Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, December, 2011
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News From the Farm
Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I haven't! I always buy things at the last instant, and according to the Amazon's Christmas Ordering Calendar, I still have three days left to buy books (I'll bet you'd never have guessed that books are my favorite gift) or electronics or whatever.
In the old days, the lifeline for rural Americans was the Sears, Roebuck Company, which kept them connected to the rest of the world. Sears did this for something like 75 years, but turned their back on rural America in the Eighties, preferring to become a mere big-box retailer. I don't know how many people realize this, but Amazon has become their successor. Does Amazon understand how big a deal this is? I don't know, because their business is not intrinsically rural-centric — not the way, say, DirecTV's satellite TV network is. So much of what I buy just isn't available locally, but it's in stock at Amazon! And once you sign up for Amazon Prime, you get free two-day shipping on just about everything, meaning (among other things), that you can order the perfect book for a relative on Dec 21 and have it arrive in time for Chrismas, while paying less than before.
Oh, The Weather Outside is ... Nice?
We had a week of cold, dry weather with lows in the Twenties (which is cold for here), but thankfully without wind. This is weather that free-range hens can really enjoy, since unlike wind, rain, and snow, they're happy to spend time outside in mere cold. After all, they have feather coats to keep them warm. Egg production is still high, which is unusual for this time of year. The cold, dry weather has been followed by warmer weather that's almost as dry, with lows above freezing, and it looks like we may get another week of this.
The main nuisance with the colder weather is that our watering system consists of many hundreds of feet of garden hose with automatic pan waterers here and there, and everything freezes on cold nights. Usually, it all thaws again by mid-afternoon. If the cold isn't severe, we can get by with just breaking the ice in the waterers, and otherwise we walk around with buckets full of warm water to top off the waterers until the hoses thaw again. If you use Electric birdbath heaters, you can keep pan waterers from freezing. Other kinds of waterers can use other kinds of heaters. The main thing is to use waterers with metal valves, since these don't crack if they freeze solid. The Little Giant Automatic Poultry Waterer is good, and can presumably be kept ice-free with some heater cable on the length of pipe you screw the waterer into.
The weather has been so nice that we've gotten some late-season grass growth that shorted out my electric fence. I don't normally see this in December! I walked the perimeter today and pulled the bottom wire out of the weeds and re-set the step-in fence posts, and zapped the heck out of myself through a pair of rubberized gloves when I was done. (This isn't the smartest way of testing voltage, but it's sure convincing!) Predators, beware!
The typical Oregon winter rains should start after next week, maybe with some snow thrown in for variety. We've tested our Honda generator and we have several cords of wood under cover, so what the heck.
The Chicken in Winter
Here's an excerpt from Rice & Botsford's classic 1956 book, Practical Poultry Management, that puts winter management in perspective:
All the experts emphasize ventilation. Because we are used to being so fussy about keeping baby chicks warm, it's hard for us to switch gears and give plenty of ventilation for larger chickens, but that's what they need.
Brooding baby chicks is perfectly practical in winter, and on the whole our results have been as good with winter brooding as later in the season. The main thing is to realize that the house as a whole can be a little drafty, but you have to eliminate drafts at floor level altogether. Since the baby chicks are so small, only the warmth and wind chill at floor level count. They don't care what's happening a foot off the floor.
I read an article once about a demonstration flock of day-old chickens that was brooded inside a walk-in freezer at a constant 20 below zero! The chicks did perfectly well, being kept nice and warm by overhead heat lamps. No drafts and plenty of heat were what they needed. Pretty impressive!
The demonstration used four 250-watt heat lamps for 25 chicks, which I think is a little excessive; an insulated lamp brooder could have probably gotten the same results with 500 watts at the most, and perhaps 250 if there were curtains around the brooder. (If you read my book, Success With Baby Chicks, you'll become an instant expert in chick brooding, an investment in time and effort that will surely pay for itself with your first chicks of the new year.)
Baby Chick Season is Fast Approaching
Here we are in mid-December, and do you know what happens in the first week in January? Hatchery catalogs start arriving in your mailbox, filled with enticing breed descriptions and early-bird specials to get you remembering what it feels like when you hold day-old baby chicks in your hands, watch them running around purposefully in the daytime, and see them sleeping peacefully at night in the warm glow of the brooder lamp.
It's never too early to think about, "What can I do now to make raising next year's chicks more comfortable, less work, and more enjoyable than ever before?" Because baby chick season is truly right around the corner.
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 readers.
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.
December weather tends to go from bad to worse, with freezing and power outages to keep things interesting. (See one of my blog posts about winter experiences with free-range birds in open housing.) On the other hand, most people don't have any baby chicks in the brooder house in December, and adult chickens are relatively tough, so December is something of a low-stakes gamble.
Later in the winter, though, people start brooding their early chicks, so the stakes get higher. If you want to have pullets laying well by the start of a traditional Farmer's Market season (Memorial Day), you need chicks in January. If you hatch your own eggs, that means hatching eggs in December. Slow season? Wait, wasn't winter supposed to be the slow season?
Not to mention that the hatchery catalogs will start arriving right after Christmas, with special low prices on early chicks. By January, you'll be on fire to start the new season!
December To-Do List
Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
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