Robert Plamondon's Poultry & Rural Living Newsletter, July 2, 2010
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News From the Farm
You may have noticed that I didn't post a June newsletter. Sorry about that! The busy season hit me like a hammer this year. In my day job (with the Branch Repeater group at Citrix Systems), I was asked to drop everything and do a training course in three weeks, which I did to general satisfaction. But the schedule was brutal and many things fell by the wayside, including the June newsletter.
We're catching up now, and it helps that Beth is going to be staying for a while, helping out. Dan and Karl are making increasing contributions as well.
Overwork is a fact of farm life in the spring, but those of us with day jobs sometimes get hit with a double whammy. Triple, if you have allergies, which fortunately I don't. People with livestock can control the stress, especially by intentionally keeping the chore load low. By keeping some time free, you can shoulder some unexpected burdens and while maintaining the high level of care for you want for your livestock.
The weather has been unusually cool and wet for months (very different from the woes in other parts of the country!). It's only been in the last week or so that the entire pasture could be mowed. Tall grass is a nuisance in the free-range chicken business. It creates a subtantial barrier to travel for the hens, and they tend to lay their eggs in there somewhere, and they never get found. It also shorts out electric fences, letting predators in. Dry weather is the cure. We also have a BCS walk-behind tractor with a sickle-bar mower, which can deal with fairly boggy ground where our Ford tractor can't go.
You might find this hard to believe, but providing chickens with water is one of the most troublesome parts of poultrykeeping. Really!
Some people keep things simple by hauling around water by hand. This is too simple, really. In 1909, Milo Hastings wrote in The Dollar Hen that carrying water around in buckets had no place in a modern poultry plant, and it's even more true now, 101 years later. Water can deliver itself; that's what plumbing and float valves were invented for! Sure, you can water your chickens from a bucket, just as you can fill your toilet tank from a bucket. But you shouldn't.
Back when we didn't have piped water everywhere, we often ran into the predictable problem: the chickens ran out of water. You can't be in two places at once, and farmers are busy people. It's hard to guess how much water the chickens will use, and even a minor leak will waste more water than you can haul. And occaisional leaks are a fact of life. The combination of a hot day and a slow leak can kill your chickens. Automatic waterers fed by hoses going back to the well or city water are better. Not perfect — they clog, spring leaks, and sometimes even fall apart, so you have to keep your eyes open. But they're still better.
I'm a big fan of garden hoses for chicken watering. People will point out that poly tubing is cheaper and more durable, but garden hose is more flexible in every sense of the word. And it's cheap enough, especially if you pick it up on sale. I must have a thousand feet of garden hose in use at the moment!
At the business end of the hose, you have a bewildering array of options as far as automatic waterers are concerned. I prefer waterers with metal valves, because the ones with plastic valves break if they freeze solid. Even with broilers, which we don't raise all year, we can run into freezing temperatures in spring and fall, and feeze-proof waterers save a lot of hassle. Keeping hens is a year-round deal, so freeze-proof waterers are essential, at least for me.
In the summertime, you should keep the waterers in the shade. This is absolutely essential for broiler chickens, who will not cross a sunlit area on a hot day to reach a waterer. They'll stay in the shade and die. Hens do better, but maybe not enough better if you're in a hot climate. My hens have waterers that are out in the sun, but I live in a very mild climate and I use large automatic pan waterers that have a lot of water in them; hot water coming out of the hose is tempered by the much cooler water already in tha pan. Waterers that hold a lot less water can get scalding hot if the last several feet of hose are in the sun.
My favorite metal-valve waterer is the Little Giant automatic poultry waterer, which has been in production for over 50 years and is very sturdy and reliable. It has an adjustable water depth using two nuts (jam them tightly together so they don't work loose). And it has an inlet screen that clogs sometimes, so you have to clean that once in a while. Installing them satisfactorily can be a bit of a trick, since it ends with a 1/2-inch pipe thread and leaves the method of hanging it up to you. I like using a length of 1/2-inch galvanized pipe at least a foot long (more is better) and with a brass hose barb at one end and the waterer at the other. Use the most flexible, smallest-diameter tubing you can find. Quarter-inch I.D. drip irrigation tubing is probably the best. Hang the waterer by the tubing or a separate cord. The length of iron pipe helps it hang straight.
We use these in some of our broiler houses, along with plastic bell waterers we got cheap. On pasture I use the far less satisfactory Ever Full Galvanized Pet Bowl because the water supply on my hen pasture has a lot of sediment and these are very difficult to clog. Also, in freezing weather, you can put a birdbath heater in these and keep the water from freezing. But the chickens walk in them and poop in them, so they have to be sluiced out all the time. They're very reliable, though. I keep a spray nozzle on a short length of hose next to every waterer so I can clean them out every day.
For indoor watering, I prefer the Little Giant poultry waterers. I've used GQF cup waterers and they're okay, but you need to use some kind of pressure reducer with them and have less sediment than my stock watering system. These are little tiny waterers that work very well. You need one cup waterer for every 10 or so chickens. The kit in the ad has five waterers.
Time to Brood Chicks?
Why brood chicks in July? Because chicks brooded now will be laying in January, when you're likely to be short on eggs. Pullets who are just starting to lay are hard to stop, and so they lay more reliably than older hens. This is useful in the fall and winter, which are outside the natural laying season.
Summer brooding is often easier than spring brooding, since keeping the chicks warm is less of a problem! Just keep the chicks from overheating on hot days. You can read about year-round brooding in my book, Success With Baby Chicks.
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 June's top-selling books:
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!
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 at it!
On my farm, at least, June is a time of increased predator activity, so keep an eye on those fencelines.
List inspired by a similar one in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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