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, February, 2012

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News From the Farm

February is the shortest month of the year, so you get less value for services paid by the month. On the other hand, as the Pirate King said in The Pirates of Penzance, "For such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days, as a rule, are plenty," and in any event, 2012 is a leap year, so we get an extra day in February, whose purpose, I suspect, is to give us an extra day to nerve ourselves up for the November elections.

But the real purpose of February is, of course, to get ready for the arrival of baby chicks in March! I'm not sure if it's true in the rest of the country, but here in Oregon the feed stores all get baby chicks right around March 1, and who can resist baby chicks?

Off to a Good Start in 2012

We're having record egg production for this time of year, and customer demand is high, meaning that we're selling everything the hens can produce for us at around $5.00 a dozen. Sweet! What's our secret? Well, as in most of farming, good luck plays a role, as does good weather. Because our feeders our all outdoors, our hens get to experience the weather close up, and nasty weather reduces egg production (the more energy they spend on keeping warm, the less surplus they have for making eggs). That's just part of the "happy outdoor chicken" lifestyle, and to get good winter production, you need to do enough things right to compensate for this.

We like feeding scratch feed to the hens when we go out onto the pasture to collect eggs. We use whole wheat or whole oats and scatter it into the grass as a treat for the chickens. Chickens don't like to be left out when there's something good going on, so they rush out to get the grain while the getting is good, clearing out the nesting houses so we can collect the eggs without all those hens in the way. Once out there, they tend to say to each other, "Well, the grain will be gone in a minute, but we might as well keep foraging for a while before we go back inside," so that encourages them to look around for the yummy green plants that give eggs their free-range quality.

Karen's doing all our marketing these days, and as a result we have more customers than ever. One Corvallis restaurant: Les Caves, four Corvallis stores: Market of Choice, Albertson's, and both First Alternative Co-Op stores, and the Blodgett Country Store. And you'll find her at the Corvallis Indoor Winter Market every Saturday morning with fresh eggs and frozen broilers. "Hey! This is supposed to be the off-season!"

It's always such a good feeling to get the first baby chicks of the year, and we just got a hundred broiler chicks of the year from Jenks Hatchery, the oldest hatchery in Oregon, run by the Jenks family for over 100 years. They're about a 45-minute drive from our farm, and while chicks do well when shipped through the mail, they do even better if you fetch 'em home yourself!

Good-Bye, Old Trooper

As you may recall from a previous newsletter, my trusty 1990 Isuzu Trooper got into an argument with a dump truck about who owned the middle of Norton Creek Road, and the dump truck won. The damage was not too bad, so we decided to invest about $1,000 in getting the Trooper back on the road. Two days after we got it back, the transmission decided it was a good time to give up the ghost. Sigh. The cost of rebuilding it would have been astronomical, so we said good-byte and sold it to the wrecking yard.

What next? George's Automotive advised us that, since we keep vehicles a long time, we should probably stick to popular vehicles, since only these continue to have parts available forever and remain familar to all the mechanics. We ended up buying a 2008 Ford Explorer, which is a vastly superior vehicle to the old Trooper in every way. For example, it has a lot more power but gets better gas mileage, not to mention all the safety features the old Trooper lacked -- traction control, anti-lock brakes, multiple air bags, and so on. It has slightly more load capacity, too, which matters to us.

Karen got a good deal on the vehicle. It helped that when it came time to close the deal, she arrived at the dealership with a bag full of hundred-dollar bills and a sincere determination to walk away if this didn't prove adequate. (Have you noticed how easily salesmen are mesmerized by heaps of cash?)

We're enjoying our new vehicle and are hoping that this will be our last car-replacement experience for a while!

Busy As Can Be

Alert Readers will have noticed that not only is this month's newletter late, but I didn't do one in January at all. My day job at Citrix Systems is busy, busy, busy, with new releases of our Citrix Branch Repeater network accelerator products (about which I'm the sole technical writer) coming out one after the other. Fortunately for our farm customers, Karen has long been in charge of most of the farm operation, because I've been stretched pretty thin.

And since I'm exactly the kind of person who keeps heaping more onto his plate when he's overloaded, I've started taking a course in hypnosis recently. I've been interested in the topic ever since I cured my long-standing insomnia through self-hypnosis. It's one of those topics where self-study can be frustratingly hit-or-miss, (for example, I had tremendous results with weight loss for about six months, and then the effects faded. Sigh.) so I figured it was time to learn from the experts. Just in case I wasn't busy enough already. So far, so good.

Just Released! "Company Coming" by Ruth Stout

When I republished Ruth Stout's Gardening Without Work last year, it instantly became my best seller, and I've gotten a lot of fan mail from Ruth Stout admirers around the world, so I've just brought out her autobiographical Company Coming: Six Decades of Hospitality.

Here's what I wrote for the book's back cover:

"Guess who's coming to dinner?" With Ruth Stout, you never knew! Would it be sweet-tempered temperance activist, Carrie Nation, who smashed the windows of illegal saloons with a hatchet? Would it be her younger brother, Rex Stout, who finagled his way onto Teddy Roosevelt's presidential yacht and later became famous for his Nero Wolfe mysteries? Would it be Dr. Poulin, the famous hypnotist? Simple-living guru Scott Nearing? Not to mention friends, neighbors, starving artists, and refugees.

Ruth Stout tells the story of her life in terms of who showed up for dinner, and she describes the way she and her husband Fred turned their barn into simple visitor accommodations, turning guests into neighbors and sidestepping Ben Franklin's maxim that "fish and visitors stink after three days."

The main flaw of this book is that it's too short! Major events like Ruth's work in Russia during the great famine in the Twenties are mentioned only briefly, and when we realize that the New York brownstone that they lived in for a while became Nero Wolfe's house in her brother Rex's detective stories, we'd like fuller descriptions and, if possible, floor plans! But for everything that isn't there, there's something that is, making the book funny and wise and full of surprises, like all of Ruth's writing.

Ruth Stout was a beloved advocate of organic gardening, and her book, "Gardening Without Work," and her magazine articles popularized her style of simple living to millions.

"Company Coming" was first published in 1958, and Norton Creek Press is proud to offer it to a new generation.

Chicken Coop Bedding

There are lots of different approaches to chicken coop bedding, and I thought it might be fun to list some of the more interesting ones here:

  • Wood shavings work very well for chickens of all ages, including baby chicks. The bales of compressed softwood shavings sold for horse bedding are quite good. (I'm told that hardwood shavings, on the other hand, can have enough tannins in them to bother chickens, and some may have produce splinters that will cause foot injuries, but I haven't tried them. Cedar shavings are slightly toxic in a way that is insecticidal. I have my doubts about its suitability for baby chicks, though my research revealed no smoking gun.)
  • Straw is the old standby for hen bedding. I think straw is too coarse for day-old chicks. With hens, the litter can be kept from matting down by scattering some scratch feed onto the floor. The hens will spend all day fluffing up the bedding for you. This doesn't work with broilers, because they're not active enough. Though you should avoid using moldy straw, fears of aspergillosis ("brooder pneumonia") are usually exaggerated unless you use straw litter in a wet and under-ventilated brooder house, and under such conditions you're going to have plenty of other problems as well.
  • Hay is not as good as straw for bedding, and costs more.
  • Sand is an interesting bedding. It lets moisture drain away, not soaking it up the way other beddings do, so it leads to a dry coop. Unfortunately, this means that as the chicken manure dries out, it becomes very dusty, so don't try this except in a very well-ventilated coop!
  • Dirt or grass (that is, no litter at all, in floorless coops) works fine if the chickens don't have to walk through the manure all the time. In a house that's more or less filled with perches, for instance, the hens will spend little or no time at floor level. If rain is kept off the floor and there aren't too many chickens in the house, the accumulating manure dries quickly and is odorless. Oddly, this works better as time goes by, with a house that's been in one place for a month being drier than one that was moved into place a few days ago. For non-portable houses, use some kind of bedding.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout. New to our lineup and still #1.
  2. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  3. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
  4. Plotto: The Classic Plot-Suggestion Tool for Writers of Creative Fiction by William Wallace Cook.

  5. Gold in the Grass by Margaret Leatherbarrow

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.

February Notes

For many of us, March is when baby chicks arrive, so February is your last chance to get everything ready in an unhurried way. It's a good time to examine all your equipment so you can get it fixed in time, and generally get back on track for taking care of baby chicks after having nothing but grown chickens for many months. Many readers have told us that they get better results when they review my book, Success With Baby Chicks, every year before the baby chicks arrive.

February To-Do List

Inspired by a similar list in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Look for better stock (are there better chickens than what you've been using?).

  • Set hatching eggs, if you incubate your own chicks.

  • Remove damp or dirty litter.

  • Provide warm drinking water in cold weather.

  • Brood early chicks.

  • Replace litter.

  • Adopt a sound feeding program.

  • Plan to keep a flock of at least 2/3 pullets (that is, brood enough pullets that you can cull most of your old hens in the summer or fall, when they stop laying).

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 use 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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Success With Baby Chicks
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