Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, July, 2011
And if you know anyone else who will enjoy this newsletter, please forward a copy to them!
News From the Farm
Karl's Much Better Now
I've decided that saying "Karl's much better now" is a gentle way of leading up to, "My seventeen-year-old son Karl, who is autistic, was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance last Sunday for what turned out to be a hitherto-unsuspected case of diabetes." He's home now and is doing fine. The staff at Good Samaritan hospital couldn't have been more helpful and supportive, and Karl was an excellent patient.
Karl has adjusted quickly, and his response to mealtime blood testing and injections has become, "Hurry up! I want to eat!"
This is Type 1 "juvenile onset" diabetes, and its cause is a mystery.
Karl is a beneficiary of the spiffy new insulins. Not long ago, all insulins had a delayed action that meant that each injection dictated your eating habits over many hours, regardless of the actual level of hunger or convenience. Karl gets a dose right at mealtimes to deal with the actual carbs he's eating in the moment, plus one super-long-lasting dose that takes care of his non-mealtime baseline needs over 24 hours. So it's all a lot simpler than it used to be. (I'm told that this is the result of genetic engineering.)
Cool, Wet Summer
The weather continues to be cool and damp, and we get plenty of that the rest of the year! The farmers are going nuts around here because so many of them don't have their hay in yet. It's cut and being rained on, too wet to bale. With feed prices at record levels, and Oregon's Coast Range only offering one cutting of hay a year, my heart goes out to everyone who's being rained out of profitability this year (and makes me grateful that I'm not in that business!)
High Feed Prices, High Competition
Like every other kind of feed, chicken feed prices are sky-high, and we have more competition than usual for our eggs and chickens. Normally we handle this by drumming up more business in a variety of ways, and we are, but we were slow getting started this year, what with one thing and another. We're far enough behind that we have eggs that aren't sold by their sell-by date, which is unusual for us. (These eggs go to the local food bank.)
The short-term way to deal with having too much product and not enough customers is to have a sale. People are very responsive to bargains, so it's a great way of attracting new customers. If your stuff is good, when the price goes back to normal, most of the bargain-hunters will leave, but some will stay. Everyone is quality-conscious about some things, and once you've eaten our eggs for a while, they tend to get added to the list! So a surplus is a good time to have a sale with an eye towards attracting new customers.
In the longer term, you have to sell your product at a price that allows you to keep farming. Usually this means connecting with a larger number of customers, and first they have to notice that you exist! You can't take this for granted. Heck, every week we get customers who have just noticed our farmer's market booth for the first time, even though they've been going to the market for years!
So it's obviously time for bigger signs -- and a sale! We're knocking fifty cents off the price of all eggs, and the Norton Creek Farm page has a dollar-off coupon, so print it out and bring it to the market if you're in the neighborhood.
Secret Weapon: Chains of Recommendations
How can you use "chains of recommendations" to get the best products and services -- and to identify the worst ones, as well?
When we decided to return to the Corvallis area after years in Silicon Valley, we called up a friend of ours, Mark Forbes, who had preceded us back to Oregon, and asked him if he knew a really good realtor. Since he'd been delighted by his realtor and the house he'd ended up with, he gave an enthusiastic recommendation. Sadly, his realtor had just retired, but that was okay because she gave an enthusiastic recommendation -- Lori Hendricks, who helped us find our farm.
The house needed a new roof, so we asked Lori who the best roofer was. She recommended a great roofer, and we got a great roof. This chain of recommendations went on more or less endlessly, with, as far as I can remember, complete satisfaction.
The key is to ask, "Who's the best?" No other question will do! If you ask several people, the same answers will come up over and over. Many people know who the best suppliers are even if they don't use them themselves. For example, I once asked a neighbor who he used to butcher his livestock, and he said, "Well, I always use ..." I asked, "Are they the best?" and he wouldn't go that far. (People who answered, "Who's the best?" always said "The Farmer's Helper in Harrisburg.")
When we were getting our egg and poultry licenses for the first time, I asked the state inspector who the best custom butcher was for goats and sheep. He said, "I'm an ODA employee! I can't give recommendations," so I said, "What I meant, Bob, was where do you take your livestock to be butchered?" and he said, "Oh, the Farmer's Helper, of course!"
These techniques work only for finding out who's the best. There's only room for one or two contenders for "best," but there can be a zillion who might be "okay." The funny thing is, most people will agree about the best but can't agree at all about who's adequate, because excellence is easier to rate than mediocrity.
All in all, it's probably best to seek out the best and pay the premium. I'm not sure it actually saves you money, but it saves an immense amount of time and aggravation and means you spend your time dealing with products and people that are a pleasure to deal with, rather than the reverse.
Why Does This Work?
Chains of recommendations work because birds of a feather flock together. People who are interested in quality results pay attention to who's best and can tell you who they are. They also have their own reputations to maintain, and recommending second-raters would reflect back on them. You can ask just a few people for recommendations for just about anything, and the best choices will emerge.
It also helps that people who aren't interested in quality don't pay attention to who's best and so they won't give you many recommendations. They just don't know!
When it comes to keeping poultry, the first questions to ask are:
When you ask around, you'll hear the same names over and over.
Fun With Recommendations From Sleazebags
The flip side of "birds of a feather flock together" is that sleazebags recommend each other to prospective suckers, so they can take turns fleecing them. If you are under the impression that the sleazebag in question is an honest man, this is bad! But what if you know he's a sleazebag? Don't miss this golden opportunity! You can ask him for recommendations, and he'll provide you with a handy list of his fellow sleazebags.
This is particularly useful when you aren't 100% sure he's a sleazebag. Ask him to recommend people in a couple of related fields (where he should have expert knowledge), discover their local or online reputations, and all is revealed! Honest, competent folks recommend other honest, competent folks, while incompetent sleazebags recommend other incompetent sleazebags. The results are hilarious!
A friend recently used this technique to evaluate a group of three people in related professions who had recommended each other. The most important one had no online reviews, but the other two had accumulated the most amazing set of scathing, one-star condemnations! Guilty, guilty, guilty!
Becoming An Online-Rating Expert
Ever since the early days of Sears, Roebuck, rural folks have been more dependent on mail-order than their urban counterparts, and this is just as true in the era of Internet shopping. How do you use reviews to get the best stuff from the best people?
Amazon.com Recommendations and Me
These days, reviews on Amazon.com have a huge effect on whether any book does well, whether it's from a major publisher or a little one like me, because people read the reviews on Amazon even when they do their purchasing elsewhere! This means that the best way to spread the word about the books you love is to write Amazon reviews about them. This helps both readers and authors, and since reviews on Amazon last forever, your words have a long-term impact. Adding a little background into the review, even just a couple of sentences describing how it helped you (or, with fiction, what it meant to you) will provides guidance and builds excitement in readers like you. The context is important, because this is all about connecting people with books they'll enjoy, and if they won't enjoy it, we don't want them to buy it! It's not only a disservice to the reader, it attracts negative reviews and bad word-of-mouth, and that's the last thing we want when we're spreading the word about something we love. That's why a review that says, "I love this book! Go out and buy it!" isn't specific enough. With a little more context and background, the reader can decide whether they want the book.
I like writing positive reviews and making positive mentions of people in my newsletter, as you've seen. These days, I normally don't go to the trouble of making negative reviews or naming names when I've had a bad experience (though if I encounter an unsafe product, I'll write a negative review of it.) Maybe this is partly laziness, because a helpful negative review is harder to write than a helpful positive one. A helpful positive review can often be done in two or three sentences, on the order of, "I was having a problem with X, and this book told me how to solve it by doing Y, and it worked!" or "I was confused about X and this book explained it, so now I have a lot more confidence."
I'm grateful to my reviewers. Grateful, but not satisfied! I'd really like all of my books to have ten or more honest reviews, a level that's currently met only by "Success With Baby Chicks" and "Fresh-Air Poultry Houses." You can see the lineup here: Norton Creek Press Catalog.
If you liked any of my Norton Creek Press books and you're in the mood to help me out, just click on the "customer reviews" section for that book and press the "Create Your Own Review" button. Anyone who has actually bought something with their Amazon.com account can write a review on any product. You can review things you didn't buy at Amazon so long as you're an Amazon customer.
Oh, and please write a review for at least one other product -- not one of mine -- that you really liked, especially if it has few reviews or none at all. It's amazing how much good you can do by writing the first positive review for a great new product.
Free International Shipping
If you're outside the U.S., you might want to buy from The Book Depository, which has free shipping worldwide. For example, when I checked today, you could get Success With Baby Chicks for $15.96 worldwide, which admittedly is a penny more than the list price, but a penny isn't bad for international shipping!
Check out the prices on all Norton Creek Press books!
These are my top-selling books from June:
All of these are fine books (I 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" into print -- techniques from the Golden Age of poultrykeeping, which ran from roughly 1900 to 1950. I've been adding an eclectic mix of non-poultry books as well. These include everything from my science fiction novel, One Survivor, to the true story of a Victorian gentlewoman's trip up the Nile in the 1870s, A Thousand Miles up the Nile. See my complete list of titles at the bottom of this newsletter.
July To-Do List
It's 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 (see my Poultry Health FAQ for more information).
Also, it's getting hot out, and even hotter inside your chicken coops, unless they're a lot better-ventilated than most. Now's a great time to read Fresh-Air Poultry Houses to get the lowdown on using highly ventilated houses for year-round health.
On my farm, at least, July is a time of increased predator activity, so keep an eye on those fencelines.
This list is inspired by a similar one in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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This newsletter is sent out occasionally by Robert Plamondon
to anyone who asks for it. Robert runs Norton Creek Press.
Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings
Poultry by Gustave F. Heuser
of the Fowl by Frederick B. Hutt
Acres Enough by Edmund Morris
in the Grass by Margaret Leatherbarrow
Wanted a Farm by M. G Kains
Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers' Handbook by Robert Plamondon
Survivor by Robert Plamondon.
Tom Slade Series by Percy Keese Fitzhugh. (Two volumes in
print; more on the way.)
Thousand Miles up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.
Who do you know who would enjoy this newsletter and benefit from its information? Neighbors? Fellow poultrykeepers? Friends?
Family? Don't leave them in the dark,
email them a copy so they can subscribe, too!
Copyright by Robert Plamondon.
Permission is granted for copying if it's attributed to me, and if
it includes a link back to the original page on www.plamondon.com.
Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
The Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings
Feeding Poultry by Gustave F. Heuser
Genetics of the Fowl by Frederick B. Hutt
Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris
Gold in the Grass by Margaret Leatherbarrow
We Wanted a Farm by M. G Kains
Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers' Handbook by Robert Plamondon
One Survivor by Robert Plamondon.
The Tom Slade Series by Percy Keese Fitzhugh. (Two volumes in print; more on the way.)
A Thousand Miles up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.
Who do you know who would enjoy this newsletter and benefit from its information? Neighbors? Fellow poultrykeepers? Friends? Family? Don't leave them in the dark, email them a copy so they can subscribe, too!
Copyright by Robert Plamondon. Permission is granted for copying if it's attributed to me, and if it includes a link back to the original page on www.plamondon.com.
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