Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, July, 2013
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News From the Farm
It's been a while since I've done a newsletter, so let's see if I can tame my erratic time management and get back on a monthly schedule.
As we move into summer, we leave the time when the grass is tender enough to be interesting to chickens. Chickens can't manage tough or woody plants. Since we don't have enough water for irrigation, we get what we get as the season progresses, but since we've had chickens on our pasture for many years, their manure has enriched the soil, so the plants stay green longer than they used to.
Another issue in the summertime is heat. Chickens withstand freezing temperatures a lot better than heat. In the summertime, they need shade, ventilation, and a never-failing source of water to drink. We have plenty of waterers, probably about twice as many as we really need, just to be safe.
Keep Your Cool
It's summertime, so it's a good idea to throw a cooler in the back of the car and keep it there, so you can buy stuff at the farmer's market or the grocery store on a hot day and not feel compelled to rush right home before it wilts or melts or bursts into flame or something. When you put it in the cooler with some ice, you can take your time and enjoy the rest of your day. That's what happens when you, and not your vegetables, are in control of your schedule.
Make your Own Blue Ice
Keeping eggs and fryers cool through a farmer's market takes plenty of ice. We have an ice machine and use it liberally to ensure that our fryers are kept super cold all day long, and give ice away to any customers who want some. In addition to real ice, we use variations on "blue ice," which has a lower freezing point and keeps things that much colder. I've had good results with the simplest possible recipe:
If you have a saturated salt solution (which means you've stirred in as much salt as will dissolve), these bottles will freeze at 0 F. I ran out of salt the last time I did this and ended up with a solution that froze at 15 F, but that worked fine.
As long as you don't fill the bottles all the way through, they'll last through any number of freeze-thaw cycles, and if the outside gets dirty, you can wipe them down or just shrug and recycle them.
I like these bottles for egg coolers. As long as the contents are below freezing, the condensation on the outside of the bottles will take the form of frost, which doesn't drip on my eggs!
How Fresh is Fresh?
We've always used a 30-day sell-by date on our eggs. For decades, this was the standard used for eggs under USDA inspection. Now, our eggs aren't federally inspected, but since we want our eggs to be the best, we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards, and that means refusing to sell eggs that aren't as fresh as anybody's. This goes against the usual practice, at least here in Oregon, of using a 45-day sell-by date.
I recently discovered that the USDA has loosened their standards from the traditional 30 days to 45 days, so now eggs in the supermarket with the USDA label on them might be two weeks older than before. Thanks, Federal government!
So now we're in the position of being the only ones who insist on sticking to the 30-day standard, as far as we know. How much this is going to hurt us with customers who pay close attention to sell-by dates, we don't know. I can't imagine that many people will remember that a dozen of our eggs that say "July 15" would be marked "July 30" if packed by anyone else. But I think that 45-day eggs just aren't fresh enough, so there we are.
A longer sell-by period means that fewer expired eggs will be pulled from the shelves, because some of the eggs that would have expired are being sold as "fresh" to unsuspecting customers. But we're not doing that. We pull them after 30 days and they go to the food bank instead.
Summertime is Roost Mite Control Time
And with summer comes trouble with roost mites, which breed very quickly in warm weather. The mites live in cracks and crevices near where the chickens are, and come out at night to drink blood. In the morning, they go hide in the cracks again. Wild birds spread roost mites around, so they can affect any flock.
Because the mites live on the roosts, the nest boxes, and in the houses in general, it's best to treat the structures and not the chickens. Painting wooden roosts and nest boxes with non-drying oil gives long-term protection. Oils coat the mites and prevent them from breathing. A roost that's dry to the touch will still have enough of an oil film in the cracks to take out the mites, while having no effect on the chickens, and this effect lasts for months. Any non-drying oil will do. Used motor oil is traditional, since it's free. Raw linseed oil smells the best of anything I've used.
Insecticides also work. I've used pyrethrin dust and malathion dust to good effect. This year I'm trying lime-sulfur spray again, It combines extremely low toxicity with reasonable staying power, and it's just lime and sulfur boiled together -- two nutrients my soil desperately needs! Not that the tiny amounts I use will make any real difference. It smells like rotten eggs, though. I just sprayed half the roosts in one of my chicken houses to see how well it works. "Your left side will convince your right side."
If you read old-time poultry books like The Dollar Hen, you'll know that mites ranked as the number one health threat to chickens. This was because in the old days, when most chickens were kept in small, free-range flocks, the flocks were too isolated for epidemic diseases to gain much of a foothold, so only things that were already present in the environment were a threat. Nowadays, with chickens kept in giant, closely packed flocks, things are much scarier for the larger producers. Whether they're scary for you depends on how close you are to large producers.
Two other methods of mite control listed in The Dollar Hen are the use of boiling water on the roosts, nestboxes, and house, and the use of whitewash. I haven't tried either of these, though I suspect that a hot-water pressure washer would be the bee's knees at destroying mites.
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.
It's summertime, and the living is easy! Just don't let the chickens run out of water, and give them plenty of shade. Watch out for roost mites, which multiply very fast (see my Poultry Health FAQ for more information).
Also, it's getting hot out, and even hotter inside your chicken coops, unless they're a lot better-ventilated than most. Now's a great time to read Fresh-Air Poultry Houses to get the lowdown on using highly ventilated houses for year-round health.
On my farm, at least, July is a time of increasing predator activity, so keep an eye on those fencelines!
This list is inspired by a similar one in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.
Adventures in Social Media
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This newsletter is sent out occasionally by Robert Plamondon to anyone who asks for it. Robert runs Norton Creek Press.
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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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