Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, August, 2013
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News From the Farm
We just got back from the county fair. It was delightful to see all the 4-H kids tending their livestock with such confidence and competence, whether the animals were small, large, or gynormous. There's still plenty of that "can-do" attitude in the world.
Back on the farm, egg production is starting to slip, as it always does at this time of year. At the same time, farmer's market attendance is rising, since it's harvest season. We ran out of eggs at the Saturday market for the first time this year. It's always sad to have to disappoint customers who were looking forward to buying from you, especially in face-to-face selling! Up until this week, we had the opposite problem, and had one heck of a time selling all the eggs our hens produced.
To manage the glut, we lowered prices. To manage the shortage, we're raising prices, and will find a level that lets our eggs stay on the shelves just long enough for customers to find them -- we don't want empty shelves! But we don't want a growing backlog of unsold eggs, either.
Seasonal fluctuations are a nuisance, but with outdoor chickens, it's hard to fool Mother Nature. By starting baby chicks several time a year, we always have pullets coming into lay, and these young hens are less affected by the seasons than they are when they're older. This helps a lot, but doesn't solve the problem completely.
Tenderize Tough Cuts of Meat With a You-Know-What
Karen and I have been intending to put up some very basic cooking techniques on the Web site, mostly for the younger generation, which isn't as familiar as our parents and grandparents with some things, such as crock pots and pressure cookers. But I don't suppose anyone even dares to think about pressure cookers anymore. Not if you don't want a few carloads of cops showing up on your doorstep, as in this story.
Oh, well, we probably didn't have a use for those tax dollars, anyway.
Update on Roost Mites
The lime-sulfur spray worked okay on the roost mites and killed them very nicely, but the effect was temporary, and they came back pretty quickly.
Next, I applied oil to the roosts and the results were much more thorough and longer-lasting. In the spirit of "waste not, want not," I use whatever oil might otherwise go to waste, which turned out to be a combination of boiled linseed oil and type F transmission fluid. The linseed oil is nice, but you really want a non-drying oil, so spiking it with transmission fluid should make a mix that doesn't turn into a real varnish. Since I no longer have a vehicle that uses that kind of fluid, this is the best use I have for it. If I were to buy everything new, rather than use what was on hand, I might have used raw linseed oil, if I could find any, or plain mineral oil. I wouldn't use edible oils because I don't want my roosts going moldy.
There's no special trick to painting oil on roosts. I do it early enough in the day that the oil will be soaked into the wood by nightfall, to keep the hens' feet from getting oily. The oil stays wet longer in the cracks and crevices where the mites hang out, so a roost that's nice and dry to the hens still protects against mites.
Oil kills both mites and their eggs, unlike insecticides, so that provides a more thorough solution right off the bat. And the oil can remain effective for months if you're lucky. I apply the oil with a cheap paint brush. I haven't tried rollers or sprayers.
With nest boxes, using oil is a more delicate matter, since you don't want any oil getting on the eggs. So far I've only oiled the outside of my wooden nest boxes, and have left the insides untreated. This dealt with most of the mites, but not all of them.
Ten Years of Norton Creek Press!
Has it really been ten years? I started Norton Creek Press in 2003 with four books, but the real action started even before that.
When we moved back to the country in 1995, Karen and I started reading up on small farms. We discovered that if you wanted to run a small farm profitably, there wasn't much appropriate material out there. What information was available? On the one hand, there's material for full-scale modern farming. This has a lot of useful information, but the scale of operation is so much bigger than what we had in mind that it was almost ludicrous. Then there was stuff written for gardeners and backyarders, some of it quite wonderful, but which had something of the opposite problem. And there were impassioned tracts on alternative farming, but little of it seemed to be written by experienced farmers. Finally, there were the writeups of the farming fads du jour, fads that would soon claim the retirement savings of those who invested in them. (The llama fad had just collapsed, and the emu fad would soon follow.) As you can imagine, some of this made for sad reading.
Then we hit pay dirt at the library at Oregon State University, where their collection of farming books going back 150 years. Before 1960, most farms were small farms like ours. Before 1960, most farm flocks were small flocks like ours. Before 1960, free range was normal and well-understood. We wanted to understand it, too! So by dialing the clock back by 50 years, we found the answers to most of our questions.
One of our biggest questions was how to raise baby chicks successfully. Our first batch of 25 chicks did wonderfully, through the miracle of beginner's luck. After that, it was hit or miss. Sometimes baby chicks would get sick, or die, or grow up stunted. Other times, they'd turn out great. There didn't seem to be much pattern to it. This is the sort of thing that can discourage you right out of poultrykeeping, and that's probably what would have happened if we hadn't started to figure things out.
