Robert Plamondon's Poultry & Rural Living Newsletter, November, 2010
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News From the Farm
New Henhouse Design
Karen is working on a new portable henhouse design. Most of our houses have nearly flat roofs, and the chickens roost on top of them instead of inside! This makes them vulnerable to hawks and owls and exposes them to far more weather than is consistent with high egg production.
Her new design uses a gable roof, and she's converting one of our oldest houses to the new design. It's not finished yet, but it's looking good!
She's making the roof out of the metal siding that used to be on the walls, and using plywood for the new walls. Karen prefers wooden walls, I prefer metal. Whoever does the work gets to make the call on any particular house!
Egg production is low right now, even considering that November is traditionally the worst laying month in the year. We're hoping that getting the hens to sleep indoors will help a lot. With them up on the roof, they're spending energy on staying warm that they should be devoting to egg production, and we can't use lights to fool them into thinking it's spring if they won't go inside!
Turkey Day is Coming
The Corvallis farmer's market season is winding down. It's probably just as well, because the weather is keeping the customers away! The last market is on Wednesday, Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving. Karen will be there selling fresh grass-fed heritage-breed turkeys. We still have a few, so if you're interested, drop her a line at email@example.com.
Christmas is Coming
Christmas is coming, it's time to think about what gifts to give, and since you're enjoying this newsletter, you already know that you like my writing, so what could be more certain to please than one of my books?
Books by Me. I have three books in print, each more Robert-esque than the last:
Success With Baby Chicks. Are you giving your baby chicks the start they deserve? I wrote this book after I realized that the brooding period was the key to success with chickens, spent hundreds of hours researching and experimenting with sure-fire brooder-house techniques, and then boiled everything down to a slim and straightforward book so you can get all the results with none of the toil. I did the research and made the mistakes so you don't have to! This book has racked up 21 reviews on Amazon.com, with an average rating of four and a half stars.
One Survivor. Twenty-five years in the making, my first novel is fast-paced, Heinlein-esque space adventure that hearkens back to the golden age of SF. It features murder, betrayal, narrow escapes, clever scams, and teen-agers patching up an alien spaceship!
Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers' Handbook. What are role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons about, and how do you have an unreasonable amount of fun playing them? This is the first book to refrain from rehashing the rules and focus on the cool stuff instead. I wrote it when I was in college at Oregon State University. Even during the years it was out of print, I got fan mail and the book received several favorable reviews on Amazon.com, in spite of being almost unobtainable. Now back in print, many gamers consider it to be a classic!
Don't Worry, Be Happy
Country life might seem inherently relaxing, but it isn't really. Our culture prepares us for life by teaching us a wide variety of ways to keep ourselves totally stressed out 24/7. You can't unlearn these in a day! When you move to the country, they'll be right at your fingertips.
The human mind is a funny thing. A lot of things we do are holdovers from long, long ago. For example, when you get goosebumps during a scary movie, what's up with that? The answer is, the goose bumps are trying to make you look really big by fluffing up the fur you don't have to frighten a monster that doesn't exist! Thanks, human mind! It's the thought that counts!
So you're probably asking yourself, "What other delightfully useless mechanisms does the human mind have in store for us?" I'm glad you asked! My favorite is anxiety. Unlike fear, which is triggered by an actual threat right now, anxiety is about something that happened in the past, or something that might happen in the future. As Mark Twain said, "I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened."
The same part of your mind that helpfully fluffs up your imaginary fur will trigger your fight-or-flight reflex whenever you so much as think about a problem in a scary way. That way, you're all set to run away from a threat that isn't there. Thanks again, human mind!
Unfortunately, energizing your body for desperate action takes its toll. It diverts resources from your immune system, your digestion, and your higher mental functions into fighting or running. This is worse than goosebumps -- it can take years off your life if you're stressed a lot of the time. So maybe it's not the thought that counts, after all. Good intentions should be followed by good results.
I've come to the conclusion that hypothetical threats deserve only hypothetical worry. Worry doesn't keep you safe, any more than goosebumps make you look huge. Planning can help keep you safe, though. Have you noticed that worrying is the opposite of planning? Planning focuses on success, while worrying focuses on failure. Being calm can keep you safe, too -- there's nothing like being calm in a crisis. Once again, worry is your enemy here. Fear and adrenaline are a bad combination.
I didn't always think this way: I used to worry a lot more. I had insomnia, and moving to the country didn't help it a bit. If I woke up in the night, I'd worry about all sorts of things in a semi-conscious way, and that made it hard to get back to sleep. Then I read a book (whose title I have since forgotten), where the author claimed that worrying is basically a meaningless activity, one that wastes your time and returns nothing but misery. The author insisted that worrying is simply a bad habit -- one that can be broken, and broken more easily than losing weight or giving up smoking.
