Your Chickens in October [2014 Newsletter]

This Big Piggie, Cougar Attacks, and Fall Eggs

Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter, October, 2014

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News From the Farm

This BIG Piggie Goes to Market

Karen with pastured pigs from Norton Creek Farm.

Mmm, bacon! Got room in your freezer? If not, it’s time to buy another freezer, because we’re about a week away from converting our pigs into pork. These happy outdoor pigs have been moved to fresh patches of pasture as they wreck the one they’re on, and have been fed on high-quality feed, whole grain, and the many cracked and stained eggs that are a yummy byproduct of our free-range egg operation.

(By the way, we’ve been criticized for admitting that we know where meat comes from, on the grounds that “children might be reading this!” So send the kids off to bed if you want them to continue believing in the Pork Chop Fairy.)

Our pigs are butchered by The Farmer’s Helper in Harrisburg, Oregon, the best custom butcher in the area. They show up with their mobile slaughter truck and dispatch the animals on the spot, in their own familiar pen, and the animals are gone before they know what’s happening. Most livestock are caught and transported to an unfamiliar place first, which is scarier for them. I like this way better.

After a brief delay, the fresh meat is ready — pork chops and roasts and all that — wrapped and frozen. The ham and bacon need to be cured first and take a little longer.  Our pigs are consistently fairly lean, but not too lean. Good, firm, flavorful pork, with bacon that’s mostly meat.

We haven’t sold all the pigs yet, so if you’re in the area and are interested in half a pig, a whole pig, or even more, drop Karen a line at nortoncreek.karen@gmail.com.

Cougars Can be Uneasy Neighbors!

Local farms have had a lot of livestock killed by cougars recently. You can see one prowling a sheepfold in this video.

Like many predators, cougars don’t have much of an “off” switch: they’ll keep killing until they run out of targets. In the wild, this doesn’t matter much: the targets scatter, and the predator has to settle for one or two kills. But penned livestock are another matter. The predators tend to keep killing until all the livestock are dead. “Take all you want, but eat all you take” has nothing to do with it: no “off” switch. So even the predator benefits very little. And this is not just cougars, but dogs, foxes, coyotes … you name it.

This means that the type of fencing can make a difference. A simple one-wire or two-wire electric fence doesn’t really pen in chickens, who will burst right through it when being chased by a predator, allowing the flock to scatter in all directions if a predator manages to get inside the fence. But chicken wire and relatively closed-mesh electronetting don’t allow the flock to escape, and losses can be very high (or total) if a predator gets inside.

Most predators never acquire the livestock-eating habit, contenting themselves with wildlife, but when a predator becomes a livestock killer, I think it’s good form to kill the livestock-eating predator and ignore all the others. No one really minds when the local cougars eat deer or the local bobcats eat rabbits, but when people’s sheep and chickens and cats and dogs start vanishing, that’s different.

The cougar in the video was killed by a trapper from the USDA Wildlife Service. I’ve had good results with these folks in the past, when the predator du jour was taking a toll on our chickens (and sometimes our barn cats), but I also learned how to do trapping on my own, which turns out not to be very difficult. (I learned both from the Federal trapper and from Hal Sullivan’s books and videos.) When a bobcat, raccoon, or coyote is killing our chickens, they typically drag it away from the scene, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of woodcraft to identify a feather-lined game trail! A snare placed along this trail will catch the offending predator. No need to declare war on predators in general. In Oregon, at least, snaring or shooting livestock-killing predators on your own property is perfectly legal.

I don’t enjoy snaring or shooting predators, but I have a responsibility to my livestock, one that’s inconsistent with allowing them to become a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet for the local wildlife.

Dry Fall Weather (and its Effect on Eggs)

Until today, we’ve had a dry fall, and that means the emerald-green grass that our part of Oregon is famous for is pretty much absent. What effect does this have on free-range eggs?  Karen recently did a taste test of our eggs vs. a couple of other local free-range egg producers to find this out.

