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, September, 2011

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News From the Farm

The big news this month is that I've published two classic books: Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout and Plotto by William Wallace Cook! More on these later in the newsletter.

Production Still High

It's unusual for us to have production in September that's as high as it was in June, but that's where we are right now. I attribute this to having a young flock this year. Hens in their second laying year would laying fewer eggs by now, but most of our hens were hatched within the last year. They're still laying well, and with a little luck will keep laying through the winter.

September: Time for Hen Lights?

I won't be using lights on my hens this winter. It helps, but it's a nuisance, too, especially because I have about a dozen small chicken houses scattered around the pasture, and lighting them involves more than five hundred feet of extension cords! Lighting will encourage the hens to lay more eggs during the fall and winter off-season, which is important for many producers. Not so much for us, though, when so much of our sales are through seasonal farmers' markets.

If I were using lights, I'd follow the traditional recommendation of providing 14 hours of light, bright enough to read a newspaper by at floor level, starting September 1 and ending on March 31, using a timer to turn the lights on and off at an appropriate time, and a photocell unit to keep them off during daylight hours. I'd use incandescent bulbs because compact fluorescents don't start properly in cold weather.

There's a myth that lighting involves keeping bright lights on the hens 24 hours a day, and this makes them act like they've downed sixteen double-espressos. The people who promote this concept have obviously never seen a commercial laying operation. The amazing thing about commercial henhouses is how dim the lights are! Egg stimulation happens at very low light levels, so if there's enough light to read a newspaper, it's light enough for maximum production. Under dim lighting, hens are not very active, and spend the lights-on time after dark sitting quietly on their perches.

Lights can increase production by up to 15% by deferring the molt and, more than that, lighting makes production more even during the year, without the sharp peak during the spring or the trough during the fall and winter. It has more effect on breeds that don't lay very well than on those that do, and on older hens than younger ones.

I'd use lights if my setup were a little different. Because my chicken feeders and waterers are out in the open, when it's rainy, the hens get rained on, and keeping warm puts a metabolic load on them that encourages molting, which I don't think lights overcome. And when it snows (which it does once or twice in an average year), it takes a while for the hens to realize that they can walk on snow, and they'll go hungry until they figure this out. This also encourages a molt. So I'm asking a lot from my lights if I expect them to overcome all of this! Most people don't have these problems because they don't do all their feeding and watering outdoors. (Laying a trail of hay on top of the snow helps the chickens overcome their reluctance to go outside, by the way.)

(Read more about Lighting for Hens.)

Karl's Adjusting Well to His Diabetes

Karl still has some pancreatic function, meaning that he's still making some insulin on his own. While our doctors have basically said, "It won't last; forget about it," there's ample evidence that this can be protected. 100 mg of niacinamide looks promising and safe. We're also using R-alpha lipoic acid in the form of Insulow, which has been shown pretty conclusively to reverse damage caused by high blood sugars, so it makes sense to guess that it will help prevent it as well.

The other important point is that the more carbs you eat, the harder it is to control blood-sugar levels and the more likely you are to see complications, so it's crucial to keep his carbs down, and we're experimenting with low-carb and no-carb alternative foods. I've been watching my own carbs since 2008, and Karen has for even longer, so this isn't new to us.

(I can't praise Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars too highly. It's a thorough, thoughtful, and readable book about diabetes management, written by the first person ever to use a blood-glucose meter as a personal diabetes-control tool.)

School started last week, and the folks there are doing a great job helping Karl with lunches. Since he's autistic, he needs some oversight, though he takes all his own blood-glucose readings himself and writes them in his log. While he doesn't perform his own insulin injections, he selects the site each time and basically tells his helpers what to do!

There Goes the Neighborhood

There are reports of strange people and strange cars appearing at strange times here on Norton Creek Road. On a dead-end road like ours, where everybody knows everybody and strangers stick out like a sore thumb, this is peculiar enough that we're keeping our doors locked for the first time. This is annoying, but I can use any happenstance as an excuse to play with a new technology! This one motivated me to investigate wireless webcams.

I'd heard that wireless webcams are the bee's knees when you want to monitor brooder houses and chicken coops for all kinds of trouble, and to stay on the lookout for predators wherever they might cause trouble. My initial experience shows that these cameras are very spiffy indeed! Like everyone else, apparently, I'm starting with the affordable Foscam FI8918W wireless webcam, which can be controlled remotely for pan and tilt, has a set of infrared LED's for night vision, and can be reached via Ethernet cable or your WiFi network. It does motion detection, so it can alert you when something has changed. It even has a microphone!

The software that comes with it, while klunky, has some good features, including a "send email on motion detected" feature. There are plenty of software packages out there that will use these webcams and provide additional features.

No doubt I will report in more detail in a later newsletter. In the meantime, the reviews on will give you an idea of what this device is good for. Keep in mind that this model isn't weatherproof, so it needs to be installed in a sheltered location.

Back in Print! Everyone's Favorite Gardening Book: "Gardening Without Work" by Ruth Stout

Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout, cover

It's been a long time since I've come up with an out-of-print classic for you to read, but I think this one will make up for lost time: Ruth Stout's Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent. Ruth is my favorite organic gardening writer, and has been since I was a child -- her column was the first thing I read in each issue of Organic Gardening when I was ten. And she was everyone else's favorite writer, too. Amazingly, this book, in spite of its legions of fans, had been allowed to go out of print. Because of its enduring popularity, you'd be lucky to get a beat-up copy for $40. That seems a little steep! So now you can get your brand-new copy for less than half that price, because I've republished under my Norton Creek Press label. Here's what I say on the book's back cover:

Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent by Ruth Stout

Norton Creek Press, August 2011, 226 pages.
Suggested retail price, $18.95. ISBN 0981928463.

Garden expert and lovable eccentric Ruth Stout once said: "At the age of 87 I grow vegetables for two people the year-round, doing all the work myself and freezing the surplus. I tend several flower beds, write a column every week, answer an awful lot of mail, do the housework and cooking—and never do any of these things after 11 o'clock in the morning!"

Her first book about her no-work gardening system, How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, was the kind of book people can't bear to return. She reports, "A dentist in Pennsylvania and a doctor in Oregon have both written me that they keep a copy of my garden book in their waiting rooms. Or try to; the dentist has had twenty-three copies stolen, the doctor, sixteen."

Gardening Without Work is her second gardening book and is even more entertaining and instructional than the first, so hide it from your friends!

How does it work? She explains, "And now let's get down to business. The labor-saving part of my system is that I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or irrigate, or spray. I use just one fertilizer (cottonseed or soybean meal), and I don't go through the tortuous business of building a compost pile. Just yesterday, under the 'Questions and Answers' in a big reputable farm paper, someone asked how to make a compost pile and the editor explained the arduous performance. After I read this I lay there on the couch and suffered because the victim's address wasn't given; there was no way I could reach him.

I lay there on the couch and suffered

"My way is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both my vegetable and flower garden all year round. As it decays and enriches the soil, I add more. And I beg everyone to start with a much eight inches deep; otherwise, weeds may come through, and it would be a pity to be discouraged at the very start."

Start with at least eight inches of mulch

Regardless of topic, Ruth Stout's writing is always about living a joyous and independent life, and Gardening Without Work is no exception! This book is a treasure for the gardener and a delight even to the non-gardener. First published in 1961, this Norton Creek Press version is an exact reproduction of the original edition, with illustrations by Nan Stone.

Ruth Stout, who, in her teens helped temperance activist Carrie Nation smash saloon windows, could turn any aspect of life into an adventure. She may have been the only woman who both gardened in the nude and wrote a book on being a hostess (Company Coming: Six Decades of Hospitality). She died in 1980 at the age of 96.

In my early childhood, I had some kind of vague yearning to Save the World from something or other.
"In my early childhood, I had some kind of vague yearning to Save the World from something or other."

Gardening Without Work was first published by the Devon-Adair Company in 1961, was reprinted by The Lyons Press in 1998 (ISBN 1558216545), and again, with a new Foreword, from Norton Creek Press [that's me!] in 2011.

And here's what I say in the book's Foreword:

When I was ten years old and in the grip of a passion for gardening—reading, planting seeds, and, on a good day, summoning the patience to wait for them to sprout—whenever a new issue of Organic Gardening came out, I turned first to Ruth Stout's column. She was in her eighties and I was a child, but this was no barrier. Somehow she made it clear that we were kindred spirits.

