FAQ: Free Range and Yarding for Chickens

1. What is Free Range?

There are three basic definitions of free range (as it applies to chickens). One is correct; two are bogus.

The correct definition of free range is:

Free-range poultry are, for practical purposes, unfenced, and are encouraged to spend most of their time outdoors, weather permitting.

watering-chickens-on-pastureFree-range poultry are often not fenced at all. When they are, the fences need to be distant from the birds. True free-range flocks are generally fed and watered outside. This encourages (in fact, forces) the birds to spend time outdoors and keeps the houses cleaner and drier.


If the fences confine the birds to a smaller area than they would normally use, the practice isn’t free-range at all. It’s yarding. Yarding provides an entirely different set of management challenges from free range.

Bogus Definitions of Free Range

  • Bogus definition #1 calls poultry with any access to the outside “free range,” no matter how small or disgusting their outdoor yard is. A tiny concrete yard the size of a bedsheet for 10,000 chickens counts as “free range” by this definition, which is the one used in the US by the USDA. But let’s recognize that it has the saving grace of being obviously bogus.
  • Bogus definition #2 is the European Union’s definition of “free range,” which is what you’d get if you took the USDA definition and had a PR firm give it a facelift. EU-style “free range” works out as: “Let’s surround a high-density confinement operation with a lawn, and arrange to have just a handful of chickens strolling around the lawn, giving the impression of free-range-ness.”

2. How do I do Yarding Correctly?

Nothing’s wrong with yarding, if you do it right. Most people don’t, though. They haven’t done the arithmetic. It really just comes down to the fact that chickens create a lot of manure: far more than a reasonable-sized chicken yard can accommodate.

The Tyranny of Geometry

It all comes down to the amount of manure the land can handle, and the geometry of chicken yards. Up to a certain point, chicken manure is a fertilizer, encouraging plant growth. Beyond that point, it’s a poison, killing the plants. Once the plants are dead, parasites build up in the soil and nutrients from the manure leach into the subsoil or are washed downstream with every rain. So the trick lies in avoiding this overload.

How much land does it take?

  • In rough figures, a grass sod can metabolize up to four tons of chicken manure per year.
  • Twenty adult chickens produce about a ton of manure per year. Thus, an acre of grass sod can absorb up to the output of 80 chickens.
  • An acre has 43,560 square feet, so your lovely grass yard needs to be at least 545 square feet per chicken, or a square 23 feet on a side. And that’s just for one chicken!

Few people can devote such acreage to a fenced chicken yard.  Instead, they use a much smaller yard. The manure load in the small yard kills all the grass, and after that it’s all mud and manure.

The reason farmers went to 100% confinement for commercial chicken flocks was that mud yards are unhealthy. But you can dodge the bullets and have a healthy yard with the henyard system.

The Henyard System

In the Fifties, Geoffrey Sykes pioneered this system in his book, The Henyard, which uses a small yard and large amounts of straw or other absorbent litter to (a) prevent mud and (b) soak up the manure. Once a year or so, the old litter is removed and spread on a garden or a field where the nutrients are needed, and new litter is added.

The Henyard System
The henyard system (click to enlarge).

This is the best and most responsible yarding system. It’s quite simple, too. The only thing that people get wrong is that it takes a lot more litter than they expected. Once you realize this, it’s clear sledding. Mud appears in the yard? Add a lot more straw. The straw is getting nasty? Add a lot more straw. When you do it right, the hens enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, but their feet don’t get muddy, the eggs are clean, and you don’t start losing hens to parasites after 2-3 years, the way you do with mud yards.

Sykes recommended smaller yards, just 5-7 square feet per hen, with 2 square feet per hen indoors. His system used about a ton of straw per year per 50 hens.

Chickens like shade in warm weather and like to be out of the wind in cold weather, so Sykes recommended a windbreak all around the yard: a board fence, straw bales, whatever. This encourages the chickens to spend more time outdoors.

3. How Can I do Free Range Appropriately?

We’ve already established that 80 hens per acre is about the limit of a well-established grass sod. But you need a safety margin, so let’s settle on 50 hens per acre as the the upper limit. Maybe quite a bit less, depending on your soil and management. Otherwise, you’ll kill off the grass and pollute the area with runoff, and end up with “mud-yard free range” that harbors little but parasites.

Let’s start by listing some pertinent facts:

  • Fifty hens per acre is about 800 square feet per hen.
  • Hens also don’t like to travel long distances. They’ll spend most of their time within 50 yards of the henhouses.
  • Hens travel between henhouse, feed, and water, so you can spread them out by feeding and watering them outdoors, with the feeders, waterers, and houses at some distance from each other.
  • Hens scratch the ground with their feet, eventually destroying any plants near their houses. Most of the manure is inevitably dropped near the houses as well.
  • Evening out the manure load and giving the turf a chance to recover pretty much requires that you use portable chicken houses.
  • Predators are the biggest threat to your chickens. It is much easier to protect chickens kept in confinement or in small, tightly fenced yards. See my Simple Electric Fences for Chickens FAQ to learn how to keep your flock safe.
  • On the other hand, disease, parasites, and cannibalism are much less troublesome on free range.

Free range is pretty much synonymous with portable houses. I use small portable hen houses, which I move with a tractor once the ground around the houses becomes muddy. This is the traditional approach.

Pasture house
Area around the pasture coop is bare, grass right nearby is overgrown. Time to mow the grass and move the coop!

Other people are experimenting with larger houses, typically greenhouse structures build on skids. This is okay, too, though I’d stake down such lightweight houses very firmly if I were you. At the moment the trend tends towards tight confinement within electric poultry netting combined with very frequent house moves (every 1-3 days). I predict that this will slowly evolve into the use of a much larger perimeter fence and less frequent house moves. The labor savings are greater this way, but you have to be willing to let the grass under the house die from being scratched to pieces by the hens. With low stocking density, a few bare patches here and there make little difference. By using outdoor feeding and moving the feeders around every time they go empty, you can shift the chickens’ traffic patterns somewhat, forcing them to use the pasture more evenly.

See my Range Poultry Housing page for more information.

Free Range Notes

Real free-range egg farming is much more labor-intensive than confinement or mud-yard free range, so it’s not worth doing commercially unless you can get high prices.

One reason you can get away with infrequent house moves is that the manure in a litterless chicken house becomes drier and less obnoxious the longer the house sits in one place. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but it’s true. The first few days a house is in a new spot, the manure on the floor is wet and nasty. If the house has been in one place for a month, the manure is quite dry and there is no smell. Moving the houses too frequently maximizes the wetness and smell.

