did was to do it the hard way. I embarked on a years-long research program, based on my insight that our grandparents' generation knew a heck of a lot more about small-farm practices than ours does. After all, there were vastly more farms and farmers back then, and lots more backyard flocks, too. All these experienced flockowners were backed up by good, solid, bread-and-butter research that was being done at the same time, looking into what worked and what didn't.

I rolled up my sleeves and reviewed a whole century's worth of poultry literature in the basement of Oregon State University's Valley Library. I don't think anyone else has ever done this. I learned some amazing things, most of which I tried on my own farm. You'll be amazed when you learn how many techniques have simply been forgotten in the 50 years since the poulty industry moved to high-density confinement. After a few years of research, I was able to distill 100 years of experience into a practical, focused, 150-page book on baby chicks.

Unless you, too, scour the forgotten volumes in a university library, you won't find this information anywhere else. But you don't have to! I wrote this book for people like you, who know what you're doing, and because of this are always ready to learn something new, especially if it will to make your baby chicks happier and healthier and put more smiles into your poultrykeeping experience. Imagine what a difference it makes when you know that your next batch of chicks will do well, rather than just hoping that they will. There's no comparison, is there?

I get fan mail for Success With Baby Chicks all the time, so I know that the thousands of people who have bought the book are glad they did.

By now, you've figured out my antidote for spring fever: grab a book about whatever you're likely to do in the early spring (whether it be baby chicks or something else) and read it, so when you go nuts and start doing stuff, you're ready to do it well.

The Indoor Market Takes Off

The Corvallis Indoor Winter Market is going great guns this year. It ran every other weekend for years, but this year it's running every Saturday (9 AM - 1 PM at the Benton County Fairgrounds). Karen's there right now! It's been getting bigger every year, but the switch to every week made a huge difference. It's a combined farmer's market and craft market, and you'd be surprised how many farm products are available in the dead of winter, including lots of greens, long-storing things like potatoes, onions, and garlic, frozen meats, hazelnuts, and much more. And eggs, of course. The crafts are of unusually high quality, too.

We're there with fresh grass-fed eggs (get there early, we've sold out every week so far), and frozen grass-fed chicken from the fall. We're running low on frozen chickens, and once we're out, we're out until mid-April, since we don't like raising grass-fed broilers in the winter.

It's a fun market, so drop by if you're in the neighborhood. Karen's the short woman with the big smile at the first booth on the left as you go in the door.

Update on the Verizon Network Extender

As mentioned last time, I bought a Verizon Network Extender to give myself better cell phone reception in my house, since in and around the house my reception stinks, though it's not so bad on the rest of the farm.

I've been using it for more than a month, and it's been working flawlessly! The range has been greater than advertised, too, with a good signal all the way out to the barn and beyond, more than 100 feet away from the house. This is with the Extender sitting almost at ceiling height in my office, but without doing anything fancy to extend the range (like putting it in the attic).

This doohickey acts like a mini cell-phone tower and uses your DSL or cable modem Internet connection to contact the Verizon network. If you don't have DSL or cable modem, you're out of luck. Other technologies exist that can maybe help you, especially repeaters, but these require that you find a spot with decent cell-phone reception (maybe with a fancy antenna), or there's nothing to repeat. Which is all a little complicated. With the Verizon Network Extender, all I did was plug in the power and network cables, and it magically started working.

I believe that most other carriers' phones will use the Extender as well -- that is, if you have (for example) AT&T or Sprint, their roaming agreements with Verizon will allow your phone to work with my Network Extender. But I haven't tried this yet.

We got our surprise $50 rebate (there was a rebate card in the box, which we hadn't expected. It may have expired by now) and 20% off when we used the coupon code for "Accessories" at the Verizon Web store, which together knocked down the $250 asking price to $150.

Bottom line: Four bars, clear signal, unexpectedly long range, no problems. We are happy campers!

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 January's top-selling books, which show a "back to basics" trend, with Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and Success With Baby Chicks reclaiming the top two spots. In January, a farmer's heart turns to poultry.

  1. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  2. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
  3. The Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings
  4. Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris
  5. Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser

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!

February Notes

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.

February To-Do List

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).

Read My Blog

Recent Blog Posts

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Adventures in Social Media

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  • 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.

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Gardening Without Work
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Success With Baby Chicks
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