Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, January 15, 2004
News From the Farm
After years and years with only occasional snow that melted within two or three days, we've hit the snow jackpot. Eighteen days with snow on the ground, and counting. It looks like it'll all be gone in a day or two, though.
Carrying feed to the hens through the snow has been something of an ordeal. Having colonies of free-range hens scattered across the property starts looking like a really bad idea when you have to trudge through long stretches of snow to drop of feed and collect eggs. It's been hard to summon the time or energy to get through more than the most basic chores.
Our pipes burst in two places,with no lingering ill effects once we went into town for parts, except that one of our two cast-iron jet pumps actually burst its main housing when it froze solid during the power outage! This is the pump that delivers water to our chickens. We have a replacement on order, but the chickens are not suffering through a lack of water. It's pretty soggy out there.
All of which is a nuisance, but not any great tragedy. If this were going to happen every year, I'd do things differently, with winter quarters and such for our free-range hens that were more sheltered and accessible. Farmers used to free-range their chickens during the warm parts of the year and provide them with winter housing that was conveniently close to the farmhouse. By culling the old hens heavily in the late fall, and selling all the broilers even earlier, the winter chicken population would be relatively small. In the warmer parts of the year, an expanded chicken population would fill all sorts of range houses.
We hit an important milestone this week -- on Monday the feed truck arrived and delivered feed to our barn! The snow had been to thick to allow deliveries before, and we were having to purchase no more than 15 sacks at a time, which we brought home in our SUV. We normally order 1-2 tons at a time.
Spring is coming early this year -- the Corvallis Indoor Market starts on Saturday, and we'll be there with our free-range eggs. Our farmers' market year is very long; December is the only full month without either an indoor or an outdoor market.
Speaking of signs of spring, we got our Murray McMurray catalog in the mail a few days ago. I'm trying not to order chicks just yet, since I have other chores to get out of the way first, but I won't be able to resist much longer!
To all of you who've bought books from me in the past, thanks! I started Norton Creek Press as a way of self-publishing my own poultry book, Success With Baby Chicks, but also to bring back into print the best books of yesteryear, which were written when practical farmers kept small flocks and used simple techniques. These books have ideas in them that anybody can use. By contrast, more recent books serve today's much more specialized and industrialized poultry businesses, and in many cases you have to be a graduate student to read them at all! While those of us who can make sense of them can appreciate their rigor and thoroughness, the rest of us need something that's more accessible, and is scaled to fit our needs.
I publish four books that cover four important areas of poultrykeeping:
Success With Baby Chicks, my guide to selecting, ordering, and raising chicks through the brooding period. The book reflects my extensive research into poultrykeeping. Over the last few years, I have read just about everything on poultry I could get my hands on -- hobbyist publications, poultry industry journals, and Oregon State University's collection of poultry books and magazines going back a hundred years. It turned out that the problems I was having with baby chicks all had known solutions. Not only that, they were mostly easy solutions. I tried them, and my chicks did a lot better, which made me feel better about my farm and also made it a lot more profitable!
I wrote all the important points down in this 153-page volume. Most poultry books devote just a few pages to the brooding period, but this is the most critical period and deserves special attention. The techniques in the book are valid whether you brood just a few chicks or several thousand at a time.
Genetics of the Fowl. Out of print for decades, I have reissued Prof. Hutt's wonderful book on chicken breeding and genetics. This book was written with students, breeders of show poultry, and breeders of commercial poultry in mind. It's quite readable and has a lengthy and thought-provoking chapter on "Breeding in Practice" at the back, which talks about how to get the results you're looking for.
I don't even do breeding work, but I love reading this book!
The book is no longer up to date, but the progress since the book was first published is more in the line of extending knowledge. I don't know of anything in the book that is actually wrong. And the book is valuable as much for its insight as its cataloging of which genes cause which color patterns. You'll want to read this even if you already have more recent works.