We weren't alone. One researcher in the same period was reporting an average of 30% mortality among pastured broilers. Yikes! And a lot of it was probably caused by the same issues we were having, since giving chicks a good start in the brooder house is the best way to ensure that they'll do well throughout their lives.
So we adopted a policy of trying everything we could think of. We read tons of books and magazine from the Golden Age, which for poultrykeeping is roughly 1910-1960. Material published before 1910 was hit or miss, because no one had a sufficiently scientific mindset to do side-by-side comparisons. Newer stuff is about giant confinement flocks, so the techniques are hard to cut out and paste down into a small-flock environment.
Not that you can't learn from folks with big flocks. We talked to one lady who had raised chickens for fifty years, and who for the last twenty or so would start new flocks by ordering 30,000 day-old chicks, which all arrived on the same day. She was proud that she had refined her technique to the point where, "I'd lose one percent the first week, and the rest would all go into the laying house eighteen weeks later."
This was vastly better than we were doing. How did she do it? She had a system, for one. And she'd studied everything there was to know about poultrykeeping, consulted with the university when there was any doubt, and trying new things all the time until she'd hit on all the best techniques for her situation. We started doing the same.
Here are a few of the issues we uncovered and fixed:
I was surprised to discover that, in spite of the critical nature of chick care, and the need to get the details right, most books dispose of the problem casually, in just a few vaguely worded pages. The topic deserves -- and our baby chicks deserve -- a whole book that goes into the topic in depth! So I wrote one.
In early 2003, I wrote and published Success With Baby Chicks, creating Norton Creek Press in the process. Sales and reviews were gratifying from the beginning, and still are. I gathered together the best material I could find from the old days, plus my own experiences, and combined them into 150 pages on nothing but baby chicks, Many people have told me they find it helpful to re-read the book each year, so the material stays fresh in their mind. Me, too, and I wrote it!
I published three more books in 2003, to keep the first one from being lonely. One was my favorite practical poultry farming book, The Dollar Hen by Milo M. Hastings. This book was first published in 1909, so it's no longer a by-the-numbers guide to successful poultry farming, but it has a lot of useful information and offers a practical way of looking at things.
Hastings was way ahead of his time. He wrote a classic work of science fiction, City of Endless Night, in 1919, which is before science fiction really existed. He was the first health-food editor of a major magazine. He wrote the first popular book on the perils of high blood pressure. So you can see how The Dollar Hen would be more wide-ranging and interesting than the average chicken book. Long out of print, my Norton Creek Press edition is lightly edited for clarity.
Feeding Poultry is a massive reference to poultry nutrition. It has the advantage of being rather old, from the Fifties, which means that the needs of small farmers are addressed directly. There's a whole chapter on the nutritional value of green feed and range. The book is new enough that the level of understanding of nutritional science was very good. The last two important nutrients to be discovered, vitamin B-12 and methionine, are covered in the book. And it has lots of things that newer books don't have, like telling you how to get important nutrients not from the lab, but from available feedstuffs.
Genetics of the Fowl is another big reference book, which has the clearest explanations of poultry genetics and breeding that I've come across. The appendix at the back about "Breeding in Practice" is alone worth the price of admission. The book is packed with background and detail, making it infinitely more than a list of genes. Published in the Forties, it's no spring chicken, but it's still the pick of the litter, since it's comprehensible to the layman, where the newer books are aimed at professional geneticists, so it really deserves to stay in print indefinitely.
Happy birthday, Norton Creek Press!
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.
August To-Do List
August is a pretty easy month, so far as chickens are concerned. This is just as well, because it's harvest season for some of us, and vacation time for others! Cornish-Cross broilers need to be babied through the heat, otherwise it's about the same as always. If your chickens are on grass range, you may see a decline in product quality as the grass browns off. Chickens can't digest grass that isn't bright green and won't bother eating much of it. This is where dandelions and other so-called weeds that stay green and palatable are a godsend.
The days are starting to get noticeably shorter. September 1 is the traditional time to turn on the henhouse lights, so this month is a good time to see if the lighting system is still operational. (I don't use lights anymore myself.)
September and October are good times to brood baby chicks, so call up your favorite hatcheries and see what's available. Usually only commercial breeds are available in the fall (which is fine by me, but isn't what everyone wants). Sometimes even these sell out, so get your order in early!
More to-do items:
List 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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