Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, October, 2011
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Ten Thousand Subscribers!
I looked at the subscription list today, and we have a new record: 10,018 subscribers! Thank you, everyone!
News From the Farm
The Farmer's Market in Autumn
Why do people suddenly start thinking about buying meat and poultry as soon as the weather turns cool? Every year, just as soon as we have a cold day, our broiler sales jump! What's the connection? Is it a primordial instinct or something more prosaic? I have no idea. I just know it's as reliable as clockwork.
It's harvest season, and apples and other late-season crops are showing up in the market in a big way. We're unusual because we have the same products, chicken and eggs, all year long. Other vendors have a product lineup that changes a little every week, or they have a limited lineup, as the apple vendors do, and are present for only part of the season.
The crowds are still gratifyingly large at the Corvallis Saturday Market, as well they should be, because the variety is excellent! There are several organic farms, including Denison Farms and Gathering Together Farms, that have been around for decades and have been improving their quality every year. They set a high standard, and the other vendors are enthusiastically following suit. Later in the season, both the vendors and the crowds will thin out some, and around Thanksgiving the market will end. Because our production is still high, and because we're determined to keep it high all winter, we're looking for another supermarket or two to carry our eggs, since the big farmers' markets will be closed until spring.
One innovation we plan to try this year is to actually cover our feed areas, so the hens don't get rained on when they go out to eat. Our method of all-outdoor feeding is very unusual, and the metabolic load this puts on the chickens comes out of their egg production. We figure that one of those fabric-covered carport kits ought to be adequate if staked down really well (since winter storms are coming).
Dump Trucks Have the Right of Way!
My trusty 1990 Isuzu Trooper got into an argument with a dump truck over who should own the middle of the road, and the dump truck won! We got off lightly, as these things go: no injuries, and not much damage. The front left tire and rim are ruined and there's an unimportant dent in the fender, but some of the steering components will need work, as will the front gearbox. The Trooper wasn't very popular, and after 21 years the parts are getting hard to find, so the jury's out about whether it can be repaired.
This is the only car Karen and I have ever bought new, and it's the only one we've bought on credit. If we have to replace it, we haven't decided what to buy. Something we can pay cash for, though. We must have saved at least $75,000 by not buying a replacement every five years!
Bar Codes and Egg Cartons
The local stores that carry our eggs have been nice about the way we don't have a bar code on our carton, but it's clear that they'd prefer it, and so we're making the transition.
Karen found the Web site LaurerUPC.com to be helpful in understanding the process and finding a good vendor to supply UPC codes (the numbers on the bar codes). She paid $48.30 for ten codes, which ought to last us for years, and now we're creating stickers to use on egg cartons. They send artwork and a certificate of authenticity. Karen offers this handy tip: "When you use laser printer labels for this purpose, don't print the bar code alone, but remember add the product's name as well (such as 'Large Eggs'), or when you look at a sheet of stickers, you won't know what product it's for."
We use semi-generic cartons with a couple of spaces to use a rubber stamp or sticker with our farm name and the size of the eggs, and there's a space for a bar code as well. So, all in all, we're moving briskly into the 1980's!
I wish we had a styrofoam recycling project around here, because styrofoam egg cartons are pretty nice! I think they're higher quality and can be reused more times than paper cartons (our customers give us their used cartons for reuse). They're cheaper, too. But we take our recycling seriously in these parts, so the lack of styrofoam recycling is a deal-killer. So we use paper cartons from Pactiv. (For smaller lots, check out EggCartons.com. They now have free shipping on all egg cartons. (Look at total cost when shopping for cartons, since shipping cartons long distances can cost more than the cartons themselves.)
How Far Can You Go With Open-Front Chicken Coops?
Prince T. Woods, M.D., popularized the concept of open-front chicken coops in his 1924 book, Modern Fresh-Air Poultry Houses. But did he take it far enough? The idea was that chickens are sensitive birds with sensitive lungs, and the poorly ventilated houses of the day had terrible air quality, became very damp, and were poorly illuminated. An open-front house, with the front wall consisting largely or entirely of a screened opening, gives excellent year-round results, much to most people's surprise.
Should this be a surprise? Perhaps not, but your success in raising baby chicks revolves around taking care to to keep them warm, and this predisposes us to worry about drafts and chills, even after the chickens have grown themselves the equivalent of a down parka! So we let ourselves be mesmerized by temperatures when we should be focusing on ammonia and dampness.