On clay soil, the mud problem makes it important to keep a solid turf at all times. Permanent pasture is the simplest way of achieving this, though a crop rotation with grasses or clover as one phase will also work. On sandy or gravely soils, cultivating the soil does not lead to an instant mud problem, so keeping the chickens among growing crops is a viable alternative.

Chickens love shade. It keeps them cool, out of the wind, and protects them from hawks and owls. Corn, kale, and sunflowers, planted with wide spacing between the rows and often with a ground cover of grass or clover in addition, are traditional chicken crops. When the crops ripen, the plants are knocked over and the chickens thresh out the grain or eat the leaves themselves. The chickens must be kept off the crop fields when the crops are young, but once the crops are big enough to withstand scratching, the chickens can be turned loose among them. This is the method preferred by Milo Hastings in The Dollar Hen.

Hedges and structures like board fences can also provide the shade and windbreaks that will help the chickens to spend most of the day outdoors. Careful placement of feeders and waterers to encourage ranging is also useful. This can be overdone—in really hot, sunny weather, the chickens may prefer being thirsty to covering a long distance in the hot sun, sometimes with disastrous results. At the very least, the chickens shouldn’t be forced to go indoors for feed and water. Feeders and waterers should be scattered at convenient intervals across the range.

Running hens among trees is also a possibility. Hens will roost in the trees, which is a nuisance and causes the egg yield to fall precipitously in bad weather, since food energy must be diverted to keeping warm. This is not a problem with modern broilers, which do not fly. The appropriateness of running chickens among fruit trees depends on the type of fruit. Tree crops that are allowed to fall to the ground before being gathered are a bad choice unless having your chickens eat them is part of your plan. In many countries, paranoia about bacteria levels will prevent you from running poultry among the trees.

Eggs from chickens who spend a lot of time outdoors and eat plenty of fresh green plants taste better and have darker yolks than those of confinement hens, and the meat is also more flavorful and better-textured. This superiority forms a solid basis for attracting quality-oriented customers who are willing to pay premium prices for premium products. Range can also reduce feed consumption somewhat and allows a simplified diet, though less than people often suppose. Click here for an old-time description of this.

4. How Can I Make Money From Free-Range Eggs?

I don’t know any free-range egg millionaires, but the business can be moderately profitable if you’re careful.

Ninety years ago, a flock of 2,000 free-range hens was considered a manageable size for a farm where eggs were the primary product (that is, where the other crops grown were incidental and mostly fed to the chickens); flocks up to around 1,000 hens were kept on diversified farms. Such farmers simply collected the eggs and delivered them as-is to wholesalers. Washing and grading eggs, delivering them to stores, and selling them at farmers’ markets can easily take more than half the total time involved with the egg business, meaning that your flock has to be smaller.

In the pastured broiler business, it is much the same. Butchering, packaging, and delivering the broilers is usually more time-consuming than raising them.

To keep an operation profitable, it’s very important to recognize that you can’t participate in the commodity market. Your costs are far higher than a commodity egg farmer’s. (You’ll find some armchair experts who’ll deny this, but not any actual farmers.) This means producing the best product you possibly can and marketing it to the most discriminating consumers you can find, at the highest prices you can get. It’s essential to receive high prices, or you will go broke.

For More Information

  • For more about free range stocking density, see How Many Chickens Per Acre?
  • dollar_hen_cover_thMore details on how free-range hens are raised on my farm can be seen in my free-range presentation.
  • For a much more far-reaching treatment of free-range egg farming, you should buy a copy of The Dollar Hen, which I have republished under my Norton Creek Press label. Admittedly, it was written over 100 years ago, but I still learn something new every time I open that book.
  • Book - Cover - Poultry Breeding and Management by DrydenAdditional information about both yarding and free range can be found in James Dryden’s classic Poultry Breeding and Management, which I have also republished.
  • If you are interested in free-range or pastured broilers, you need to buy a copy of Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits.



FAQ: Deep Litter in Chicken Coops

Deep Litter for Chickens: Another Lost Technique From the Golden Age

Stirring hydrated lime into deep litter.

Many poultry techniques that were once well-understood became shrouded in mystery after the poultry business shifted to factory farming. The old-time diversified farmers passed away, and there are generations of industrialized farmers between us and them, breaking our cultural continuity.

The Deep Litter Method. One of the lost ideas is the deep litter method (deep litter is also called “built-up litter” or “compost litter.” People think they know what the deep-litter system is, but often they don’t. The descriptions floating around these days are more folklore than fact. The article below is the real deal.

Deep litter is weird stuff. It’s different from a big heap of shavings. It’s different from a compost pile with chickens living on the top of it. It’s worth looking at in some detail. Got your spading fork ready?

I’ve found some good material from the very first people to research and promote deep litter, Kennard and Chamberlin at the Ohio Experiment Station. The following is an article of theirs from the Golden Age of deep litter, published in 1949.

Deep Litter Quickstart

For the impatient, here’s a deep-litter quickstart:

  • Deep litter is not about compost. It’s about healthier chickens. Do your serious composting on a compost pile.
  • Deeper is better. It’s not “deep litter” unless it’s at least six inches deep.
  • Don’t let it cake. If the top of the litter gets caked over with manure, skim off the caked part and toss it into a corner. Within a few days, natural composting will cause it to turn back into litter again. It works like magic.
  • Deep litter has anti-coccidiosis properties, but only after it’s been around for a few months, building its own unique biome, so never remove all of it.  When you start bumping your head on the rafters, remove most of it.
  • (Optional) Stir in hydrated lime at about ten pounds per hundred square feet to keep the litter more friable.
  • Use more ventilation. If you can smell ammonia in the chicken house, you don’t have enough ventilation. Open the windows, even if it’s twenty below outside. Ammonia is a poison gas; cold weather is just a nuisance to grown chickens.
  • It’s labor-saving. If you’re spending a significant amount of time messing with the litter, you’re doing it wrong.

Ohio Experiment Station Bulletin: Built-Up Floor Litter Sanitation and Nutrition

by Kennard and Chamberlin, 1949

Sanitation in brooder houses has been largely restricted to the everlasting use of the scoop shovel, fork, broom, and spray pump. What’s new is the discovery of how to let nature’s sanitary processes do a better job using built-up litter.

What happens to the compost heap is familiar to all. Regardless of how obnoxious its contents, nature’s sanitary processes soon convert it into harmless residual material which is comparatively sanitary. Likewise, many of the same chemical and biological activities take place in built-up litter to make it more sanitary than fresh litter contaminated with fresh droppings.

