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, March 1, 2010

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News From the Farm

Six Thousand Readers!

Readership has been growing like mad, and this newsletter now has just over 6,000 readers! Woo-hoo! Welcome, new subscribers! Thank you all, and I hope you have a good time.

March is Baby Chick Time

Spring is in the air: the grass is growing, daffodils are blooming, birds are flocking in from the south, and the sun is coming out more and more. But the most important sign is the arrival of baby chicks in the feed stores! It's been a long winter. I expect that, when you see baby chicks in the feed stores, you'll have to buy some! I know I get excited just by the sight (or is it the sound?) of baby chicks in the spring. They're so soft and warm and active and adorable, and they also mean, "Spring is coming!" You know you'll give in to the attraction of the baby chicks!

And are you ready for baby chicks? When you buy them on impulse this week, will you have a safe place to put them? And, when it comes right down to it, do you have all the skills you need to do a great job every time?

I can't answer all these questions, but I have a little quiz to find out if you're a chick-rearing guru. Just five yes or no questions:

Baby Chick Quiz

  1. At the feed store, can you tell male from female chicks in these breeds: Barred Rocks, California Greys, New Hampshire Reds, Rhode Island Reds, and Production Reds?
  2. When you bring baby chicks home, is the litter under the brooder always warm and dry to the touch before you put in the baby chicks?
  3. Do you provide the chicks' first water in quart-jar waterers with glass canning jars, because chicks tend to get soaked in larger waterers, and the glint of a glass jar attracts them?
  4. Do you provide the chicks' first feed in shallow trays or on a sheet of paper, because their instinct is to look for food on the ground and scratch at it with their feet, while actual feeders can confuse them at first?
  5. Do you leave the lights on for the first three nights, so the slow-learning chicks have every chance to find feed and water, and learn to eat and drink?

If you got at least four questions right, then, congratulations, you are a bona fide baby-chick guru! As for the rest of you, the baby chicks really want you to read my book, Success With Baby Chicks, because they know it will make you successful every time. A lot of people don't realize that techniques like the ones in the quiz exist at all, so they just harden themselves to frequent baby-chick disasters. That's not a solution that someone like you can accept! If you follow the advice in my book, you won't have to harden your heart, because it'll take an act of God or the post office to hand you problems you can't deal with.

I get fan mail about this book all the time. Since you're sitting here, reading this newsletter, I know you already know me pretty well. You know what the book is going to be like, and that I deliver on my promises. You don't have much time before the baby chicks arrive, so order a copy right now! I'll wait.

OSU Small Farms Conference

I spent Saturday at the tenth OSU Small Farms Conference at Oregon State University, which is half an hour from my farm. It was a lot of fun, and about as good as a one-day event can be. Lots of interesting talks, including a "Farmers as Writers" panel which had to be moved to the main auditorium, it was so well attended. Lunch included many foods from local farms. Everybody was there!

There was a great panel discussion on alternative poultry feeds, with our local Extension Poultry Specialist Jim Hermes describing some feed trials he did on legumes that (it was hoped) could provide local alternatives to soybeans. As always happens in feeding trials, some of the stuff that looked good on paper bombed when fed to actual chickens, while others did okay. (Other beans did horribly as soybean replacements, while Austrian field peas did okay at up to 30% of the total ration.

This sort of experimentation is what the Extension Service is for, and they're really good at it! If you want to try feed experiments at home, I recommend that you always provide a known-good feed in one feeder and your experimental feed in another. If the chickens prefer the experimental feed, great. If they eat only the known-good feed, well, at least no harm has been done. Usually, if you give them alternatives, they'll pick the best one, but if you don't, your experiments can cause a lot of suffering if you get something wrong. Let's all be careful out there.

(If you're interested in poultry rations, you want to buy a copy of Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser. It's very thorough and has all sorts of weird feed ingredients in it (whale blubber? You must be joking!). It also has a whole chapter on green feed, for all you grass-fed egg fans out there. Written in the mid-Fifties, it's modern enough not to lead you astray, but old enough that it's focused on smaller flocks and diversified farms, not factory farms.

The coolest product was an electric ATV from Barefoot Motors. Sadly, I didn't have time to take it for a test ride.

I won't go into elaborate detail because most of my readers aren't within striking distance, but if you're in Oregon, you'll want to attend next year. I'll probably be a vendor rather than an attendee next time, selling my poultry books.

Two Brooder Houses

I'm of the opinion that just about any poultry problem can be solved by having more chicken coops. We now have two concrete-floored brooder houses, and this means we can brood meat birds and egg-type birds at the same time, year-round. Before, we had only one decent brooder house, and it was hard to raise enough laying hens.

More housing makes a lot of issues easier, such as when you want to brood baby chicks but can't mix them with the existing flock until they're grown. Even backyarders should consider having two chicken coops!

The Grass-Fed Egg Movement

What are grass-fed eggs? Well, obviously, they're not eggs that eat grass. Eggs have very small appetites and hardly eat anything. It's the hens who eat grass.