By our own estimation, we came in second. Judging by the taste, one of the other producers is not only doing a nice job, but also has a greener pasture than we do right now, giving them yolks that are a bit darker and eggs that are a bit more flavorful. That’s what we get for living in a place with no possibility of irrigation, and a climate where the dry season stretches into October once every 5-10 years. Come on, rain!

The other eggs used a no-corn, no-soy recipe, and they tasted a little odd. No surprise there: replacing these two main ingredients in chicken feed seems like a pretty good idea until you try it. On paper, soybeans look far from ideal, but the situation reminds me of Winston Churchill’s comment about democracy: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.”

Since we keep telling everyone the secret of flavorful eggs, (giving the chickens access to fresh green grass), we’ll be content if we’re tied for first place after the fall rains green up the pasture again.

Another thing about the dry weather is that we’ve delayed setting up lights for the hens, on the grounds that stretching hundreds and hundreds of feet of extension cords across the pasture is a little scary if there’s the slightest chance that it could start a grass fire. Not that this is very likely in the ordinary course of things (though I’ve mowed my share of extension cords with the tractor). Production has been holding up nicely, so I doubt we’ve lost anything through being cautious.

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. Company Coming by Ruth Stout
  5. Feeding Poultry by Gustave F. Heuser

 

All of these are fine books (I publish books I believe in). If you’re like most readers of this newsletter, you’ll enjoy starting with Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and Success With Baby Chicks. 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.

Recent Blog Posts

Just one post on my farm blog since my last newsletter, but it’s a useful one:


October

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

Traditionally, October was a month where pullets were just about to
lay, and were moved from pasture (where they had been raised) and into
winter quarters that were much closer to the farmhouse, and thus more
convenient for winter access.

Because many of the old hens
were still around, there tended to be more chickens than there were room for in the winter houses.
The usual technique was to cull all the early-molting hens, but to keep
the rest for another year. About half of the old hens would be sent to
market this way, sold as stewing hens. The winter flock would thus be about one-third old hens and two-thirds young pullets.

With modern hybrid layers, the flocks are much more uniform, and
most of the flock will molt at once. Only a few percent will molt
early. So the idea that you can sort the flock into 50% winners and 50% losers
doesn’t work very well anymore. They’re mostly winners.

October is the start of a big shift in what your chickens need from you. It only takes a few months of warm weather to make you blind to the
needs of approaching winter, so this month’s checklist is particularly  important– especially if you follow it!

October To-Do List

  • House pullets (if raised on range).
  • Do not overcrowd!
  • Repair doors, windows, cracks, roofs, watering systems, lighting
    systems.
  • Freeze-proof your watering system.
  • Replace litter. (If using the deep-litter method, replace enough
    of it that the house won’t be filled to the rafters by spring.)
  • Make a final culling of early molters (next month, pretty much
    the whole flock will molt)
  • Cull any poor pullets. (“One strike and you’re out” is the rule
    unless your birds are pets.)
  • Remove damp or dirty litter on an ongoing basis.
  • Use lights on layers. (14 hours of light a day between September
    1 and April 1, bright enough to read a newspaper at floor level, is
    traditional. Incandescent bulbs are much more trouble-free than
    compact fluourescents, but LED bulbs are probably the best (it’s a little early to be certain). Don’t use “indoor-only” compact fluourescents
    in a chicken coop).
  • Get equipment under cover. Don’t forget the lawn mower!
  • Stake down range houses so they won’t blow away. (I mean it. Do it  now.)
  • Summer houses such as tarp-covered hoophouses should have their
    tarps removed so they won’t collapse under snow loads.
  • Flag pasture obstacles and equipment with something tall so you won’t blunder into it n the spring, when grass is as high as
    an elephant’s eye. I have accidentally mowed feeders, nest boxes, faucets, sheet metal, and plenty of other things that got lost in the weeds. Bleach bottles
    stuck on the tops of T-posts are traditional ways of marking hazards.

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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36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326
nortoncreekpress@plamondon.com
http://www.nortoncreekpress.com

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

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