When built-up litter is erroneously referred to as filthy or dirty material, it is because of either prejudice or lack of understanding. Because fresh litter smeared with unabsorbed fresh droppings is obnoxious, it is natural to think of it becoming more and more so the older it becomes. But old built-up litter is drier, more absorbent, and less obnoxious than fresh litter after a few days’ use. Often overlooked is the fact the nature’s chemical and biological processes have converted built-up litter into a more sanitary, less obnoxious, residual compost-like material which is preferable to fresh litter contaminated with a larger proportion of fresh droppings.

Call It “Built-Up Litter”

Built-up litter is sometimes called deep or dry litter These terms are misleading. Deep or dry litter may be far different and without the beneficial properties of built-up litter.

Built-up litter is what the term implies. At the beginning fresh litter material is added from time to time as needed, but none is removed until it becomes 8 to 12 inches deep. Once the litter is built-up, after the first year some of the material will need to be removed occasionally to keep it within bounds.

Control of Coccidiosis

The prevention or control of coccidiosis by starting day-old chicks on old built-up litter could have been prophesied years ago. It has long been recognized that chicks exposed to small dosages of coccidia at an early age developed a resistance which gave protection against heavier dosages to which they are often exposed from 4 to 12 weeks of age. Built-up litter has thus proved the most practical and effective means by which this resistance can be established.

As second reason why built-up litter could have been expected to limit coccidiosis is the fact that nearly all, if not all, living organisms including bacteria, protozoa, etc., have their parasites. Old built-up litter would seem to offer a favorable medium and conditions for the functioning of the parasites and enemies of coccidia and perhaps other diseases, too.

The third reason is that a 10 percent solution of ammonia spray is considered effective for killing coccidia. Being unable to withstand such a spray, they may likewise be unable to withstand the constant ammoniacal atmosphere in built-up litter.

Either of the reasons cited offer a plausible explanation for the surprising results secured during the past three years by the Ohio Station and similar unrecorded results experienced by poultrymen everywhere.

The first experimental evidence with reference to the user of built-up litter as a sanitary procedure was secured by the Ohio Station in 1946 when it was first used in the brooder house. During the three years previous when the floor litter was removed and renewed at frequent intervals, the average mortality of 10 broods, or a total of 18,000 chicks, was 19 percent. During the succeeding three years with the use of built-up litter, the average mortality of 11 broods, or a total of 10,000 chicks, was 7 percent. Seldom did a brood escape an attack of coccidiosis before the use of built-up litter. Afterward there was no noticeable trouble from coccidiosis in 11 consecutive broods started and raised on the same old built-up floor litter. Old built-up litter is floor litter which has been used by two or more previous broods of chicks.

Nutritional Benefit Of Built-Up Litter

As soon as the sanitary effects of old built-up litter became evident, two experiments were set up to explore the nutritional possibilities in the growth of chickens on old built-up litter. The basal all-plant diet used in the first two experiment was simple and extremely deficient for the growth of chickens.

Experiment 1 was started July 27, 1947, with the growth of Leghorn x Rhode Island Red cross-mated pullets after the first 10 weeks to the end of 25 weeks. Previous to the beginning of the experiment, pullets received a complete ration (which included 10 percent meat scrap and 5 percent dried whey) on the old built-up litter. The pullets were equally allotted on the basis of their weight into two groups each of 150 pullets at the beginning of the experiment. On group was changed to the incomplete ration, while the other group was continued on the complete ration. At the end of the experiment after 15 weeks the average weight of the birds was 3.97 vs. 3.95 pounds, respectively. Mortality was 8 vs. 9 percent, respectively. Despite the severity of the incomplete ration, that group of pullets did as well as those that received the complete ration. Obviously, the old built-up litter adequately supplemented the incomplete ration.

Experiment 2 was started August 12, 1947, with eight groups each of 200 Leghorn-R. I. Red cross-mated day-old chicks, At the end of 16 weeks the average weight of the chickens that received the incomplete ration was 3.42 pounds vs. 3.81 pounds of the chickens that received the complete ration. The percentage mortality was 6 and 5 percent, respectively. It was remarkable that the day-old chicks could live and grow as they did on the severely incomplete ration they received. As in the first experiment, it was the old built-up litter that made this possible.

Experiments 3, 4, and 5 were conducted on Leghorn-R. I. Red cross-mated, day-old chicks which received the complete and incomplete rations on old built-up litter, new built-up litter (started fresh with each brood), and fresh litter removed and renewed each 2 weeks. The incomplete ration was practically the same as used in the first two experiments except for the inclusion of 5 percent dehydrated alfalfa meal (17 percent protein) in these experiments. The averaged results at the end of 12 weeks of the experiments, which included about 3,000 chicks, follow:

Ration Floor Litter Weight
Per Bird
Complete Old built-up 2.45 lbs. 5
Fresh 2.30 lbs. 7
Incomplete Old built-up 2.34 lbs. 7
New built-up 1.88 lbs. 18
Fresh 1.64 lbs. 23


There was little difference in the rate of mortality of the chicks that received the complete ration regardless of the floor litter procedures used in the three experiments. There was, however, a better rate of growth of the chicks that received the complete ration on the old built-up litter.

It was the incomplete, all-plant diet where a critical dietary deficiency existed that the rule of old built-up litter for growth and livability was made unmistakable. The rate of growth and mortality (largely due to coccidiosis) corresponded directly with the age of the floor litter.

Thus, the sanitary and nutritional phases of old built-up floor litter, where nature’s chemical, biological, and sanitary processes can take place under favorable conditions, continue to yield surprising results as continued experimental evidence becomes available. Moreover, the practical results reported by poultry raisers from all parts of the country are in keeping with the experimental evidence.

[End of Ohio Experiment Station bulletin]

How To Use Deep Litter in Chicken Coops

That’s all very interesting, you say, but how does one go about using deep litter? The Kennard and Chamberlin published this additional advice in 1948:

Built-Up Floor Litter to Date

Until recently, the common practice was to remove and renew the floor litter in brooder and layer houses every week or two. Now, by means of built-up litter practices and the use of hydrated lime, the floor litter may be used in the brooder house for 8 to 16 weeks or longer without removal [Note: later, the authors recommended never removing the old brooder house litter.] In the laying house it need be removed only once a year, or it may be used for longer periods. The usual procedure for built-up floor litter is to start with about 4 inches of fine litter material with additions of 1 to 2 inches later as needed without removal of the old. A depth of 6 to 12 inches is maintained by partial removals from time to time.

