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, March, 2014

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News From the Farm

Once again, I've missed a few issues. Sorry about that. It probably has to do with having three businesses and a full-time job...

Here in Western Oregon, we haven't had the truly dreadful winter storms that some other people have had, but they've been bad enough. Two serious snow storms, power outages, ruptured pipes, and a cracked water pump later, it's starting to look like spring is around the corner.

Through all of this, the hens basically didn't care. As usual, when their daytime highs dropped below freezing, their production plummeted, but they were healthy and active throughout. We had no baby chicks during the worst of it, though, really, they would have been just fine. The generator would have kept the heat lamps running, and that's the main thing. (My book, Success With Baby Chicks, goes into great detail about winter brooding, which is a no-brainer if you set things up right, except for shoveling the walk to the brooder house!)

Now it's March, much warmer, but still pretty wet. In fact, my tractor is stuck out on the hen pasture at this very minute!

The Corvallis area is unusual in having a winter farmer's market, and Karen discovered, rather to her surprise, that fresh turkey sells briskly, mostly in the form of turkey breasts as opposed to whole birds. She got a deal on some young surplus turkeys from Oregon State University, and thought we'd take a loss on the ones we had left after Thanksgiving. So that's a pleasant surprise. If you're in the neighborhood, you can drop by at the Corvallis Indoor Winter Market at the fairgrounds, Saturdays from 9 AM to 1 PM.

Karen is introducing the concept of "Easter Turkey," since we'll still have a few left by then, and lush spring pasture ought to product the finest possible turkey dinner.


How best to deal with mud if you have outdoor chickens? Chickens will scratch up all the grass and leave the areas around their houses bare in fairly short order. Portable houses let you pick a new patch of land for them to scratch up while the old area recovers. Permanent houses end up surrouned by permanent mud.

Geoffrey Sykes wrote an interesting book in the Fifties, called "The Henyard," which recommended using large amounts of straw to deal with the problem. Lots and lots and lots of straw. Sykes added about 800 pounds of straw per week to the house and yard for his flock of 500 hens during the winter, and the same amount every two weeks or every month during the drier seasons. This was his solution for using non-portable houses. The yards are fairly small (maybe five square feet per hen), but hens love foraging through straw and happily spend plenty of time outdoors. High-grade straw is not necessary: bargain-basement semi-spoiled straw is just fine. It's going to be rained on anyway. He recommended two square feet per hen inside the henhouse and 4-8 square feet in the yard.

Once a year, the old straw is removed (preferably by a tractor) and new straw installed. The old "straw" will be largely manure and partly composted by that time, and provides high-grade fertilizer, and may well be worth more than you paid for the straw.

People with yarded hens often try something similar, but don't realize just how much straw (or wood chips, or bark) is required to make it work. Try using a lot more!

The other thing to realize is that hens like shade and don't like wind, and that's why they spend so much time hanging out near the henhouse. If you provide some shade and a windbreak, they'll spread out more. A row of hay or straw bales, stacked two high, can make a big difference.

Keep Your Baby Chicks Safe

Baby chicks are just delightful -- everybody loves them. And we owe it to both them and to ourselves to give them the best start we can. I spend an entire book on this one topic, which I based on years of experience and research into both modern and old-time poultry practices. Some of the most useful practices are virtually forgotten, and I only learned of them myself when I surveyed a hundred years' worth of poultry books and magazines! So you'll find this slim, 150-page book well worth your time and money.

In general, it's best to get the brooder house ready a week ahead of time, to give you plenty of time to deal with the surprises that always seem to crop up, and turn on the brooder 24 hours in advance. Cold, damp wood shavings are a disaster for day-old chicks; the shavings under the brooder need to be nice and toasty. You also want time to deal with floor drafts, which are no big deal during summer brooding (and may be and advantage in hot weather), but can be deadly in late winter and early spring.

Oh, Rats

Yes, getting the brooder house ready ahead of time is one of the most important steps. There's nothing worse than getting a shipment of baby chicks and discovering that the brooder is broken and won't warm up! Well, actually there is -- getting a shipment of baby chicks and discovering that rats have taken up residence in the brooder house. You will lose all your chicks overnight if this happens.

I've run into a number of folks who feel that rats are something that happen to other people, and that's true -- it something that only happens to other people until it happens to you. If you do anything long enough, everything is going to happen to you at least once. If you keep poultry, the birds will waste enough feed to attract rodents. That's just a fact of life. The question is to keep this from being more than a minor little problem.

On pasture, we've found that rat tunnels will appear like magic underneath our range feeders, but if we move the range feeders every time they become empty, exposing the tunnels to interested parties such as owls, there are hardly any rats. (Keep in mind that there would be a natural population of a few rats on our seven-acre hen pasture even if we didn't use it for anything.) If we keep the feeders in the same place instead of moving them, the rat population just explodes.

Our henhouses are all on skids, and we move them from time to time, and never put feed inside them, so they aren't much of a rat magnet. The brooder houses are another story.

No method of rat control is very nice, and the not-nice method I find most effective is the use of one-ounce bait block (that is, rat poison) in high-quality rat bait stations. These bait stations are chicken-proof, and modern rat poison eliminates rat infestations from places like brooder houses very quickly. The bait is eaten quickly at first, and then consumption falls to zero along with the rat population.

The trick is to remember to keep checking the bait stations after consumption has fallen to zero for a while, because new rodents will drift in from neighboring areas, and eventually the bait will all be gone and the population will shoot up again.

Other possibilities are rat-sized snap traps (not safe around chickens) and terriers. I don't have any real experience with either.

Let's all be safe out there!

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout
  2. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  3. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon
  4. Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris
  5. Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers' Handbook by Robert Plamondon

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.

March Notes

March is baby chick month, the big start of the poultry season for most of us. The hens start laying up a storm, baby chicks arrive in the mail, and we awaken from the winter's hibernation and spring into furious activity almost without transition.

Easter is an egg festival because the surge in egg production represents the first fruits of the new season, which introduces a welcome source of fresh food at a time when planting season hasn't even started yet.

March To-Do List

  • Brood chicks. (Time to buy a copy of Success With Baby Chicks if you haven't already.)
  • "Break up" broody hens.
  • Plant greens for chickens.
  • Begin chick scratch after two weeks. (According to Jull: I provide it at day one.)
  • Eat more eggs and poultry at home.
  • Hatch baby chicks.
  • Use artificial lights. (The traditional time to turn them off is April 1.)
  • Remove damp or dirty litter.

List inspired by a similar one in Jull's Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

Adventures in Social Media

And if that's not enough, you can use Facebook to stay in touch. 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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