And this was Ruth's greatest talent, being a kindred spirit and a free spirit at the same time. She was innovative, practical, eccentric, and deeply entertaining, and her writing speaks across years and generations as if they weren't there. And they weren't, because when I read her work today, forty years later, it's as fresh as ever.

Another of her talents that resonated with my ten-year-old self was her passion for enjoying life today—rather than putting it on hold until the necessary laws pass or the administration changes. I found it strange that even magazines about gardening would fill pages with gloom and doom! Ruth's home-grown wisdom provided a refuge from this focus on what's happening in other people's backyards, rather than one's own. It's true that, before she learned this lesson, she smashed saloon windows with temperance activist Carrie Nation, but she later regretted this and adopted a live-and-let-live approach, one with a joyous focus on what can be done, rather than what can't, and this gives her work its ageless quality.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Ruth's masterpiece, Gardening Without Work, the best book ever written on the "permanent mulch" system, had been allowed to go out of print! How could this be? Fortunately, this shocking error lies within my power to correct, so I am proud to publish this exact reprint of Gardening Without Work, because Ruth Stout is at least as relevant and delightful in the twenty-first century as the twentieth. She was always ahead of her time.

Her "permanent mulch" system of gardening promises "no plowing, no hoeing, no cultivating, no weeding, no watering, and no spraying." It takes most of the work out of gardening, so that hardly anything remains except your enjoyment of your growing plants, your beautiful flowers, and your delicious harvest!

Ruth's irresistibly zestful approach kept her active and fit into her nineties, and will reshape your attitude about how much gardening (or living) can be fit into a limited amount of time and energy, a problem I didn't have when I was ten years old, but which appeals to both my inner child and outer adult today.

You can buy Gardening Without Work right now at substantial savings. As I write this, you can buy it from for 25% off, or from Barnes & for 15% off.

More About Ruth Stout

Plotto: The Classic Plot Suggestion Tool for Writers of Creative Fiction by William Wallace Cook

Well, if I'm going to take the trouble of publishing one classic, why not two? Plotto is a method to help authors and screenwriters come up with plot ideas. Written by William Wallace Cook, who wrote fiction at an amazing rate and wrote a book, The Fiction Factory, about his methods, Plotto suggests plot ideas in much the same way that an unabridged thesaurus suggests words. It takes some getting used to, but it's yet another example of a book whose loyal following keeps the price of used copies at sky-high levels. Until now.

I don't know how many readers of this poultry newsletter write fiction, but I've been intrigued by this book for years, so I decided that it really needs to be back in print! See my Plotto page for more information.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon

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

  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.

September To-Do List

September 1 is the traditional time to turn on the henhouse lights. If you keep the day length at the traditional 14 hours between September 1 and April 1, you'll get more eggs during the lighting period and fewer during the spring, which is a good deal for most people, well worth the cost of electricity.

The folklore about lights turning the hens into zombies that shoot out eggs like machine guns is not true, by the way. Lights are infinitely less effective than this. Their effect is subtle and gentle.

I give a full treatment of henhouse lights in one of my earliest newsletters (from 2003). I don't use lights anymore myself. Dealing with a thousand feet of extension cords zig-zagged from house to house across the pasture eventually became too much of a hassle. But your setup would probably be far less complicated than mine.

As already mentioned, September and October are good times to brood baby chicks, so call up your favorite hatcheries and see what's available. Usually only commercial breeds are available in the fall, and sometimes even these sell out. So get your order in early!

More to-do items:

  • Repair roofing (winter is coming!).
  • House pullets (if raised on range).
  • Avoid overcrowding.
  • Cull molting hens. (Hens that start molting this early probably won't start laying until spring. It would be cheaper and better to make chicken and dumplings out of them and replace them with baby chicks.)
  • Begin artificial lighting. (Traditionally, providing a day length of 14 hours between September 1 and March 31.)
  • Cull any poor pullets.
  • Provide additional ventilation. (Always, always, always provide more ventilation than seems necessary.
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
  • Remove soiled litter. (If using deep litter, shovel some of it out to make room for the additional litter you'll add over the winter, but only if it looks like the litter will get so deep it will make things impractical. "More is better" with deep litter.)

List 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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Gardening Without Work
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