Frequent removal and renewal of the floor litter from brooder houses was to avoid dampness and thus supposed to aid in the prevention of coccidiosis. The primary purpose for frequent removal and renewal of the floor litter from laying houses was also to prevent dampness. Later, this object was accomplished better by insulation of the houses and by means of built-up litter which protected the floor against the cold and the dampness that followed from condensation.

After built-up floor litter in laying houses became an accepted practice, came the use of hydrated lime with its additional advantages. Consequently, the use of built-up floor litter and its treatment with hydrated lime has now become the standard practice of many poultrymen throughout the country.

Advantages of Deep LItter

First of all, there is the saving of labor and litter material and the better insulation of the floor during cold weather, which aids in keeping the litter drier and in better condition. The condition of the litter is further improved by the use of hydrated lime which makes the litter more friable, more absorbent, and less inclined to paste or cake over the surface.

Recently, it has been extensively observed by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station at Wooster that the use of built-up floor litter in brooder houses may serve as a means for the prevention or control of coccidiosis, when other conditions are favorable. Seven successive broods, each of around 2,000 chicks, have escaped noticeable trouble from coccidiosis as evidenced by the low rate of mortality (2.9 percent) after the first 4 weeks. Before the use of built-up litter, a majority of the broods failed to escape an attack. In some instances the same floor litter was used for six successive broods of chicks.

Chicks or layers on built-up floor litter were found to be less subject to cannibalism.

Latest of all has been the Station’s discovery of the nutritional aspects of built-up floor litter by two experiments with the growth of chickens indoors and four experiments with the production of eggs of good hatchability when the breeders were confined indoors. The rations in each instance were composed chiefly of plant feedstuffs without animal byproducts.

[Note: this article was written just before the discovery of vitamin B12, which is produced in deep litter through bacterial fermentation.]

Kinds of Lime to Use

With the rapidly increasing use of lime in connection with built-up floor litter in brooder and laying houses, many poultrymen face the question of which kind of lime to use.

Hydrated lime in 50-pound bags is mostly used and the different grades may be purchased from building supply or feed, seed, and fertilizer dealers under trade names such as Agricultural hydrated lime, Mason’s hydrated lime, General Purpose hydrated lime, or Finishing hydrated lime. Any one of these products may be used, so the choice may be determined by the cost.

Judging Litter Condition

The condition of the floor is usually judged by its appearance. If it appears dry and in absorbent condition, not pasted or caked over the surface, it is considered in good condition. If the floor litter appears damp or wet and is pasted or caked over the surface, it is considered in poor or bad condition.

Floor litter treated with hydrated lime appears drier than floor litter under similar conditions without lime. Despite the appearance, however, there may be little difference in the actual moisture content. The principal effect of the use of lime was upon the physical condition of the litter. Lime makes the litter more friable and more absorbent. This gives it the appearance of being drier and in better condition.

Stir Lime Into Litter

It has been observed that hydrated lime may have a slight caustic effect upon the feet of chicks under certain conditions Consequently, the hydrated lime needs to be carefully distributed over the floor litter and stirred well into the litter at once.

Hydrated lime can be used with any of the common litter materials such as chopped straw, ground corncobs, cut or shredded corn stover, wood shavings, peat moss, or cane litter. The principal requirement is that the litter be stirred at frequent intervals and additions of hydrated lime and fresh litter be made as indicated by the condition of the litter, all of which will depend on the age, number of the birds and weather conditions.

How to Use Lime

The procedure followed by the Ohio Station at Wooster was to scatter the hydrated lime over the floor at the rate of 10 to 15 pounds per 100 square feet of floor space. In the laying house, the amount may be at the rate of 1 pound per layer. This was done at intervals of 2 to 4 weeks or longer, depending on the compaction and surface condition of the litter. Sometimes a light covering of fresh litter was scattered over the lime and both were stirred into the old litter.

Care should be taken to thoroughly mix the fresh lime into the litter; othewise, the unmixed lime on the surface of the litter may have a mild caustic effect on the chicks’ feet. During the intervals between additions of lime and fresh litter, a redistribution of the floor litter to the other less used parts of the floor should be made when the litter becomes packed or caked on certain floor areas, principally around the watering and feeding equipment. Sometimes it is well to remove the litter which is in the worst condition.

Under certain conditions, it may be necessary to thoroughly stir and redistribute the litter over the brooder house floor every 2 or 3 days, depending on the number and size of the chickens and the weather conditions. After the first 8 weeks, daily stirring is often advisable when weather or other conditions are unfavorable. Lime is seldom used or needed until after the first 4 or 5 weeks.

Insulation of the laying house is also an important aid in the solution of the problem of dampness in the floor litter in addition to the use of built-up floor litter and its treatment with lime.

[Note: Insulation reduces condensation on the walls and ceiling. A cheaper method, which also reduces ammonia levels, is simply to increase ventilation by providing plenty of open window space, eaves, vents, etc. Most non-commercial chicken coops these days are inadequately ventilated and need far more airflow, even in the depths of winder, and even when deep litter is not used.]

Long-Time Use

The same built-up floor litter has been successfully used in brooder houses at the Station’s poultry plant for six succeeding broods of chicks. Likewise, most of the layers are on built-up floor litter that started nearly 3 years ago. Thus far, no disadvantages have been experienced from the long-time use of the litter, either in brooder or laying houses. The older built-up litter is, of course, more effective for the prevention or control of dampness because of its greater depth. It appears the only need for removal is to keep it within convenient bounds.

[End of Article by Kennard and Chamberlin.]

Robert’s Experiences

Well, all this stuff from the Forties is sort of interesting, but how does it work today? Pretty well.

Because we use free range in portable houses without litter, we use deep litter only in our brooder houses. We have three small brooder houses (too small, really), all of which have concrete floors. One brooder house is set up to accommodate 12 inches or so of litter; the others can’t manage more than about 4 inches because deeper litter would rot out the walls.

The house with the deeper litter gives the least trouble, since it seems to be able to handle more moisure and absorb more manure. The other houses are less good.

Preparing the brooder house. We have used built-up litter for many years, and never remove all the litter. We rarely remove much litter at all. When a new batch of chicks is coming in, we’ll remove the caked litter altogether, rather than throwing it into a corner, but that’s about it. Then we put a thin layer of fresh litter on top of the old litter (thicker right under the brooder), and we’re ready for a new batch of chicks.

