Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, November, 2011
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News From the Farm
We had some early snow a few days ago. It's thin enough that it won't prevent the chickens from going outside (which is just as well, since all the feeders and waterers are outdoors!). A heavier snow tends to alarm chickens who haven't seen snow before, and they're reluctant to walk on it. But a thin dusting will have enough grass showing through to give them confidence, and then when a heavy snowfall happens it won't seem so novel to them.
What do you do if the first snowfall is a heavy one? Scattering straw on top of the snow gives the chickens confidence, and scattering grain in the straw gives them incentive!
End of the Farmers' Market Season
The Farmers' Market season ends the day before Thanksgiving, and we'll be there with pasture-raised, old-fashioned turkeys. (We've got a few left, so if you're in the Corvallis area and can pick one up the day before Thanksgiving at the market, email Karen to reserve one.)
The end of the market season means that we have time to curl up by the wood stove with some good books. Of course, it's not all leisure, what with holiday gift shopping and all, but we figure we've earned the right to indulge ourselves a little during the winter.
We're learning more about managing our autistic son Karl's diabetes every day, and so I've started to blog about it: http://karls-diabetes.blogspot.com. It should prove interesting for anyone lending a hand with a loved one with diabetes, especially a child. We're doing our research and trying some things that are considered "advanced," and it seems to be working so far.
I wrote last month that my trusty 1990 Isuzu Trooper got into an argument with a dump truck and lost. The damage was minor, so we're having it put back together again. It's moving down the ladder of farm vehicles and we'll likely supplant it in daily use with something newer and nicer, but it's always good to have a spare vehicle that can hold a half-ton of feed!
The Secret: How to Sell Your Eggs to Supermarkets
What's the secret of getting free-range eggs into local stores? The easy way is to have plenty of eggs in October and November, which is the time of year the other local farmers can't keep the shelves stocked, because their hens have gone into molt. The stores don't like having empty shelf space going into Thanksgiving, so if you have local eggs, you're in!
This transforms the trick from one of salesmanship to one of management, since the key is to keep your flock laying well into the natural molting season. The keys here are:
This works a lot better than trying to sign up retailers in the spring, when everyone is rolling in eggs already and couldn't find room for more if they tried!
October was our best laying month in 2011, so these techniques have been working for us this year, and this has expanded us into a record number of local establishments:
Fall, Mud, and Dirty Eggs
Here in Oregon, the dry summer gives way to a wet fall and winter, and mud becomes a problem for anyone with outdoor chickens. The biggest issue here is dirty eggs, since hens don't wipe their feet when they step into a nest. Those of us with larger flocks also face the prospect of vehicles bogging down in the mud and the comedy that comes from traversing patches of slick mud while carrying a full basket of eggs.
Mud control takes different forms in different circumstances. For the area immediately outside the chcken coop, porches are a good idea. Chickens spend a lot of time in the immediate vicinity of the coop and it's hard to keep the ground in good condition there (and impossible to maintain a turf). We simply place wooden pallets in front of the houses, which is picturesque in a rustic sort of way. Purpose-built porches would look nicer.
If you have portable houses, you can move them to a new patch of grass whenever the area around them gets muddy, but this is no panacea during a wet Oregon winter, where the couple of feet right around the house will get muddy within days because the ground is so soft. Occasional moves and pallet porches in front of the house work well for us.
Wood chips, straw, and other mulches can control mud if used lavishly. Trying to get by with just a little won't accomplish anything, but a thick mulch will separate the chickens from the mud very nicely. In Britain in the Fifties, Geoffrey Sykes came up with a yarding system based on this principle, which he describes in his (hard-to-find) book, The Henyard. The basic concept is to have a relatively small yard surrounded by a fence/windbreak and covered with a deep straw mulch. More straw is added anytime part of the yard starts looking mucky. Once a year, all the straw is removed and used as fertilizer, and a new layer is started. This gives the hens clean, all-weather outdoor access and prevents pathogens from accumulating year after year.
To keep eggs clean even when the hens are in a not-so-clean environment, using clean litter on the nest house floor helps a lot, as does having a porch outside the house. Anything the helps keep them from tracking mud into the nests is good.
Back in the old days, the University of Washington experimented with nest boxes that had trays filled with gypsum powder that replaced the usual perches. Stepping in the tray coated the hens' wet feet with powdered gypsum and reduced the number of dirty eggs substantially.
Some people simply keep their hens cooped up until after noon, when most of the eggs have been laid, and let them out at the same time as the first egg collection.
The average well-run chicken farm in the old days produced about 30% dirty eggs, so washing them was always of interest to the practical poultrykeeper, since few people can throw this many eggs away with a clear conscience! See my Egg-Washing FAQ for information on how to wash eggs properly.
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 like you.
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.
November To-Do List
November is traditionally the worst laying month, though nasty winter weather may cause production to be even worse during cold snaps. In the old days, this egg shortage meant that it was the month of maximum egg prices. Most people aren't brooding any baby chicks at this time of year, so it's a quiet month on the farm.
The reason the hens aren't laying is because many of them are molting. Even your best hens may molt in November, so you don't want to cull your flock this month. The culling season is July through October, when your good layers are all still laying, and any non-layers are a waste of feed.
As winter approaches and the weather deteriorates, keep an eye out for needed repairs or changes in management. Portable houses can blow over in winter storms, leaks in roofs can cause misery in winter rains, etc. Make sure you have a fully functional set of foul-weather protective clothing (coat, overalls, boots, hat, gloves) so you don't put off going out into the weather for chores, and to keep you from doing mucky chores in clothing you're trying to keep clean for trips into town.
November To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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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 www.plamondon.com.
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