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, 2011

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News From the Farm

Eight Thousand Subscribers!

This newsletter now has over 8,000 subscribers! Thank you all. (Makes me feel bad that I didn't get a newsletter out in December or January. Such are the perils of having a full-time job, a farm, a publishing company, and a family!)

Nice Weather For February

We've been having a typical Oregon winter, with lots of rain in January but quite a bit of sun in early February. Temperatures have risen into the Fifties and everything is looking green and almost spring-like. Far more normal and innocuous than the weather in other parts of the country!

Protect Your Flock With Niteguard

The Niteguard Solar is a different kind of anti-predator system. It's a little solar-powered box with a red LED that blinks all night. The idea is that it looks like the reflections from animals' eyes, and it scares away owls, raccoons, and other predators. I like the concept because it has everything: it's zero-maintenance, non-lethal, non-invasive, lightweight, easy to install, and has a spiffy concept. But does it work?

We put some on a mast on one of our henhouses last month, and losses from owls and hawks suddenly ceased! We'd tried them previously on the electrified netting protecting our broilers from raccoons (which sometimes get past the netting), but the instructions recommended about three times as many units are we used. Not surprisingly, this wasn't effective.

You wouldn't think that hawks would be scared away by these things, since the lights only blink between dusk and dawn, but apparently hawks scout out their territory at these times and don't come back if they don't like what they see.

My verdict: A complete no-brainer — use this to protect your flock from predatory birds! My results haven't been so good against raccoons, but we'll try doing it according to the instructions this time (duh!) and see what happens.

Baby Chick Time!

Our baby chick season has already started. We got 100 Barred Rock chicks a month ago,and another 100 yesterday. We have two brooder houses (so should you!) so there's no difficulty raising two batches at once. Things have been going very well. In spite of being shipped from Privett Hatchery in New Mexico in the middle of a cold snap, the chicks arrived safe and sound.

In case you were wondering: yes, we still use the winter-brooding techniques in my book, "Success With Baby Chicks"! Like a lot of people, I re-read the book from time to time, because there's more in there than I can keep in my head, and I wrote it! And now's a good time to get started: chick production at the hatcheries is ramping up every week, and we're still in the "Early Bird Special" part of the hatchery season. Even if your neighborhood is covered with snow and ice at the moment, it's time to order a copy of my book and place an advance order at your favorite hatchery. The early bird gets the early birds!

This year we're ordering barred (striped) chickens only -- Barred Rocks for brown eggs and the rare California Gray for white eggs (both from Privett Hatchery). Last year we used Red Sex-Links for brown eggs and White Leghorns for white eggs. All our chickens are mixed up on the same pasture (we have about a zillion little henhouses, so every new batch gets its own house, but the houses are all on the same pasture), and the flocks mix together over time, so the old hens and the young hens can be hard to tell apart. But if you buy barred chickens one year and non-barred chickens the next year, you can tell the one-year-olds from the two-year olds, and when it comes time to turn the old hens into stewing hens, you can figure out which ones they are.

Treats For Chickens

People who keep chickens as pets give them treats on general principles, but why would someone with large flocks do it? Many reasons!

When I go out to collect the eggs, I give the hens about a third of a bucketful of whole wheat as a treat. I scatter it in the grass as if I were sowing it, and call to the chickens, who come running. I give them less grain than they want, so they know they have to hurry or they'll miss out. Chickens are social eaters, just like people.

This has several benefits:

  • It brings the chickens together, where I can take a good look at them.
  • It draws hens out of the nest boxes, making egg collection easier.
  • It makes them friendlier because they associate me with treats.
  • It convinces them to eat something even if they aren't hungry.
  • Because the grain is in the yummy green grass, they eat more grass, too.
  • Feeding is very bonding. I once stopped feeding treats, and soon I stopped caring about my chickens. Not good! Filling up range feeders just isn't the same.

Keep in mind that the hens have access to chicken feed and whole corn 24/7. They don't need the whole wheat. But they like it, and if they have to scramble to get their share, they will.

Tempting the chickens with treats doesn't do a lot, nutritionally, most of the time. But chickens are sensitive creatures, and if the weather is too hot or too cold, or if they're not feeling well, or if they've feeling stressed after being scared (such as when they've been chased by a dog or a child), they go off their feed. And if they don't eat, they stop laying.

Competition makes them eager to eat when they wouldn't otherwise bother. When things are going well, this doesn't have much of an effect, but when things have gone a little sour it helps keep their feed intake up and prevents egg production from crashing.

This is one of those techniques that hasn't been well-documented scientifically, because scientists keep their flocks under controlled conditions, so the need never arises! But outdoor flocks are subject to stresses that research flocks aren't, and it's a good technique.

For people with the right feeders, the simplest treat is water. Farmers used to dribble about a quart of water down the middle of a big eight-foot feed trough, which would moisten a small amount of feed. The hens would go nuts and scarf it all down.

With all these techniques, less is more. If you give more treats than they can clean up in, say, 20 minutes, they get bored and, after a few days, will stop reacting to the treats. But for those few days you can increase their feed consumption substantially by feeding more treats than usual, which is helpful during a temporarily stressful period.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

Here are my top-selling books from January (Have you bought your copies yet? Lots of other people did!):

  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. Feeding Poultry by Gustave F. Heuser

  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!

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.

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

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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