Daily litter management. When the surface of the litter cakes over (as it always does with broilers, less so with other breeds), we skim off the caked layer with a shovel or garden fork and toss it into a corner, creating an impromptu compost heap. In a few days, it will have composted to the point where it becomes just like all the other litter. It’s amazing how well this works!

After flooding. If the house floods (say, when an automatic waterer goes berserk), the litter doesn’t seem to care. It will act just the same as before once it dries out. Heaping it up in the middle of the house speeds this process up. I’ve also had reasonably good results from just putting a thick layer of shavings on top of the horrible soggy mess and finishing a brooding cycle that way, and heaping it all up in the middle of the brooder house once the chicks have been moved out.

The lime trick also works very well. But wear a mask.

Coccidiosis control. In our brooder houses, the deep litter isn’t 100% reliable as a preventative for coccidiosis. It probably helps a great deal, but our houses are small and they get super crowded if we don’t move the broilers out promptly at 14 days. We have so little maneuvering room in the house that we can’t always do a good job of decaking the floor. If we did this every single day, maybe we’d be coccidiosis-proof. I don’t know.

Other deep litter notes. If you want to use this technique, arranging your brooder area to give you plenty of elbow room will help. It’s important to decake the floor every day, which takes less than a minute if you’re set up right. Ideally you’ll use hanging feeders and waterers that can be raised out of the way, and being able to get the brooder out of the way easily is important, too.

Skim and toss the caked litter into the corner, along with any wet litter, and rake dry litter into any low spots you just created, and you’re done. This hardly takes any time at all.

Nutritional benefit. As for the nutritional benefit, it’s real but I wouldn’t rely on it. Don’t create unbalanced rations and trust to the litter to make up for the deficiencies: it doesn’t save enough money to be worthwhile. Using balanced rations always costs less in the long run. The nutritional benefit gives you a safety margin, and that’s enough.

You Need a Well-Ventilated House

While coccidia don’t like ammonia, neither do chickens. Your chicken house should allow quite a bit of airflow. Deep litter must be combined with a fresh-air poultry house. Closed housing will build up ammonia levels that are far too high. Even in the brooder house, ventilation is essential. Just keep the wind-chill factor down by limiting drafts at floor level, to prevent chilling the chicks.

For More Information

I publish poultry books full of this kind of old-timey yet rock-solid information under my Norton Creek Press label. I recommend:

Save Money on Chicken Feed

How can you save money on chicken feed? Here are a few time-tested methods.

Can My Chickens Find All Their Feed Themselves?

Not really. In the old days, farms and kitchens were so wasteful, with so much grain spilled by the horses and milk cows, and so much garbage thrown out the back door (or, in town, the front door), that flocks of skinny chickens could survive without further attention.

With an increase in our understanding of sanitation and nutrition, opportunities for self-feeding flocks are few and far between.

And because we know about nutrition now, my theme today is:

Start with a balanced chicken feed. Then supplement with other, lower-cost feedstuffs to keep the costs down.

The Two-Feeder “Grain-and-Mash” System

Here’s an old trick that not everyone knows about: If you feed your chickens out of two feeders, one full of grain and the oTwo feeders are better than onether one full of chicken feed, you save money.

Why? Because chickens have a reasonably accurate appetite for calories, protein, and other things, and will mix and match the two feeds in a way that’s ideal for their needs of the moment. For example, a hen laying an egg a day needs a lot more protein than a hen that isn’t laying at all. The non-laying hen will not only eat less total food, but most of what little she eats will come out of the feeder of cheap grain, not the expensive balanced chicken feed.

And it works not only with grain, but with other inexpensive feeds, including some you can get for free.

How Much Can You Save?

Feed intrudes into every aspect of life. Here's me sharing my VW van with half a ton of feed.
Feed intrudes into every aspect of life. Here’s me sharing my VW van with half a ton of feed.

This has been a standard feeding technique for 100 years, and has been studied six ways from Sunday.

Rules of Thumb:

  • Laying hens given access to a balanced 16% layer ration in one feeder and corn or wheat in another feeder will eat about 2/3 layer ration and 1/3 grain, and will do exactly as well as hens that eat nothing but the balanced ration.
  • If you use a 20% layer ration, the hens will eat 1/2 grain and 1/2 layer ration.

For example, I just looked up the price of Purina 16% Layena pellets at Tractor Supply: $13.00 for 50 lbs. A 20% feed, Purina Flock Raiser, is $17.99. Cracked corn from the same source is only $9.89.

So let’s run the numbers, and come up with an average price per 50 pounds if we try various combinations:

  • Flock Raiser alone: $17.99
  • Flock Raiser + grain: $13.94
  • Layena alone: $13.99
  • Layena + grain: $12.62
  • Grain alone: Don’t try it.

So you can save some money just by buying a different mix of feed at the feed store.

Does it Work?

It does! This has always rather annoyed poultry nutritionists, because their job is to find the right feed for the whole flock, as if all its hens were the same. And of course they aren’t. The key seems to be that only the high-producing hens need the full 16% protein, while the ones who aren’t laying much anyway don’t need all that protein—and don’t crave it.

This feed plus grain method best if the chickens are given clear choices: a high-protein feed and a high-energy feed. The grain is the high-energy feed.

Traditionally, there are two kinds of layer ration: a 16% ration and a 20% ration. With the 20% ration, the hens will eat about half grain, half 20% ration. Such rations are formulated for use with supplemental grain, so they contain extra calcium and such.

For broilers, you simply use the same broiler ration as ever, but with supplemental grain in a second feeder. If you used to use a finisher ration, try using the starter or grower ration plus grain. The results will probably be the same as ever, but the cost will be less.

Corn and wheat are the grains of choice here. They can be tolerated by chickens of any age. Use whichever is cheapest. Baby chicks can’t handle oats or barley very well. Even quite young chicks (a week old or so) can handle whole wheat. They can handle whole corn once they’re about half-grown.

To summarize:

  • For baby chicks, go for whole wheat or cracked corn.
  • For older chickens, go for whole corn, whole wheat, whole oats, or whole barley.

Whole Grains are Best

As soon as you crack or grind grain, it starts to spoil. Whole grains are best for this reason. You can keep whole grain for a year or more without trouble, while you should use up other chicken feed within a month or so.

This means that, if you have a place to store it, you can buy whole grain by the pickup load, the tote, or the ton even when you’re buying other feed a few couple of sacks at a time.

Should I Mix Feeds?