In case you were wondering, no, "Hen does not live by grass alone." Pasture greenery is loaded with almost unbelievable levels of vitamins, has pretty good protein, and adds a wonderful flavor to the eggs, but it has almost no calories. So grass-fed chickens still need chicken feed.

But you get designer eggs, with all the trendy nutrients. Interestingly, this has always been true. When the fashion changes or science advances, and some new nutrient suddenly becomes trendy, it always turns out that grass-fed eggs were rolling in the stuff all along.

My intention is for grass-fed eggs to be a grass-roots movement, because, frankly, I want to avoid the kinds of nonsense that consume so many alternative movements. Way too much politics, for one thing. I hate that. So what I want to focus on is how to get grass-fed eggs in different circumstances -- backyarder, farmer, or consumer; summer or winter. It's kinda tricky! So I focus on the nuts and bolts of raising grass-fed chickens and dealing with the eggs. Hopefully someone will get rich selling them someday. I can't tell you how to do this, though, since I haven't even come close!

One of the interesting points is that "grass-fed" and "free-range" often go together, but they don't have to. If you can't let your chickens out, you can still feed them lawn clippings and other green feed, and get eggs with that grass-fed goodness. This is also true when the chicken yard gets scratched to pieces and no longer has anything green in it.

Winter grass is tricky in most parts of the country. I don't know if anyone has tried freezing plastic bags of lawn clippings to feed over the winter. Maybe it will work. If so, it might be just the ticket for a backyarder with a chest freezer. Grass silage works great, I'm told, but is an awfully large-scale operation for most of us. Other crops, like kale and cabbage, are easier to store over the winter and can give good results.

As you can probably tell, it's still early days yet, and a lot of us are feeling our way. It's not too late to get in on the ground floor of the grass-fed adventure!

One of my Web sites is devoted to grass-fed eggs, and I moderate a Grass-Fed Eggs discussion forum as well. See you there!

My Take on "Eat Local"

The "Eat Local" movement is sort of interesting, though I think it runs afoul of basic geometry.

The idea is simple: If you buy locally grown stuff, you have a better idea of what you're getting, you get fresher stuff, it's more energy-efficient, and you are benefiting farmers in your community.

Actually, it's not clear to me that these things are necessarily true. The real goal probably ought to be, "buy the good stuff, avoid the bad stuff, know the difference, and reward the people with the good stuff so they might still be around next year." Buying locally grown stuff is just one strategy for achieving this. A good one, because it's easier to meet local farmers and see their farms, and of course local reputations are usually accurate. But it's not like it's that hard to identify high-quality stuff from out of town!

Of course, it's none of my business what decision-making process other people use. Let's talk about chickens!

An interesting twist on the "Eat Local" schtick is that some people want to apply it to chicken feed. This, of course, is outside the normal definition. A locally grown chicken is a local product, right? But there was a lot of interest at the Small Farms Conference in local chicken feed alternatives, on the grounds that the feed eaten by the chickens should also be local.

Now, once you start letting second-order stuff like this into the picture, where will it end? Personally, I feel that cheap corn and soybeans are what the Midwest is for. It takes vast acreage to grow all that chicken feed, and the area right around me is only half-vast. It's better used for high-value crops like the ones that are actually grown here. True, Midwest corn has to be shipped a long way to get here, but the infrastructure for shipping commodity grain is very efficient, so the total cost is usually lower than for locally produced stuff.

Milo Hastings pointed this out in The Dollar Hen a hundred years ago, and it's still true today. The Midwest is all about cheap corn, and always has been.

Money isn't everything, but when you pay extra, you should get extra. "Localness" isn't good in itself (unless you're prejudiced that way). You want some kind of tangible quality improvement for your extra dollars. And I'm not seeing this.

Now, Eastern Oregon is wheat country, so local-ish grain at reasonably good prices is sometimes available here, and we use it when doing so makes sense. But I'd hate to rely on it exclusively. It's grown for human consumption, not feed, and it's usually more expensive than corn, without adding any obvious quality to the chickens' meat or eggs.

I guess it all boils down to the age-old question, "Where does quality come from?" It's surprising how much I don't know about this! To a first approximation, I'd say that access to lush green pasture adds tons of quality, while the difference between one competently formulated chicken feed versus another isn't that important.

I'd hate to see Oregon's Willamette Valley turned over to grain production rather than the amazing diversity of products we have now.

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 February's top-selling books:

  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!

March Notes

March is baby chick month, the big start of the poultry season for most of us. The hens start laying up a storm, baby chicks arrive in the mail or start hatching under mother hens, and we go from winter somnolence into furious activity almost without transition.

Easter is an egg festival because the surge in egg production represents the first fruits of the new season, a welcome source of fresh food at a time when planting season hasn't even started yet.

March To-Do List

  • Brood chicks. (Time to buy a copy of Success With Baby Chicks if you haven't already.)
  • "Break up" broody hens.
  • Plant greens for chickens.
  • Begin chick scratch after two weeks. (According to Jull: I provide it at day one.)
  • Eat more eggs and poultry at home.
  • Hatch baby chicks.
  • Use artificial lights. (The traditional time to turn them off is April 1.)
  • Remove damp or dirty litter.

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

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.

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36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326

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Gardening Without Work
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