The Dollar Hen. Okay, that's a baby chick book and a breeding book. How about a book on practical chicken farming using old-time techniques? That's what Milo Hastings' The Dollar Hen is about. It's the oldest book in my lineup -- it was first published in 1909 -- but I love this book. I love Hastings' down-to-earth, practical, even cynical Midwestern outlook, which I find refreshing, especially if I've read too many books that rave about how romantic country life is. Country life is only romantic if things are running smoothly and there's enough money to pay all the bills. Hastings knew that, and this book shows how one could make a living on a free-range egg farm. Many of the principles are perfectly sound today. I have always found this book very enlightening.
Feeding Poultry. My lineup concludes with a comprehensive book on poultry nutrition. This one dates back to the Fifties, which is recent enough to be modern for all practical purposes, unless you're already a professional in the feed business, in which case it is merely a gold mine of information -- but you'd want to use your own tables of nutritional values. I like this book because it's comprehensive. If someone asks me about coconut meal as a chicken feed, it's listed right there! There's a whole chapter on green feed, much of which is given over to pasture and free range.
All the nutrients that anyone has ever heard of had been discovered by the time this book was written, so following its advice is safe. The book is recent enough to have chapters about medicated feeds and hormones. Hormones are not legal to use with poultry in the US these days, but the chapter makes interesting reading.
It gives lots of feed formulas that use ingredients that are readily available, with variants to allow you to switch from one ingredient to another as price, availability, or quality vary.
Anyway, that's our lineup. I'm hoping to add one or two new books soon. Click on the links above to find out more about each individual book, or see our main page at www.nortoncreekpress.com.
My electric fencing is under the snow right now, but I thought I'd give you a quick rundown of electric fencing for predator control. I use it both for fencing and also the protect the chicken houses themselves.
Electric fencing has been used with poultry for over fifty years. In many cases, raccoons and other relatively small predators are the main problem. The traditional anti-raccoon fence has one electric wire about five inches off the ground and maybe a second wire ten inches off the ground. The fence is more effective if you wire bait to it, so predators give themselves a good zap. Dead chickens are an obvious bait for a poultry fence.
Dogs, foxes, and coyotes can jump a low fence, but they usually don't know this. Our dog is terrified of electric fences and won't go near them, and this has been true of all the neighbors' dogs as well. I have also seen a coyote chasing a chicken that was outside the fence, but skid to a halt then the chicken flew over. That coyote clearly knew the fence was there, and didn't want anything to do with it!
Chickens respect electric fences, more or less. They aren't afraid of them the way dogs are, but they don't like them. My electric fences are about 95% effective at containing my chickens. The other 5% are wandering around outside. You can reach 100% effectiveness by either using electric poultry netting or by moving the fenceline so far away from the chickens that they don't want to cross it, anyway. I dislike electric netting because it's expensive, short-lived, and I always trip over it. What I like is aluminum fence wire and step-in fence posts everywhere but at the corners, with lightweight steel T-posts at the corners. But netting is good if you are forced to confine your birds fairly tightly.
If you have conventional fences, such as field fencing or chicken wire, an electric fence wire near the ground and one at the top ought to stop all predators, whether they climb or burrow.
I have also used electric fence wire to protect chicken houses, with great success. What I've done with my range houses is to put electric fence wire on all four walls, a few inches off the ground, on insulators nailed to the walls. Predators that try to squeeze under or climb into the houses get zapped. The doors of these range houses are not at ground level, but are sixteen inches off the ground, so the hens have to hop up to the doorway. Raccoons don't hop!
I've tried both battery-powered and AC-powered fence chargers, and both weak ones and powerful ones. For farm use, powerful AC fence chargers are the way to go. These low fences sort out against the grass very easily, and you want as much power as possible. On a farm, long runs of wire are usually not a problem. I run them along existing fencelines when possible, and string them overhead on 10'-12' poles otherwise. My poles are just 2x4's lashed to T-posts, with an insulator on the top. These last for five years at least.
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Copyright 2004 by Robert Plamondon. Permission is granted for copying if the material from here to the end of the message is left unaltered.
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