Always feed in separate feeders: chicken feed in one feeder, grain in another, oystershell in a third. Why? Because every time you mix two things together, the chickens waste the one they want least, tossing it aside to get at the one they want more. By mixing feed, you’re wasting both your time and the feed.

The main reason to mix feed is to slip in ingredients that chickens don’t like, forcing them to eat stuff that’s unpalatable or even harmful. Don’t do that.

You Can Feed Almost Anything

The two-feeder system works great for grain products and similar feeds. You can feed the following as if they were grain:

  • Bakery byproducts: expired bread, waste flour, etc.
  • Potatoes (whole potatoes need to be at least slightly cooked to make the skins edible).
  • Expired high-carb foods of all kinds: pasta, cereal, pastries, chips—you name it.
  • Grain-based feed originally intended for other critters: oats, cob, birdseed.

In fact, you can feed just about anything, even feedstuffs with little resemblance to grain:

  • Other (non-medicated) feeds: cat food, dog food, pig feed, etc.
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Meat, dairy, fish (fresh or processed).
  • Imitation meat and dairy like milk replacer and tofu.

How to Feed “Mystery Feeds”

The main thing is to remember this:

If the chickens have access to a feeder full of chicken feed, they’re really good at avoiding other feeds that are bad for them. They will balance their own diets by eating a little of this and a little of that better than any but the best poultry nutritionists can.

Some tips about feeding random feedstuffs:

  • Don’t get invested. Offer it to the chickens, and if they spurn it, take it away again.
  • Don’t feed so much that it’s likely to go bad, or even stale.
  • Feed troughs are your friend here, since they can handle a wider variety of materials than other feeders. Feed pans are less good because the chickens will stand in them.


Feeds to Avoid

Still, be careful with the following:

  • Feeds that will rot before they can be eaten. Think twice before accepting a hundred pounds of fish on behalf of your chickens!
  • Feeds that will put an off-flavor in the eggs: Garlic and onions (in large quantities) have this reputation.
  • Feeds that are messy in some ghastly way. For example, if you set out a pan of pancake syrup and end up with sticky chickens, I’m not sure what your next move is!
  • Rotten or contaminated feed. Yes, chickens have “nutritional wisdom,” but don’t try to fool them with horrible awful stuff. You might succeed!

How About Three Feeders? Or Four?

A three-feeder system is even better, with oystershell in the third feeder. Hens have a definite calcium appetite. If they have to eat chicken feed for its oystershell content, even if they don’t want the calories, well, a hen’s gotta do what a hen’s gotta do. But they’ll go straight for the oystershell if they can, which means they’ll eat less chicken feed, and save you money.

According to Leeson and Summers’ Commercial Poultry Nutrition, feeding oystershell on the side can give total feed savings of 6%-7%.

Finding Your Local Low-Cost Supplier

To get the maximum feed savings, you need to find your local provider of low-priced grain. Usually there’s a local vendor who is selling it at a much lower price than the feed store. Here in the Corvallis area, we have Venell Feed and Corvallis Feed and Seed.

At one time, they were selling whole corn at $6.00 a sack, while at Kropf Feed (now CHS Nutrition) it was $10.20 a sack. This is typical. So you could save save over 40% on grain simply by going to a different store.

And that’s the price for individual sacks. There are more discounts where that came from, if you buy a ton of bagged feed at a time.

Can’t I Just Feed My Chickens Less?

You can, but there’s an old farming proverb:

You can’t starve profit into a cow.

It applies to chickens as well.

The fact is, you have no idea how much your chickens “should” be eating. You’re guessing. But your chickens have an accurate appetite. They know when they’re hungry and know when they’re full. You don’t. Leave it to them.

My free-range laying flock has 24/7 access to chicken feed and grain, plus all the pasture forage they want. Do they get fat? No, not at all.

In the 120 years since poultry scientists have kept track of such things, they’ve never had luck at increasing egg profitability by withholding feed from the hens. The winning strategy is always to give them all the feed they want.

So the rule of thumb is:

If you can’t afford your feed bill, reduce the size of your flock.

It’s different with broilers. If you keep them past butchering age, they’ll get really fat. But the solution here is “don’t do that.” It’s not a feed issue.

Learn More About Poultry Nutrition

<a href="http://www.nortoncreekpress.com/wordpress/poultry/feeding_poultry/" target="_blank">Feeding Poultry</a> by G. F. HeuserThe best thing about the two-feeder system is that you don’t have to be a poultry nutritionist. As long as you have that feeder of balanced chicken feed, your chickens will do fine.

But there’s plenty more to learn, and plenty more you can do once you’ve learned it. That’s why I’ve republished G. F. Heuser’s monumental Feeding Poultry under my Norton Creek Press label. It has everything. It even has a chapter on the nutritional value of green feed and free range.

FAQ: Simple Electric Fences for Chickens

To a lot of critters—raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, dogs—your free-range flock is a 24-hour all-you-can-eat chicken buffet. Maybe, must maybe,  the local predators are afraid to run off with your chickens today. But it won’t last.

Trust me on this. I have been almost put out of business by predation several times. If it weren’t for the techniques described here, I wouldn’t have any chickens today.

What worked for me? Simple electric fences. Really simple electric fences.

One-Wire and Two-Wire Electric Fences

Two-wire electric fence for chickensThis kind of electric fence, with just one or two wires, we developed over 60 years ago. It is commonly used to keep raccoons out of gardens and all kinds of predators out of chicken yards.

In it’s one-wire incarnation, the single wire is about 5″ off the ground. If you use a second wire, put it about 10″ off the ground.

You wouldn’t think such a low wire would work, but it does. Predators keep low to the ground when they’re sneaking around, and many aren’t really all that big to begin with: foxes, bobcats, and raccoons, for instance. But dogs and coyotes are also deterred by even the one-wire fence.

In the picture, you can see one of my two-wire fences. It’s just two strands of inexpensive aluminum fence wire held up with step-in fence posts. This is about the cheapest and easiest to set up fence you can imagine.

It surprises people that such an electric fence will keep chickens in and predators out, but it works! It helps that predators generally sniff at anything new they find, so they will get their noses zapped by a fence wire they could easily step over. That’s generally all it takes.

One thing I love about these fences is that you can simply step over them. No gates! When driving a tractor or pickup past them, it’s best to uproot a couple of step-in fence posts so the wires lie on the ground, so they won’t be snagged by the vehicle. This takes less than a minute.

