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 Newsletter, July, 2011

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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:

  • "Where can I get the best poultry feed?"
  • "Where can I get the best baby chicks?"
  • "Where can I get the best advice?"

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?

  • Prefer products with more ratings. An item with a five-star rating but just a few reviews can easily be worse than an item with a four-star rating and a hundred reviews. It's not hard for a sleazebag to arrange for a few positive reviews (though just a few, and these few usually lack detail and aren't convincing), but the fact that a product has gained enough interest for lots of reviews lends validity to the verdict, good or bad. Of course, someone has to be the noble soul who tries a product and writes its first review, but that shouldn't be your default buying strategy.
  • Useful reviews are personal and detailed. A review that something was "as advertised" has a little value, but to be really useful, the reviewer has to give some perspective, and that means telling a personal story about how things worked out for his specific needs. When a reviewer's situation matches yours, the review is doubly valuable. As an extra bonus, most sleazebags can't fabricate such a story to save their lives, and fall back on empty praise (or empty hostility, if they're tearing down a competitor).
  • Sites with some kind of management are best. Amazon makes it easy for people to complain about iffy reviews, and people who have never bought anything on Amazon can't post reviews there, which tends to keep a lid on review fraud. That's why I go to them first, except on computer stuff, where I go to Newegg instead (Newegg lets you sort products by "number of reviews," and the best product for me is almost always one of the top five most-reviewed products.) Random boards that let anyone rant and rave tend to get co-opted by ranters. Sigh.
  • Lots of noise. Any product or service will attract some people who genuinely love it and some people who genuinely hate it, so you'll never see a unanimous verdict once it accumulates more than a few reviews. That's life.
  • Look at both the "Most Recent" and the "Most Helpful" reviews. Usually, the "Most Helpful" reviews genuinely deserve their ratings, so read these first and you can ignore the rest. But sometimes a product take a nose-dive in quality, especially manufactured goods that have suffered a disastrous cost-reduction effort, and you need to look at a few of the most recent reviews to ensure that this hasn't happened. Recommendations and Me

These days, reviews on 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 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!

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from June:

  1. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.

  2. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon

  3. Feeding Poultry by Gustave F. Heuser

  4. Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris

  5. The Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings

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.

  • Market or butcher surplus cockerels.
  • Cull early molting hens. (Good hens don't molt in the early summer!)
  • Replace litter.
  • Provide shade on range.
  • Provide additional ventilation.
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
  • Cull weak or unthrifty individuals.

This list is 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 from time to time. You can read my blog at, or subscribe to it via RSS in the usual way.

You can also receive notifications of blog updates by email: Subscribe

Adventures in Social Media

And if that's not enough, you can use social media to stay in touch:

  • 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, friend me and follow my antics.

This newsletter is sent out occasionally by Robert Plamondon to anyone who asks for it. Robert runs Norton Creek Press.

Norton Creek Press Book List

Norton Creek Press
36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326

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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


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Gardening Without Work
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Success With Baby Chicks
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