A classic method to deal with insomnia is to tell yourself, "I'm not allowed to worry in bed. If it's really important that I worry, I have to get up." I tried it, and, you know, it turned out that, given the choice between a warm bed and worrying, I preferred the warm bed! I thought worrying was unstoppable. It wasn't. I could stop it with a small effort of will: "I'll worry in the morning, when I'm actually awake." Some people write a list of their problems before going to bed, to convince themselves they won't forget their worries in the morning. Funny thing -- if you write down your worries clearly, they usually sound less convincing than they did inside your head. Have you ever watched a monster movie with the sound turned off? It's like that. So you get double duty out of the list.
Worrying is certainly no substitute for planning! For example, everyone in my area has tall trees that could fall against their houses during winter storms. It happens sometimes, when the ground is really wet and the winds are really strong. A worrier can spend a lot of energy envisioning this disaster over and over, creating mental images of trees crashing into the house, with a mental voiceover of "Oh my god oh my god oh my god!"
Have you ever watched one of your drama-queen acquaintances doing this sort of thing out loud? it's annoying, isn't it? Hypothetical troubles are dull unless you're being fooled by your own adrenaline. As soon as you dial your anxiety down a little, your worries become less interesting. "I wonder what else is on?"
With planning, on the other hand, you spend two seconds in thought and decide, "Well, obviously, if the tree falls against the house, I'll call the insurance company!" And that's it. Move along, citizens. Nothing to see here.
A year or two ago, I discovered that I could stop worrying just by telling myself, "I don't do that stuff anymore." It usually works. One technique to help you stop worrying, favored by Richard Bandler, is to repeat this mantra to yourself: "Shut up! Shut up!" Just because fears are vivid doesn't mean they're meaningful! They don't deserve any more respect than goosebumps.
You see, you can focus on success or you can focus on failure. The rule is, "Whatever you focus on, you get more of." People who focus on success tend to succeed, because they're looking for opportunities. Worriers focus on failure, and that's what they get. That's why people who haven't let go of their past keep repeating it -- they're navigating with their rear-view mirror, and that only works if you're going backwards!
I saw a summary of a research report on the effect of mental imagery on performance (in this case, putting a golf ball). Some test subjects were instructed to imagine sinking the putt, some were told to imagine missing the putt, and some weren't told anything. The ones who used positive imagery did best, the ones in the control group came in second, and the ones who visualized failure came in last. If you visualize success, that's what you get. If you visualize failure, that's what you get. When you worry, you're practicing to become better at failing, just like the loser group in the study.
When I realized that the economy was headed off into the ditch, I told myself, "Hey, this is a good time to expand my publishing business!" Partly this was because hard times cause people to look into country life as an alternative to the rat race, and partly because there's less competition during hard times. Also, it seemed prudent to bolster as many of my income sources as I could! It all worked better than I expected. It helped that it takes very little money for me to bring a book into print -- it's mostly labor -- so I didn't have to bet the farm. Attitude was a big part, too. I don't find success unless I remember to look for it. Sometimes I forget.
I've found self-hypnosis programs to be helpful. Self-hypnosis is a two-fer deal, since it combines the benefits of meditation with a to-do list -- whatever self-help issue you're interested in at the moment. All the meditation, relaxation, and self-hypnosis stuff is really in the same ballpark. Try 'em all and stick with the ones you like! A good place to start is HypnosisDownloads.com, which has a more rational and practical approach than most. I like that. I've bought a lot of their stuff.
I've also found Richard Bandler's book, Get the Life You Want, to be very helpful.
With all these self-help products, persistence pays off. Maybe it works the first time and maybe it doesn't, but it gets better over time.
The human mind is an amazing thing. We have even invented meta-emotions: we can be afraid of being afraid and we can worry about being worried -- but we can also feel happy about feeling happy. Hey, let's try for that last one!
Here are my top-selling books from October:
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!
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.
November is traditionally the worst laying month, though nasty winter weather may cause production to be even worse during cold snaps. In the old days, this egg shortage meant that it was the month of maximum egg prices. Most people aren't brooding any baby chicks at this time of year, so it's a quiet month on the farm.
The reason the hens aren't laying is because many of them are molting. Even your best hens may molt in November, so you don't want to cull your flock this month. The culling season is July through October, when your good layers are all still laying, and any non-layers are a waste of feed.
As winter approaches and the weather deteriorates, keep an eye out for needed repairs or changes in management. Portable houses can blow over in winter storms, leaks in roofs can cause misery in winter rains, etc. Make sure you have a fully functional set of foul-weather protective clothing (coat, overalls, boots, hat, gloves) so you don't put off going out into the weather for chores, and to keep you from doing mucky chores in gear you're trying to keep clean for trips into town.
November To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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