The key to success here is to use plenty of step-in fence posts, especially if your ground isn’t perfectly level. If the wire is too high or too low, both predators and chickens will have no trouble getting past it. Fortunately, a step-in fence post only costs a couple of bucks, and aluminum fence wire is a real bargain, too. A quarter-mile spool (enough to fence 40 acres) cost around $30 the last time I checked.

A Fence That Leaks, But in a Good Way

If you’ve ever had a predator get into a chicken yard fenced in with chicken wire, you know that the the predator can kill every single chicken: they can’t escape. Worse, when panicked, chickens forget that their chicken-wire fence even exists and will try to rush right through it. Their heads and necks will make it through okay, but their bodies are too big, and they’ll be stuck in the fence like darts in a dartboard, waiting for the predator to pick them off at its leisure.

If a fox or other predator makes it into a yard protected by a one-wire or two-fire electric fence, the drama starts out the same way, but the chickens pass beyond the fence without a pause and rush off squawking into the distance. Because the flock scatters to the four winds, the predator is left with an empty yard, and is once more on the opposite side of an electric fence from its prey. Instead of killing your entire flock killed, it gets only one or two.

Not only that, but the chickens who left the yard will return around dusk and cross the fence a second time to get home. They won’t like it, but they’ll do it.

But, yes, sometimes a few of your chickens will learn to get past the fence on purpose, and free-range somewhere else for a few hours until returning home. In short, these one-wire and two-wire fences aren’t 100% effective. They’re more like 98% effective—or maybe only 95% effective if you make it easy and attractive for the chickens to escape.

Minimizing escapees:

  • If you fence a large area, fewer chickens will escape.
  • If the chickens never run out of feed, fewer will escape.
  • If you keep your coops away from the edge of the fenced area, fewer will escape.
  • If the voltage on the fence remains high, fewer will escape.
  • If there aren’t any places where the chickens can duck under the wire or step over it, fewer will escape.

So this isn’t a magical anti-chicken barrier the way a chicken run walled and roofed with chicken wire can be. On my farm, it usually contains well over 95% of the chickens. We can reach 100% for a while if we get rid of the few habitual escapees.

What to Expect at First

At first, the chickens won’t respect the fence, since it just looks like a random obstacle to them. Also, their feathers are good insulators, so they get zapped mostly when they touch the fence with their feet or combs. This means they won’t get zapped every time. More like one time in four.

This lengthens the learning process. It’ll be several days before all the chickens are on the right side of the fence. But after a while they act as if it’s a glass wall. If I carry a bucket of feed to a hungry flock, they’ll come running as soon as they see me, but stop just short of the fence. They’ll wait impatiently for me to join them on their side of the fence.

Predators learn more quickly, since they investigate anything new with their noses.

In my experience, dogs and coyotes are terrified of electric fences. I once watched a coyote chase a hen that had strayed outside the fence. The frightened hen ran back to the flock, passing through the two-fire fence as if it didn’t exist. But the coyote went from running all-out to a sudden dead stop when it got close to the fence. It had learned its lesson well!

Raccoons seem to be without fear, and are willing to prowl the perimeter of a fence, looking for high spots or low spots that will let it in.

I’m not sure about bobcats. I think some of them learn to leap fences, but I’ve never seen this. Usually the fences keep them out.

History of One-Wire Poultry Fences

I first learned about this type of fence in a 1960 article describing Arbor Acres’ use of a single-wire fence to protect pullets raised on free range. Before the single-wire fence, they had employees spending hours every day opening doors on range houses in the morning and closing them at night. The simplicity of the fence was important to them because their pullet flocks occupied many acres, making permanent fencing prohibitive.

I later came across references to the same technique from the 1950’s, where similar fences were used as an anti-fox measure for British free-range breeding flocks.

Like many excellent techniques, these fences was forgotten after the industry shifted to confinement.

Electric Poultry Net Fencing

Electric fence using electrified polywire netting (electronet)
Premier poultry netting.

Electrified net fencing is sometimes necessary to stop stubborn predators or to keep chicken inside when they must be fenced tightly.

It’s more expensive than using simple wire fences, and if left in the same place for too long, grass will grow through the bottom wires, making it almost impossible to remove. Still, it has its uses.

My wife Karen likes electronetting more than I do. For one thing, I trip over it. For another, I hate moving fences, and electronet has to be moved more frequently. It also shorts out more easily than wire fences. But it’s a more serious, more physical barrier, which makes a difference. (One difference is that it’s a barrier to farmers as well. I sometimes trip over netting fences.)

Karen uses electric net fences to protect her broiler areas, while I prefer use one- and two-wire fences for our hens. This works well because broilers won’t use a lot of space anyway, and we use daily-move pens and have to shift the electronetting frequently, preventing the grass from entangling the fence. Our hens get much more elbow room and the fences are shifted more rarely.

My personal favorite it the kind they call “garden fencing.” This comes in rolls about sixteen inches high, and can easily be stepped over. The usual electronetting, designed to keep sheep in, is about four feet high and is a real barrier to the farmer.

The best electric fencing comes from Premier.

Combination Fencing

Chickens can be fenced by adding an electric wire to an existing fence.
Photo from Patriot Electric Fencing.

The other option is to add electric fence wire to existing permanent fences on the farm. This works very well. The most important wire is the one closest to the ground, which should be 4-6 inches off the ground, as with single-wire fences. Another wire at the top can provide an unpleasant surprise to climbing predators. I use plastic nail-on insulators on wooden fenceposts and clip-on insulators for T-posts.

I prefer aluminum wire for most jobs, but not here. Why? Because you’ll need to keep the fenceline weed-free with a weed-whacker, which will dish out more abuse than aluminum fence wire cant take. Use heavy-duty galvanized fence wire instead.

In my experience, it doesn’t seem to matter which electric fence insulators you use, or which brand of aluminum fence wire, but I think Red Brand makes a superior grade of galvanized wire.

Electric Fence Chargers: Bigger is Better

The ultra-powerful Parmak Super Energizer 5 fence charger.
The ultra-powerful Parmak Super Energizer 5 fence charger.

To energize the electric fence you need a fence charger. I prefer very powerful AC-powered energizers. The bottom wires of these chicken fences are close to the ground. They’re quickly shorted out by grass, weeds, or molehills. It takes a powerful fence charger to keep adequate voltage on the fence in the face of these everyday challenges. My favorite fence charger is the Parmak Super Energizer 5.

I think it’s better to string thousands of feet of wire along the farm than to use battery-powered chargers, which just aren’t powerful enough. I’ve used 2×4’s up on end to get the wire ten or twelve feet up in the air when it crosses gates, or insulated wire buried a few inches underground across the gateway. Otherwise, I just run the wires along the top of the posts of my farm’s perimeter fence.

