Robert Plamondon's Poultry Newsletter, March 6, 2004As always, if you're tired of this newsletter, please scroll down to the bottom of the message for easy instructions to make your subscription go away.
News From the Farm
Three Brooder Houses Full of Chicks!
It's amazing what a difference a couple of weeks can make. When last I wrote, I had no baby chicks at all. Now we have three hundred chicks in three different brooder houses.
Karen got the ball rolling with her first broiler chicks of the season. The Corvallis Farmers' Markets start early, in mid-April, and to have broilers the first week we need to start chicks in late February. She has two batches of 100 broiler chicks from Shank's Hatchery in Hubbard Oregon, and will be getting a box of 100 every other Thursday until late September. That's 1,500 broiler chicks per season! Karen has been happy with their broilers.
On Friday I got 100 Gold Sex-Link pullets from Privett Hatchery in Portales, New Mexico. I have relied on Privett for my layers for years and have been very happy with them. I like their Gold Sex-Links, Black Sex-Links, and Barred Rocks for brown eggs, and their California Grays and Austra Whites for white eggs. I also found their Araucanas to be very nice birds (and they lay green-shelled eggs), but they don't lay very well.
We live a little more than two miles from the Blodgett Post Office, which gets its mail delivery a little before 7:00 AM. So we get our baby chicks first thing in the morning. Since this is the coldest time of day, it's important that we set up the brooding area no later than the night before.
All our brooder houses have homemade insulated lamp brooder, which I talk about on my Web site and in much greater detail in my book, Success With Baby Chicks. These have worked very well for us -- much better than the overhead electric lamps we used to use -- though controlling floor drafts is still vitally important.
When the chicks arrive, we bring them into the brooder house right away. Karen puts the chicks under the brooder a few at a time, counting them as she goes. I always get distracted and lose count partway through, so I lift the brooder up and dump the chicks onto the brooder-house floor. This doesn't hurt them and gets them under the heat right away. I worry that the last ones in the box might get chilled if I place them slowly.
We use quart-jar waterers with glass Mason jars. I'm convinced that the chicks are attracted to the glint of the glass. They peck at the glass once or twice and then find the water. We put the jars up on blocks, usually square scraps of 2x4, but we nestle the blocks down into the litter so they aren't too high for the chicks.
I've found that other kinds of waterers, including one-gallon plastic waterers, galvanized vacuum founts in the 2.5-5 gallon range, and Little Giant automatic chick waterers all run the risk of chicks getting into the water, getting soaked, and chilling to death. The quart-jar waterers don't have this problem -- at least, they don't if you place them away from where the chicks huddle, so none get shoved into the water by their fellows.
I like Little Giant automatic poultry waterers, but I don't like the shallow chick bowls. I like the regular bowls, which are deeper. The chicks can reach them once they're a few days old, so the quart-jar waterers aren't needed for long.
For the first water only, we use warm water with a pound of sugar dissolved per gallon. After that, we use tap water.
For first feed, we use chick feed in shallow trays, usually either plastic cafeteria trays or the lids from the box the chicks were shipped in. Karen likes to cut the lids in half so there's one side that the chicks don't have to climb over. Baby chicks have trouble learning to eat feed unless they can stand in it and scratch it with their feet. I like to have the regular feeders filled from day one, too.
I like having lights on 24 hours a day for the first three days, to give the chicks every opportunity to find the feed and water. After that, I turn the overhead lights off and let them get by with the lamps inside the brooder box and natural daylight.
I'll have more on baby chick care in the next several newsletters, as well.
Egg production is definitely exceeding consumption at our current winter prices. Today's Indoor Farmer's Market (held twice a month in the off-season) featured lowered prices for our Jumbo and ungraded eggs, and no doubt there will be across-the-board price reductions soon.
We use a very simplistic pricing model. When eggs start to remain unsold and our refrigerator begins to bulge, we lower prices. When there aren't enough eggs to go around, and we're constantly selling out, we raise prices. Supply and demand in action! We used to agonize over prices, but then we realized that pricing is more of a dialog between the hens and our customers. We just note the signs and portents and adjust the prices accordingly.
One of my favorite books is The Dollar Hen by Milo Hastings. I probably learned more of the fundamentals of practical poultry farming (as opposed to hobbyist poultrykeeping) here than from any other book. Of course, the details are largely obsolete, but Hastings really had an eye for fundamentals.
Anyway, the longest chapter in the book is about incubation. In 1909, incubation was pretty hit-or-miss, just as it is today when I try to do it. Hastings has a lot of interesting things to say about incubation, though a lot of it comes down to this: you have to control temperature and humidity. If the humidity in the room changes, you have to compensate for this in the incubator. You can't just put the same amount of water in the incubator every time and expect good results, because the conditions in the incubator are affected by the weather.
Some locations are better than others. A damp, poorly ventilated basement is pretty good, because it has fairly constant temperature and humidity already. An ordinary heated room is pretty bad, because in cold weather the furnace will be on and the humidity will be very low, and in warm weather the windows will be open and the humidity will be very high (at least in spring). This is probably the most under-appreciated fact in the operation of small incubators.
Apparently, Hastings invented (or helped invent) the modern forced-air cabinet incubator, and was involved in lengthy patent litigation defending his invention. His grandson wrote me an interesting email on the topic. So his interest in incubation, so thoughtfully displayed in "The Dollar Hen," turned into something big!
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