Nevertheless, some chicken farmers in the Fifties decided that "anything worth doing is worth overdoing," and asked themselves, "If replacing one wall with chicken wire is a good idea, won't replacing all four of them be even better?" So they tried it, and the answer is ... maybe.
This trend started in Southern California, where the risks from overheating are real and those of freezing are non-existent. In this environment, open-sided chicken houses worked very well. A typical house was just a roof supported on posts, with chicken-wire wall or, if the hens were in cages, sides that were completely open. Often a hedge was planted near the house in the direction of the prevailing breeze to form a windbreak, and that was it. This worked very well. Temperatures were much lower on hot days, never exceeding the outside air temperature, and every breath of breeze helped to keep the hens comfortable, while on cold days ... well, what cold days? We're talking about a climate where temperatures below freezing are pretty much unheard of.
Well, that's nice for people in warm climates, which admittedly includes a couple of thousand of my newsletter readers. But what about people further north? What kind of temperatures range is suitable? As they say about the Limbo, how low can you go?
Farmers kept asking the folks at the Oregon Experiment Station about this in the Fifties, and they decided to give it a try in Corvallis. They had a control flock of White Leghorns in conventional housing and an experimental flock (also White Leghorns) in open-sided housing. Actually, it was more like one-walled housing, since the area in which the nest boxes were installed created quite a windbreak. The results? The open houses worked about as well as conventional housing. When daytime highs were below freezing, the open-housing flock's performance plummeted fast, but it recovered quickly when the cold snap was over. In conventional housing, which is damper in cold weather, there was more frostbite and the hens seemed on average to be in less robust health. Corvallis doesn't have a particularly cold climate (far from it), but temperatures got down into the teens at one point, and, if anything, the conventionally housed group fared worse.
I don't think I'd recommend truly open housing in my climate, but these results give us permission to stop worrying about drafts and breezes! The main thing in cold weather is to keep your chickens dry and to give them plenty of food, so they can use their food energy and a thick coat of feathers to keep themselves warm. In climates colder than Oregon's, they'll need to be able to get out of the wind, too, but this just implies an effective windbreak, not a hermetically sealed chamber.
If you have a lot of chickens (at least a few hundred in a single house), you can use their body heat to help keep the coop above freezing, though this can be tricky, since holding heat in requires that you reduce ventilation and let air quality suffer, and ammonia in particular is bad for the hens. Start with an insulated roof (which will also help in summer), and you can experiment with restricted ventilation. The big commercial producers use huge computer-controlled fans for this.
With smaller chicken coops, there's not enough body heat to do the job, so it's best to not try to heat the whole house. Personally, I want to try electrically heated perches, perhaps built out of pipe with heater cable threaded down the inside, but in my climate it's not really worth the bother. It seems like something that would keep the hens warm in any climate, though, and would require very little electricity.
Want to learn more about keeping small flocks of chickens? I've republished Dr. Woods' Fresh-Air Poultry Houses, which for the moment is being discounted by 31% by Amazon.com, which is the lowest price I've ever seen! (I don't know how long this will last; I have no control over Amazon's discounting.)
Get My Books Cheaper on eBay
Why do I keep auctioning books on eBay when they sell so cheap? Because I'm an incurable optimist, that's why! Every week, I'm auctioning off a copy of most of my titles.
What if auctions aren't your thing? You can get my books using "Buy it Now," with prices as low as anyone's.
Either way, check out my eBay listings now.
These are my top-selling books from last month:
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 lady'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.
October To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
Traditionally, October was a month where pullets were just about to lay, and were moved from pasture (where they had been raised) and into winter quarters that were much closer to the farmhouse, and thus more convenient for winter access. At the same time, many of the old hens were still around, creating the temptation to overcrowd the henhouses. The usual technique was to cull all the early-molting hens but to keep the rest for another year. About half of the old hens would be sent to market this way.
With modern hybrid layers, the flocks are much more uniform, and most of the flock will molt at once. Only a few percent will molt early. So the idea that you can sort the flock into winners and losers doesn't work as well as it used to (which is a good thing).
It only takes a few months of warm weather to make you blind to the needs of approaching winter, so this month's checklist is particularly useful -- but only if you follow it!
Flag pasture obstacles and equipment with something tall if there's a chance that you won't mow in the spring until the grass is as high as an elephant's eye. You won't remember if you put it off. Bleach bottles stuck on the tops of T-posts are traditional.
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