I prefer energizers with built-in voltmeters, so I can see at a glance if the voltage has fallen into the red zone. In general, this means I buy Parmak units, because most of the others don’t have meters. My favorite model is their “Super Energizer,” which is very powerful indeed. That’s what I use on the front pasture to protect the laying hens. The “Maxi-Power” line is also good, though less powerful.

If you insist on buying a battery-powered or solar charger, get a 12V unit. The 6V units have minimum zap, which means they can be shorted out by a few blades of grass. I was pretty happy with Parmak’s most powerful 12V charger. This “weatherpoof” unit only lasted about five years when exposed to the elements, so putting a a roof or a five-gallon bucket over it might be a good idea.

Premier also makes excellent chargers. Karen likes them better than Parmak, and that’s what she’s using on the back forty to protect the broilers (my super-long wire from the barn to the back forty has been mothballed). She uses a Premier Intellishock 50, which is a 12V battery-powered unit.

I doubt that solar chargers are worth the extra cost, but then I’m in Western Oregon, which has a lot of cloud cover. The convenience of not having to monitor and lug around batteries is worth paying money for, but you get even more convenience by putting an AC-powered charger in the barn and stringing a wire all the way to the back forty.

The hardest part of installation is getting a good ground connection. I prefer pounding in ground rods along the drip line of my barn’s roof.

It really helps to have the units placed so you can see the meters easily when you wander in and out of the barn.

When Fences Fail

When a clever predator learns how to get past my fences (of whatever kind), I turn to trapping. I find snares effective and relatively simple. I found Hal Sullivan’s book, Snaring 2000, to be very useful.

I find that predators are OCD, especially bobcats, following exactly the same path night after night, and by the time you’ve lost a few chickens they’ve created an obvious game trail. This means that you can set snares to target an individual, chicken-eating predator, without declaring war on the entire animal kingdom.

I’ve shot predators from time to time, but only for coyotes that are dumb enough to present themselves during the day. At night, I want my beauty sleep.

I’ve found live traps to be far less effective than snares, and I’m baffled by leg-hold traps.

Final tip: if you can use snares inside your perimeter fence, your results will be less random.

Your Chickens in September [Newsletter]

Your Chickens in September

Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter

News from the Farm

Right on cue, our hot, dry August weather transitioned into cooler, cloudier weather with a little rain—just as you’d expect in Oregon.

Autumn and Chickens

This is ideal weather for chickens, who don’t much like hot sunny weather. The pasture plants are greening up a bit as well, which will help keep the egg yolks dark and yummy. (The nutritional and flavor benefits of free range are mostly from fresh green plants, not worms, as some suppose.)

It’s also a good time to brood baby chicks. I’m a big fan of fall brooding. Most hatcheries still have a pretty good selection in September. Later on, they’ll only have commercial breeds (partly because off-season orders mostly come from people with commercial flocks, partly because the other breeds aren’t laying enough eggs to fill an incubator). Chicks hatched in October will be feathered enough to handle winter weather when it hits hard in December.

An Ice-Free Summer

Our ice machine is irreparable, and we’re looking for a new one. Because we have very limited water (see my low-yield well page), we need an ice machine that turns every drop of water into ice (a “flaker”) instead of wasting more than half of it (a “cuber”). These are available off-the-shelf, but we’re looking for a good deal, since we only use it two days a week. In the meantime, we’re buying ice at the Blodgett Country Store.

Mite-y Inconvenient

We broke our own rules a while ago and acquired some chickens from another farm, and of course they came with a free case of scaley leg mites, and this is spreading through the flock. So now we get to go out in the middle of the night, grab hens one at a time, oil their legs to smother the mites, and repeat at weekly intervals for three weeks.

Sadly, this tedious old-fashioned technique is still the go-to method. The dewormer Ivermectin is probably more effective and far more convenient, but it’s not approved for poultry. In the interests of science, we may isolate a couple of affected roosters and give Ivermectin a try to see if it works better than the treatment the others are getting, using leg bands to remind us never to sell them for meat.

What we were supposed to do was to never, ever allow a chicken on the farm unless it was a day-old chick from a reputable hatchery or an older bird from Oregon State University’s flock.

Publishing News

Win a Free Copy of Genetics of the Fowl!

Genetics of the Fowl is everyone’s favorite chicken genetics book, much more readable than most genetics texts, and written for people who aren’t geneticists, but poultrykeepers. But it’s a big book, which makes it sorta pricey. So let’s give a couple of copies away this week!

To enter, use the following link to enter the giveaway. When you enter, you have a random chance of winning a copy of the book free, gratis, and for nothing. You don’t even pay for shipping. The link expires in a week, so do it now! (You need to have an Amazon account to enter, and it’s one entry per customer.)

Good luck! And may the odds be ever in your favor.

September Poultry Notes

September is one of the easiest months in the poultry calendar: less hot than August, less nasty than December. Many people (but not us) don’t brood baby chicks in the fall and have already butchered their broilers, so it’s just the hens until next year.

To-do items:

  • Start using artificial lights for consistent egg production. The traditional practice is to provide a day length of 14 hours between September 1 and March 31. A bare bulb, equivalent to 60 watts for every 100 square feet of floor space, is plenty.
  • Brood fall chicks.
  • Repair roofing (winter is coming!).
  • House pullets (if you raised them on range).
  • Avoid overcrowding. All problems become worse with crowding. And they flare up faster with crowding, too.
  • Cull molting hens. (Hens that start molting this early probably won’t start laying until spring. It would be cheaper and better to make chicken and dumplings out of them and replace them with baby chicks.)
  • Cull any poor pullets while you’re at it.
  • Provide additional ventilation. (Always, always, always provide more ventilation than seems necessary.
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
  • Remove soiled litter. (If using deep litter, shovel some of it out to make room for the additional litter you’ll add over the winter, but only if it looks like the litter will get so deep it will make things impractical. “More is better” with deep litter.)

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

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout.
  2. Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
  3. Plotto Instruction Booklet by William Wallace Cook.
  4. Company Coming by Ruth Stout
  5. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon.

All of these are fine books (I only 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 good reviews.

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 1960. 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 NileSee my complete list of titles.

Recent Blog Posts

Here are the posts on my various blogs since last time. Most are updated and greatly expanded revisions of older posts:

Adventures in Social Media

And if that’s not enough, you can use social media to stay up to date: